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Bowden's Battling; Something's Missing

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

 

January 5, 2004 TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's 16-14 Orange Bowl loss to Miami shouldn't put a damper on the Seminoles' 10-3 season, but in the eyes of many, a fifth consecutive loss to the Hurricanes will do just that. And that probably isn't fair to Bobby Bowden. Squandering a 14-3 first-half lead, the Seminoles lost for the ninth consecutive time to the Hurricanes in games decided by three points or less. While much of the focus was on the requisite errant field goal — in this case, Xavier Beitia's 39-yard, wide-right miss with 5:30 to play — Bowden and offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden also faced criticism for their conservative play-calling. That criticism put the head coach in an untenable position. Some are saying the 74-year-old has lost his competitive edge, the verve to go for the jugular when it's time to put opponents away. Others suggest he's merely protecting his son's play-calling, the source of much debate over the past three seasons. The truth is Bowden remains as competitive as ever. Ask any coach who goes head-to-head in recruiting with one of the nation's top closers. Or anyone who has ever had the opportunity to play golf with college football's winningest coach. Or any of his coaches, who see how his passion burns when it comes to preparing for opponents. That's why it was difficult to listen to the forlorn coach the morning after the defeat, as he explained that the game plan against Miami was very nearly carried out to perfection. Give Bowden credit for realizing that the Hurricanes' defense was just too good to expect the Seminoles to go up and down the field, as they often do against ACC opponents. “You better hope that in the last two or three minutes you can put the winning points up there, and they don't have time to come back and beat you,” Bowden said. “(The Orange Bowl) was another case where it nearly worked.” It's not Bowden's nature to call three consecutive running plays to set up a go-ahead field goal, as he did in the fourth quarter after Kendyll Pope's strip of Brock Berlin and Ray Piquion's fumble recovery at the Miami 30 gave FSU its best shot at wiping out a 16-14 deficit. “There were times in that game where you better be conservative,” Bowden said. “We did not want to lose the field goal (opportunity), because it was a chance to win the game.” What Bowden couldn't say was that the Seminoles simply didn't have faith that quarterback Chris Rix would avoid taking a costly sack or offering up an interception in that situation. Nor should the coach have said anything of the sort. Sure, Rix directed game-winning, fourth-quarter comebacks this season against Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Florida. But he also played horribly in the 22-14 regular-season loss to the Hurricanes, turning the ball over four times. One can't help but think FSU's coaching staff was affected when Rix, under pressure by Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma on the Seminoles' first possession, threw the ball up for grabs and was intercepted by safety Sean Taylor. Though he made a handful of plays in leading FSU to its early lead, including a 52-yard strike to wideout Chauncey Stovall and a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Henshaw, Rix again was horrible when it mattered most. He completed just two of 12 second-half passing attempts for 18 yards and finished six-for-19 for 96 yards. It was the fewest completions for a Florida State team since Danny McManus went six-for-14 against Indiana in the 1986 All-American Bowl. “I think you have to credit a lot of (Rix's struggles) to Miami,” Bowden said. “We had a whole lot of opportunities to take over that game, and we just didn't do it offensively,” freshman tailback Lorenzo Booker said. “The defense did their job. They held (Miami) to 16 points, and if we can't score more than 16, we really don't deserve to win the game anyway.” The Seminoles have to wait only eight months to learn whether they are any more deserving of ending their five-game losing streak against Miami. FSU will return 10 offensive starters and a solid core of defenders for the Sept. 6 season opener in what will be Miami's ACC debut. Of course, Rix — the only FSU starting quarterback to go 0-3 versus Miami — is one of those returning starters. So is Beitia, who now has authored two of the five “wide-something” field goals in series history. When asked, point-blank, if the Seminoles had the playmakers capable of coming up big in big games, Bowden offered a telling response. “I think we have the players,” Bowden said. “Whether we'll do it, I don't know. I can't tell you. If we make one more play (in the Orange Bowl) you'd say we had them, wouldn't you? If we make one more play, you have those playmakers.” Booker, who will share a featured role with fellow tailback Leon Washington next season, said it makes no sense to point fingers at Rix. “You get mad at Chris sometimes, but I kind of learned that sometimes he's going to do stuff like he did against Florida and sometimes he's not going to have his best performance either,” Booker said. “The only thing I can do is do my job, and I'm behind him no matter what he does. It ain't going to do nobody no good to say, ‘He should have done this, he should have done that.' … No one played perfect.” Booker is right, of course. Bowden has made it clear that — for better or worse — he's going to make this frustrating marriage with Rix at quarterback work for one more season. That's why backup Fabian Walker is expected to transfer to a Division I-AA program for his senior season. Meanwhile, the Seminoles are going to have to find a way to beat Miami if they are going to continue to be the ACC's BCS representative. “We're going to have to clear that hurdle,” linebacker A.J. Nicholson said. “We're going to have to make plays when we need to make plays. We're going to have to stop them when we need to stop them. We need to execute when we need to execute. It all needs to fall in line. We'll get it done.” Still, it's awfully disturbing to hear Bowden respond when asked if this season's 10-3 finish has the Seminoles back to the level where they will be regularly competing for national championships. “We're getting close,” Bowden said. “We're about like Michigan; we're about like Texas, or any of those other teams that lost (on Jan. 1).” It's hard to imagine that Bowden really is ready to settle for Mack Brown-like results. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear he has much of a choice, at least as long as Rix has eligibility remaining and the Seminoles need field goals to beat Miami.

Basketball: Florida Loss Revealing Leonard Hamilton has brought national attention to his Florida State basketball team in short order, thanks to a 12-2 start. That attention, however, also may come with a price. Opposing coaches are paying closer attention to the Seminoles as well. Florida coach Billy Donovan used an extended layoff to work on his team's full-court press. That led to 21 turnovers by the Seminoles in an 87-73 victory that knocked FSU out of the coaches' poll after a one-week stay. “Even though I thought we handled the press well enough to get the ball to halfcourt, they made us make a lot of decisions, and I think we made too many poor decisions to take advantage of the talent we have on our team,” Hamilton said. “We are a team that is still not totally in sync. We are a team that is still trying to find the element that will make us consistent.” More troubling than the turnovers, the Seminoles' defense allowed the Gators to shoot 51 percent from the floor while forcing only 12 turnovers. It marked the third consecutive game in which an FSU opponent scored more than 72 points. The Seminoles went into the contest yielding a league-low 57.5 points per game. Not only do the Seminoles need to become more proficient in handling opponents' pressure, they also must find second and third reliable scoring options to supplement senior guard Tim Pickett. He scored a season-high 25 points against the Gators, but freshman forward Alexander Johnson was the only other double-figure scorer, with 10. With ACC play beginning in earnest, the Seminoles desperately need to get junior swingman Anthony Richardson back on track offensively. He converted just eight of his last 28 attempts from the floor over his last five games, and his scoring average dipped to about 10 points a game, which remained second-best on the team. While Johnson and fellow freshman Von Wafer continue to improve, the timetable for building consistency — at both ends of the floor — has been sped up by the arrival of the league schedule. “I think this is a learning experience for us,” Hamilton said after the Florida loss. “I do feel that we are very fortunate to be where we are now, while we are still learning and developing an identity.”