November 8, 2005
TALLAHASSEE -- Despite continued internet rumors that redshirt freshman backup quarterback Xavier Lee will transfer after this season, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden maintains that just isn't the case.
"He'd be wise to stay right where he is," Bowden said, the morning after the Seminoles' 20-15 loss to N.C. State. "He has no intention of leaving. People just put those ideas out there. That's not his ideas."
Lee was wildly inaccurate in two series of fourth-quarter relief for classmate starter Drew Weatherford against the Pack, completing just one of seven attempts for three yards. The performance, eerily similar to his 2-for-18 effort in an August scrimmage that provided Weatherford with some separation in their preseason fight for the job, came two days after Lee's mother paid Bowden a visit in his office.
"His mother just wanted to know what his future held here at Florida State," Bowden said of his sit-down with Gloria Postell. "She came over and I spent some time talking with her, trying to explain what's happening. I think she had a pretty good understanding when she left."
Not surprisingly, the ABC television announcing team of Gary Thorne and Tim Brandt seized the opportunity to make more of the mother-coach meeting. In what has become almost a weekly ritual among networks trying to be edgy with their broadcast coverage, they suggested that Bowden's decision to replace Weatherford with Lee in the fourth quarter with the Seminoles trailing 20-10 was a sign that he was bowing to some form of outside pressure.
Never mind that Weatherford was in the midst of his worst performance of the season. He was 19-of-38 for 181 yards with one touchdown, and two of his three interceptions came in the final 1:50 of the game. Weatherford actually applauded Bowden's decision.
"I was pleased," he said. "I hoped that he would come in and lead us to a victory."
Bowden did as well, making the move in large part because he hoped Lee could use his mobility to avoid State's pass rush and make the Wolfpack pay by running or throwing.
"He missed (receivers) so darn far, I took him out," Bowden said.
Whether Bowden is missing obvious signs that he won't have Lee around long enough to make a run at the starting job remains to be seen. One of the most persistent rumors has the Daytona Beach native joining Mack Brown at Texas, just in time to replace Vince Young, provided he returns for his final year of eligibility in 2006.
But at this point, it's clear that Weatherford -- still the top-producing freshman quarterback in the country -- is the Seminoles' starter.
When asked if he would be tempted to make a switch in his starters, Bowden said: "Not unless one out-performed the other. I would do that to hope that changed our luck. I think anybody that watched the game saw (Lee) needs some work. He's got great potential but needs some work."
NO CONFIDENCE IN RUNNING GAME
If the Seminoles are going to salvage a season with a record that marks significant improvement over the past four seasons, they will have to do it through the air.
That's no fault of running backs Lorenzo Booker and Leon Washington, who remain two of the most dangerous players in the ACC, particularly in the open field. The problem for the Seminoles is, the only way Booker and Washington can get the ball in the open field to make plays is via the pass.
This team simply can't move the ball on the ground. That's a product of a line that already is maximizing limited talent at key positions and lacks depth and physical strength.
FSU entered its game against State ranked 11th in the ACC in rushing offense. The Seminoles were producing just 119.4 yards a game before the Wolfpack, despite relying heavily on a three-man front that should have left it vulnerable to the rush, limited them to 43 yards on 23 carries.
Of course, the Seminoles attempted only eight rushing plays in the second half, in yet another sign of their continued offensive impatience.
"We've been so successful throwing, why run?" Bowden asked. "If you throw it, you can get 10 (yards), and if you run it you can get four. I'd rather get 10."
Bowden, however, acknowledged that the Seminoles must do a better job of running the ball in an effort to prevent defenses from "pinning their ears back" and going after Weatherford. The QB himself acknowledged that the lack of a run game was problematic against the Pack.
"The big problem is, we weren't running the ball very much in the second half," he said. "We got kind of one-dimensional."
Unfortunately, that has become more of a necessity. FSU has lost its best lineman, right guard Matt Meinrod, for the season to a knee injury. His replacement, John Frady, also is likely finished after suffering an injury to a shoulder that already has been surgically repaired. Sophomore left guard Jacky Claude has been plagued by missed assignments to the point that he was replaced in the State game by unproductive senior Ron Lunford. Right guard Cornelius Lewis, the third player to start at that position this season, might be playing better than any of his front-line teammates.
Meanwhile, center David Castillo is holding up gallantly. That's no small feat, considering the nine surgeries he's undergone since arriving at FSU. But neither Castillo or either of the starting tackles, Cory Niblock and David Overmyer, is particularly gifted athletically.
"We're really better at pass protection and throwing than we are run-blocking and running," Bowden said. "We'll get better, but we're kind of undermanned there right now."
BASKETBALL: A.J. LOOKS PROMISING
While senior linebacker A.J. Nicholson is garnering all kinds of national attention for his play, FSU fans should be excited about the playing prospects of another A.J. this year.
Junior basketball center Alexander Johnson has shed 20 pounds, while managing to improve his upper-body strength and cardiovascular fitness. At 6-9 and 235 pounds, Johnson finally looks like a guy who could give coach Leonard Hamilton's team a much-needed lift.
More importantly, Johnson doesn't look anything like he did during his sophomore season. Appearing out of shape and lacking both confidence and motivation as he battled through a myriad of medical problems, Johnson was headed toward an unfulfilled career with the Seminoles, if not elsewhere.
Hamilton long has been frustrated with Johnson, who the coaches say can tip out -- a standing jump from under the basket -- at 11 feet, six inches. Remember, that height is above the box on the backboard, which makes Johnson's career-best 4.5 rebounds (two years ago) even more confounding.
Throughout the summer, Johnson reportedly was considering a transfer to either Cincinnati (the crazy Bob Huggins situation didn't help) or Connecticut (disciplinary problems and a confusing scholarship merry-go-round were complications). Those rumors got stronger when Johnson went home to Albany, Ga., where he was privately re-dedicating himself to getting fit for another run in Hamilton's system.
Whether the addition of heralded freshman forward Uche Echefu played an inspirational role for Johnson is unclear, but Hamilton has liked what he's seen. The coach knows that his A.J. could be a force in the middle even if he only modestly improves on his freshman season, when he earned ACC all-rookie honors.