September 26, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- After sitting out half the game as the Florida State coaching staff finally made good on its promise to play backup quarterback Xavier Lee, starter Drew Weatherford offered his perspective on the Seminoles' 55-7 throttling of Rice.
"The execution was obviously much better, but it was just the attitude," Weatherford said. "We came out and we were going to run the ball. We were going to establish the run. We made the game plan really simple, to be honest. We wanted to go out and execute what we do well and not think too much, and we went out and did that.
"I think that was a great gameplan by the coaches, to just let us go out and play and not think too much. Football can be really simple when you go out and make it (that way)."
Simple? It wasn't simple several weeks back, when the Seminoles played host to similarly overmatched Troy. Instead of taking the Trojans to task on the ground, coach Bobby Bowden thought the best way to build a lead was through an all-out aerial assault.
"You need to put them away early," Bowden said later. "We couldn't put them away. They were putting us away."
The Seminoles rallied for 14 points in the fourth quarter to win 24-17, but they could not extinguish the rekindled flame under offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden's seat.
By following his father's direction, JB and the Seminoles sent the wrong message. Instead of confidently carrying a 2-0 record into the Clemson game, FSU was filled with doubt, especially about its running game. The Tigers responded with a season-saving 27-20 win, further shaking the Seminoles and fanning the flames of discontent.
There is no way of determining whether the ill-conceived approach to the Troy game had a hand in the Clemson loss, but it was abundantly clear that the FSU staff wanted no part of a fourth consecutive offensive struggle against Rice.
The Seminoles needed a sound win to feel good heading into the N.C. State game, and they set out to get the job done by putting the ball in the hands of their running backs. With a few new wrinkles thrown in, FSU hammered out 287 rushing yards on 38 carries, as Antone Smith (137 yards) and Lorenzo Booker (115) both eclipsed the century mark.
"Rice wasn't too strong, so the holes were a lot bigger than normal," Booker said. "I'm not too surprised. I never thought we couldn't run the ball. I thought we just needed time to gel. The running game is just like the passing game. You've got to get the time and the work. We'll never put up the kind of numbers we hope to put up unless we get the opportunities."
Given the chance, and the offseason commitment to improving the running game, the Seminoles could prove to be an effective rushing offense. As a result, they could reap the benefits in the passing game as well. They did against the Owls, who were victims of touchdown passes from 18 and 57 yards -- from Weatherford and Lee, respectively -- to wideout Greg Carr.
It doesn't take a genius to devise a winning offensive game plan against one of college football's perennial have-nots, but it still requires sound execution. Whether the Seminoles choose to run to set up the pass, or vice versa, any combination that produces 500 yards and 55 points is welcome at this point.
"I'm not quite sure if we've found our identity yet, whether we're going to be a running team or a passing team, or what," FSU freshman tight end Brandon Warren said. "In a game like this, we build our confidence up to get ready for the next opponent, N.C. State."
Too bad it took the Seminoles four games -- and a loss that could deny them an ACC title defense -- to gain that confidence.
YOUTH MOVEMENT FILLING HOLES
Florida State never has been shy about trotting out talented freshmen, but the 2006 Seminoles already may have set a record. Through the Rice victory, 15 true freshmen had made appearances this season.
"I don't think I can ever remember playing more than that," Bowden said.
The more poignant question isn't when FSU might have played more first-year players. It's why?
With only six seniors who arrived in Tallahassee on scholarship, the Seminoles clearly are in the midst of a youth movement. Couple that with play-making voids at defensive end and wide receiver, and personnel shortcomings along the defensive front and in the secondary, and the answer becomes clear: The Seminoles are going young because they have to.
There are side benefits to the youth movement as well. "It's great for morale," Bowden said. Weatherford carried Bowden's assertion a little further.
"The biggest thing is their enthusiasm really lifts," Weatherford said. "They get excited, which helps the team. People don't realize the guys on the sideline being excited and being involved really helps the whole team. We got young guys in -- guys who haven't played and made big plays -- and when they do so, everybody's excited for them."
In the win against Rice, freshman safety Myron Rolle logged a team-leading eight tackles in his first career start. Defensive end Dekoda Watson had four stops, including his first career sack. Fellow defensive end Kevin McNeil, just five days after he returned to the practice field following a successful NCAA appeal to gain his initial eligibility, added two tackles and forced a fumble. Linebacker Marcus Ball, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, returned an interception 54 yards to set up a first-half score.
Offensively, the contributions were more modest. Warren collected three receptions for 37 yards, while fellow freshman tight end Caz Piurowski added a 13-yard grab and alertly turned a blocked PAT into a two-point conversion run. Wideout Preston Parker had one catch and threw a key block to spring Carr's 57-yard TD.
"In a game like this, you hope to get in and play and kind of showcase what you've got when you're young," Warren said. "When I saw Dekoda getting sacks and Marcus making an interception, that makes me happy because we're all in this together, we're all a family as a freshman class. I think we have one of the (most) talented classes in the country."