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Team Dividing Over Quarterback Issue?

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

October 28, 2002 TALLAHASSEE — Newly appointed defensive captain Alonzo Jackson was forcibly removed from the locker room by teammates after melting down in the wake of Florida State's latest meltdown, a 34-24 home loss to Notre Dame. “Everybody can see the problem, but nobody will look at the coaches,” Jackson shouted in a fit of rage.

Everybody, perhaps, but the Florida State coaching staff.

With a seventh loss in their last 18 games, the Seminoles are coming apart from within. There is a deep and wide division within the club that is not at all unlike the one that nearly tore the team apart during last season's 8-4 unraveling.

Standing in the middle of the new divide is starting quarterback Chris Rix. His three second-half turnovers against the Fighting Irish helped turn a 10-10 halftime deadlock into a 34-10 deficit, as the Seminoles stared down the possibility of suffering their worst home loss since 1981.

Yes, Rix was hurt by five first-half dropped passes. Yes, there were communication problems in getting plays from the sideline to the huddle. Yes, the coaching mismanaged a 24-point deficit by refusing to go for a pair of two-point conversions in the waning minutes.

But FSU's problems go far beyond Rix. The cornerbacks still can't cover. The pass rush is spotty at best. Senseless penalties continue to mount at the most inopportune times. Now this. By directing the Seminoles to a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes, Adrian McPherson stoked the quarterback controversy flames.

FSU coach Bobby Bowden acknowledged that there is something holding his team back from taking a giant step forward. He held his fingers close together to depict how close he thought the Seminoles were to solving it, then all but admitted it may be a bigger issue.

“You can't say something's not there, but you can't put your finger on it,” Bowden said, later adding, “it could be chemistry.”

Yeah. Like oil and water. It's been 28 years since Bowden was on the West Virginia sideline, but he surely hasn't forgotten the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys. This time the family lines are drawn up a little bit differently.

Though there have never been any deep racial divides within the FSU football family, this one could end up that way. Rix is white and struggling. McPherson is black, and as the backup, “the most popular guy on the team.” One source close to the team said it was the first time he'd ever seen race become even a potential issue for the Seminoles.

That delicate issue aside, FSU's defensive players clearly have lost all confidence in Rix. They said as much in the aftermath of the Notre Dame loss.

“I don't have anything to do with the turnovers and the rest of that,” nose guard Travis Johnson said. “I don't touch the ball. ... I can't say what's causing the team to lose. I know who came to play, and I know who's doing what they're supposed to do. We've just got to make changes.”

Jackson, Johnson and tackle Darnell Dockett were the most outspoken defenders who spoke of the need for a change. But the criticism wasn't limited to the defensive players.

Anquan Boldin, who had a career-best performance for receptions and yards against the Irish, said McPherson's performance in the waning minutes couldn't be ignored.

“I don't think it's meaningless,” said Boldin, the one-time quarterback who hasn't been shy about showing his displeasure with Rix's decision-making on the field. “You can't overlook that. The guy (McPherson) moved the ball up and down the field two consecutive drives. ... The kid played great, under the circumstances he was put in the game.”

McPherson has steadfastly taken the high road on the brewing quarterback controversy, but it wasn't hard to read his body language as he celebrated with teammates after their two face-saving touchdown drives. And you had to be deaf not to recognize the outpouring of appreciation for the sophomore shown by the fans, who greeted his entrance with an ovation and stayed on their feet until the final gun sounded.

Bowden promised that there would be plenty of meetings this week, with staff and players, in an attempt to sort out the current mess.

“Usually, after two losses, that's meeting time,” he said. “I think it's something we'll get straightened out.”

Bowden said he'll take a long look at the starting quarterback job before the Seminoles embark on their final five regular-season games, with their hope of an ACC title still very much alive.

It may be the most important analysis period of Bowden's 27 seasons at FSU, directly impacting both the short- and long-term future of the program. In turn, whatever decision he makes could well determine whether or not Bowden is around to see what is now a reclamation project through to the finish.

Hot-Button Issue No. 2: Religion

While the potential for a racial divide exists within FSU's football rank-and-file, there is little doubt that the team has two other factions at work.

There are program insiders who will tell you that the team is divided along hard lines, between those who profess their religious faith and those who put football at the top of their priority list.

This is not new at FSU, where Bowden stands as one of the most devout Christians in the coaching ranks and makes it a practice to expose his players to that faith through near-mandatory church visits. Team chaplain Clint Purvis remains a visible presence on the sideline, offering counsel and support throughout games and long afterward.

Naturally, some players (including Rix, kicker Xavier Beitia, offensive lineman Todd Williams, defensive end Kevin Emanuel and linebacker Michael Boulware) gravitate toward Purvis and the spiritual element. Others, including Dockett, Johnson and linebacker Kendyll Pope, do not go about their daily lives in a similar manner.

Not surprisingly, the dividing line on the quarterback issue is similarly split among the players. The potential crux of the problem, however, is that the coaching staff largely takes its religious cue from Bowden, and they are the ones making the decisions on playing time.

It will be interesting to watch this entire situation play out.

Hamilton Missed Big Opportunity

First-year basketball coach Leonard Hamilton already has made waves with his early recruiting work, indicative of the dawning of a new day for FSU hoops. In less than a year, he made more positive splashes with high-profile commitments than the departed Steve Robinson made in five full seasons.

Hamilton, however, made what appeared to be a tactical blunder when he declined to hold media day on the Friday before the Notre Dame football game.

With a near-record 550 media credentials issued for the football game — including a strong national presence, as well as every major columnist and writer in Florida (the Gators were off) — Hamilton missed out on a chance to showcase the new $12-million practice facility and his team.

Many Sunshine State newspapers, in particular, normally give the Seminoles only secondary coverage and rarely send their top writers to Tallahassee. Their interest in FSU basketball, generally speaking, is embarrassingly low, and the big football weekend could have provided a rare chance to rebuild some media bridges. Opportunities like that one don't come along very often.

Not that Hamilton cares.

Though he's been in town for just over seven months, it's clear to many observers that Hamilton couldn't care less about the media's perception of his program. His single-mindedness likely will do wonders for resurrecting FSU's woeful team, but in this instance, his tunnel vision denied the program a shot at some much-needed positive publicity.