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Rix earns the respect of his team

A last-minute drive against N.C. State wins support even though it didn't win the game.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001


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TALLAHASSEE -- As they huddled on the sideline, realizing they had to drive the length of the field in a couple of minutes, they listened to his voice and trusted that his deeds would match his words.

"I really believed he was going to get it done," junior center Antoine Mirambeau said. "I really believe in Chris Rix."

For a moment, Rix, Florida State's redshirt freshman quarterback, imagined delivering as his idol had done so often on a far grander stage.

"Joe Montana; that's what I was kind of thinking," he said.

Despite a dropped pass and a questionable ruling that kept the clock running, Rix calmly, methodically moved the Seminoles downfield against a seemingly reeling North Carolina State defense Saturday. The drive ended 14 yards shy of the end zone.

"It was frustrating to come up short when we had come all that way to pull out that victory," Rix said. "But we fought. We didn't give up. ... I really felt we were going to do it."

That attitude signaled a stirring comeback, win or lose.

For Rix.

"He's playing better than I could have expected," coach Bobby Bowden said. "He's really got what you're looking for."

Rix, 20, has completed 126 of 223 passes for 2,286 yards and 21 touchdowns. He is the nation's third-rated quarterback. He also is the first mobile quarterback at FSU since Charlie Ward, showing linebackerlike speed and fearlessness -- sometimes recklessness -- in rushing for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

With the defense struggling to stop or even slow opponents, Rix must be at his best to give FSU any hope of upsetting, or staying close to, No. 4 Florida on Saturday.

And to think, a month ago Rix found himself at a crossroads.

He had thrown four interceptions and lost two fumbles in a 49-27 loss to Miami, ending FSU's nation-leading home winning streak at 37 and its streak of reaching the Bowl Championship Series finale at three.

He drew criticism from all quarters, including teammates and coaches, that he was trying to do too much and didn't trust his line enough to stay in the pocket and wait for his receivers to get open.

Although the Seminoles rebounded with a 43-7 win at Virginia, Rix threw two more interceptions. Bowden was so disappointed he had freshman backup Adrian McPherson and Rix compete on equal terms in preparation for then-undefeated Maryland.

"Just the pressure of losing the job turned things around for him," said senior Atrews Bell, one of Rix's most candid critics.

In wins against Maryland and Clemson and in the upset loss to N.C. State, Rix completed 54 of 89 passes (60 percent) for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"From the start of the season till now, you wouldn't think it was the same guy because he's developed so much," senior receiver Javon Walker said. "He's playing great. He's doing things that a freshman quarterback really shouldn't be doing."

"A lot of people doubted Chris Rix," sophomore defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Chris Rix took the criticism and put it in his hands and raised his game to a whole other level. He doesn't look anything like a freshman quarterback anymore."

Rix still makes mistakes. He has thrown four interceptions and lost a fumble in the past three games, but he is showing more patience and more reliance on his teammates. He is sliding more when he scrambles and is learning to throw the ball away instead of forcing a ball into coverage.

"Every game I feel more comfortable, more composed out there," he said, dismissing the threat of losing his starting job for his increased focus and crediting his determination to play better.

"He's one of the most competitive guys I've seen at that position," offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said. "I think he's really progressed, and I think he's going to be real good."

"He's matured more and more and become the leader of this football team," junior receiver Talman Gardner said. "That last drive really showed me something. It's like a total turnaround."

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