Florida State 41, Clemson 22
For four seasons, Florida State football fans have had a love-hate relationship with quarterback Chris Rix. At times, he has displayed a golden arm and athletic ability that rivaled Charlie Ward, the Seminoles' 1993 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. More times than not, though, Rix's poor decisions and ill-advised throws have cost Florida State dearly in big games.
After the eighth-ranked Seminoles' 41-22 victory over Clemson at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday, it seems Florida State fans might not have to worry about Rix any longer. Rix, who had four turnovers in the Seminoles' 16-10 loss to Miami in their Sept. 10 opener, sprained his right ankle with about four minutes left in the first quarter against Clemson. He was replaced by sophomore Wyatt Sexton, who led the Seminoles to four touchdown drives, including a 47-yard touchdown pass to Chauncey Stovall that put Florida State ahead, 24-14, early in the third quarter.
Seminoles Coach Bobby Bowden said Rix had a high ankle sprain and tried to go back into the game. Bowden said he would evaluate the Clemson game film today and would wait until Monday to name a starting quarterback for next week's game against North Carolina.
"I think we'll have to look at it and see what's there," Bowden said. "I'd hate to start a controversy, but there might be one there. We need to look at the film and see what's there, good and bad, and try to be fair in our judgment. . . . I just want to see somebody win. If it happens to be Wyatt, that's good. If it's the other guy, that's good."
Despite Sexton's strong play, the Seminoles had to overcome a plethora of special-teams mistakes to help Bowden beat his son, Clemson Coach Tommy Bowden, for the fifth time in their six meetings. Tigers cornerback Justin Miller scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns of 97 and 86 yards. Miller had 282 yards on kickoff returns, the most in ACC history, and his second kickoff return for a score, which came after Clemson blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety, cut Florida State's lead to 24-22 with 7 minutes 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
But about four minutes later, Seminoles tailback Leon Washington broke a tackle and ran 35 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, extending Florida State's lead to 31-22. With less than nine minutes left, the Seminoles (2-1, 1-1 ACC) sealed the win on fullback James Coleman's one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal.
Sexton, the son of Seminoles assistant head coach and running backs coach Billy Sexton, completed 17 of 26 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. Just as importantly, he made few mistakes and didn't commit any turnovers, which have plagued Rix throughout his career.
"I knew the offense before I got here," said Sexton, whose father has coached under Bowden for 28 seasons. "I've watched every home game since I was 2 years old, so I have a great understanding of how the FSU offense works. . . . This is just the start. I think I'm capable of taking this team to a national championship. That's my goal and that's what I want to prove to people."
Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, considered a dark horse to win the Heisman Trophy before this season, struggled once again, completing 10 of 24 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles, giving him nine turnovers in the last two games and 13 this season.
"I'm letting our guys down," Whitehurst said. "I've just got to play better. I've got to practice harder. I've got to change something."
Clemson (1-3, 1-2) led 7-3 late in the second quarter before Whitehurst committed two critical mistakes. On third and 18 at the Tigers 27-yard line, he was sacked by defensive end Eric Moore and fumbled. Florida State's Charles Howard recovered at the Clemson 9, and fullback B.J. Dean scored three plays later to put the Seminoles ahead, 10-7, with 4:06 left in the first half.
On Clemson's next play, Whitehurst threw to the left side for wide receiver Kelvin Grant, but his pass was intercepted by cornerback Leroy Smith, who ran 41 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Florida State fans have grown accustomed to Rix making those kind of plays. Rix, a senior from Santa Margarita, Calif., was hurt when he was sacked by Clemson linebacker Eric Sampson. Rix limped after the play, but stayed in the rest of the series before he was replaced by Sexton. Rix completed 3 of 8 passes for 22 yards. He was taken to the locker room for X-rays, which showed only a sprain, and he returned to the sideline.