September 11, 2007
TALLAHASSEE Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's preseason evaluation of quarterbacks Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee apparently has turned up a runaway winner in the highly debated competition to become the starter.
Through the first two games of the season and a pair of slow starts Weatherford took every snap for the Seminoles.
Fisher offered a hint as to just how lopsided the quarterback competition might be less than 24 hours after FSU's 24-18 loss at Clemson. Asked if Lee would see any time under center the next week against Alabama-Birmingham, Fisher matter-of-factly replied:
"Drew is our quarterback."
Even a poor (4-for-10) first-quarter start by Weatherford against UAB, which included an interception return for a touchdown by the Blazers, failed to get Lee warming up on the sideline.
Fisher's conviction paid dividends. Weatherford rebounded to complete 22 of 35 attempts for 332 yards and three touchdowns, while spreading the wealth among eight different receivers.
"I felt like I was a little too antsy in the pocket in the first half (against UAB) and in the first half against Clemson," Weatherford said. "But as the game went, I got more and more comfortable and confident and was much more patient and accurate throwing the ball."
Still, FSU coach Bobby Bowden wondered aloud about Weatherford's early ineffectiveness, especially for a player making his 27th career start.
"I don't know why he threw that first ball out there," Bowden said of the interception UAB's Will Dunbar returned 21 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. "Redshirt juniors aren't supposed to do that. Charlie Ward could. He'd give you one and he'd get two, but (Weatherford) can't do that."
Anecdotally, Weatherford used his performance in the Seminoles' 34-24 win over UAB to move past Ward, the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner, on FSU's all-time lists for completions and passing yards.
PROBLEMS: DISCIPLINE, MISTAKES
Growing pains associated with a new offense and the shortage of playmakers aside, Florida State's early struggles on both sides of the football also could be attributed to foolish mistakes.
In the process of escaping a stunning upset in the home opener against UAB, the Seminoles were flagged 12 times for 131 yards. Tack on eight penalties for 45 yards in the season-opening loss at Clemson, and FSU was averaging 10 penalties for 88 yards per game.
"It's definitely discipline," Bowden said. "It's playing undisciplined football, and it's going to get us beat."
What's ironic is that the FSU players have lauded the new coaching staff and especially the return of long-time Bowden assistant Chuck Amato for bringing much-needed discipline back to the program. Tailback Antone Smith and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen both spoke at length about how Amato has insisted that the players maintain their lockers a certain way or run the risk of being banished to the visitor's locker room.
Perhaps Amato, the former N.C. State coach whose Wolfpack teams were notorious for their penalty-prone, self-destructive ways, should banish players for the types of boneheaded mistakes that helped keep UAB in the game.
Six of the Blazers' 19 first downs were the result of FSU penalties, and even those that didn't move the chains contributed significantly to UAB's 24 points.
Defensive holding (cornerback Michael Ray Garvin) and offsides (defensive end Alex Boston) fouls enabled UAB to drive 70 yards to a field goal on its first possession. A roughing-the-passer infraction (defensive tackle Budd Thacker) kept a second-quarter TD drive going that put the Blazers in front 17-3.
After tying the game at 17 on the first possession of the second half, the Seminoles allowed UAB to drive to the FSU 39, helped along by pass interference (cornerback Tony Carter) and facemask (Boston) penalties. They were fortunate not to surrender the go-ahead points, as star safety Myron Rolle recovered a fumble to end the threat.
FSU wasn't as fortunate after taking a 24-17 lead, as the Blazers marched back with a four-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, aided by another roughing-the-passer foul (Everette Brown) on a running play, no less to forge another deadlock.
Up 34-24 early in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles were poised to put the Blazers away, but a senseless unsportsmanlike-conduct infraction (safety Anthony Houllis) in celebration of a third-and-14 stop kept a drive alive the fortuitously ended with an errant UAB field goal.
Two games into the season, Bowden already could see that the Seminoles are going to be forced to claw their way to victory each week. That leaves little margin for error, especially when faced with more talented opponents than UAB, which became the 11th team in 13 games to hang at least 20 points on FSU.
"We've got to solve the self-destructive part," Bowden said. "We did our best to try and lose that game. We found out who the enemy is, and it's us."
RESERVES ENJOYING OPPORTUNITIES
After two games, it became clear that FSU's re-tooled offensive staff isn't going to show preferential treatment to the team's veterans.
Fisher got a chance to get a variety of previously unproven players some by design, others out of necessity a longer look against UAB, after sticking with a smaller group of skill-position players in the opening loss at Clemson.
Dropped passes by veteran receivers De'Cody Fagg and Greg Carr against the Tigers opened the door for sophomore Preston Parker and junior Richard Goodman, who combined for seven receptions, 150 yards and a touchdown against the Blazers. Sophomore hybrid back Marcus Sims rushed for 34 yards on seven carries and collected three receptions for 33 yards. That was easily the most productive day of his career.
When Smith (the starter at tailback) went down with a concussion early in the third quarter, seldom-seen junior Jamaal Edwards stepped in to provide 45 rushing yards on 12 carries. That also marked a career best.
"They made big-time plays in big-time situations and competed well, and they had to," Fisher said of the previously under-exposed quartet. "We are going to need all of those guys for us to play and get to the levels which we are trying to get to."
In addition to his four receptions for 89 yards, Parker provided a much-needed boost in the punt return game, rolling up 74 yards on six returns. He also added one rush for nine yards, finishing off a performance of 172 all-purpose yards on 11 touches (15.6 average).
"I had more chances (than against Clemson) to show something, since I was on the kickoff and punt teams, and I was receiving," Parker said. "I was just trying to make a play at every position I was in."
On a team astonishingly deficient in the playmaker department, Parker's emergence could provide a significant boost.