November 8, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - A left tendon ankle injury to starting quarterback Drew Weatherford opened the door for backup Xavier Lee to earn the first two starts of his career for a Florida State football team that saw its preseason goals extinguished long ago.
Lee's performance (22-36, 286 yards, one touchdown) in a 27-24 loss at Maryland had the Seminoles' fan base absolutely giddy, despite their favorite team's fourth defeat of the season.
Even FSU coach Bobby Bowden admitted that Lee looked like "a million dollars" in his turnover-free performance against the Terrapins. Naturally, the coach was curious to see how the redshirt sophomore would perform in his first home start, against Virginia.
"When he came out there (against UVa), I thought he wasn't quite as calm as he was last game and probably put pressure on himself," Bowden said, after watching 11 of Lee's 15 first-half pass attempts fall incomplete.
Bowden resisted any temptation to lift Lee in place of Weatherford, despite the shaky start.
"The one thing I didn't want to do was ... put (Lee) in there with a quick trigger," Bowden said.
Lee rewarded Bowden's patience by completing 8 of 10 second-half pass attempts for 149 yards, including a perfect 37-yard touchdown pass to wideout Chris Davis on a skinny post route. Lee finished 12-of-25 for 185 yards, and for the second consecutive week he did not throw an interception.
Weatherford did play the final three series, with the Seminoles comfortably in front and on the way to a 33-0 shutout of the Cavaliers.
Was it all enough for Lee to secure a third consecutive start, against once-beaten Wake Forest?
"We've got one quarterback more dangerous than the other," Bowden said, referring to Lee, who also led the Seminoles with 49 rushing yards. "We've got one quarterback more consistent (Weatherford)."
After the game, Bowden hedged a bit on his decision, calling Lee the "likely" starter. The next day, Bowden said he "left some room with likely."
Meanwhile, for the second consecutive game, FSU's maligned offensive line performed admirably in protecting the mobile Lee. The Seminoles did not allow a sack against UVa, which entered the game with an ACC-best 28. Lee was sacked three times at Maryland, for a meager nine yards in losses.
Whether or not Lee's mobility and calm in the pocket, compared to Weatherford, has made the line more effective is up for debate. This isn't: FSU has been more effective running the ball in the two games with Lee as the starter.
The Seminoles rushed for 172 yards against the Terrapins, second only to their 287 against Rice this season. Lee contributed 50 of those on eight carries. They followed up with a modest 117 yards on the ground against Virginia's stout rushing defense, headed by Lee's 49 on four totes.
More importantly, the line avoided the mistakes that hurt the team against the Terps. After 20 consecutive games with Weatherford under center, Lee's cadence prompted a rash of illegal procedure penalties at Maryland, as the Seminoles were penalized 13 times for 100 yards.
There was only one procedure penalty assessed against FSU in the UVa game, as the Seminoles were flagged a season-low four times for 35 yards.
Coupling the paucity of penalties with the first turnover-free game of the season enabled FSU to cruise to its most lopsided ACC victory against a team not named Duke since its 36-3 home rout of the Cavaliers in 2004.
BASKETBALL: ROUGH EDGES EARLY
Leonard Hamilton's fifth Florida State basketball team opened its two-game exhibition season with 90-72 victory over NAIA power Spring Hill (Ala.).
The outcome wasn't surprising, though the route to get there was a bit circuitous. The Seminoles trailed 39-34 at the half, largely because they missed 11 of 13 three-point attempts, turned the ball over 12 times and allowed the visitors to knock down 9 of 17 three-point shots before the break.
A 17-4 run to start the second half took any mystery out of the game. Still, there were many questions left to ponder, as well as a few surprises.
In his first start at point guard, sophomore Auburn transfer Toney Douglas dished out a team-high four assists but also was responsible for five of the team's 20 turnovers. Just 4-of-12 from the field, Douglas finished with only 11 points but did contribute six rebounds.
Sophomore forward Uche Echefu, who underwent disk surgery on his back early in the summer, contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes. Echefu is being counted on to help fill the rebounding void left by Alexander Johnson's early departure to the NBA.
Freshman Ryan Reid flashed some promise in his long-awaited debut. (He signed with the 2005 class but wasn't cleared for admission until August of this season.) Reid appears to have an appetite for rebounding, collecting seven boards in 16 minutes to go along with eight points.
Junior guard Jason Rich led the Seminoles with 17 points, while senior forward Al Thornton added 16 points and eight rebounds. Isaiah Swann chipped in 12 points, as FSU had five players in double figures.
There were times in the initial exhibition game when Douglas did not look particularly comfortable directing FSU's half-court sets. It's hard to imagine his high, hard dribble not being vulnerable against on-the-ball pressure.
Hamilton dismissed the notion that Douglas may not be the guy to be the team's floor leader, even though he played mostly the wing guard spot at Auburn. The coach said FSU's limited practice time while installing a new offense - geared to a four-guard set, with an emphasis on transition - has everyone on the team a bit disjointed.
Junior Ralph Mims saw 20 minutes of action at the point, delivering three assists with just two turnovers. Freshman point guard Josue Soto was limited to five minutes of action.
Interestingly, the Seminoles also are looking at bringing another point guard on board next season. Decatur (Ala.) High senior Rico Pickett, who backed away from his year-old commitment to Alabama, recently took an official visit to FSU. Pickett also is considering N.C. State and Illinois, as well as the Crimson Tide.