Florida State football fans will tell you the best thing about the Seminoles' last two games was that quarterback Chris Rix wasn't around to mess them up. Much to the fans' chagrin, FSU Coach Bobby Bowden said if Rix had been healthy, the much-maligned senior would have played in the Seminoles' lackluster 17-13 victory at Syracuse last week.
But with Rix still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered against Clemson on Sept. 25, sophomore quarterback Wyatt Sexton has taken nearly all the snaps in the Seminoles' past two games, a 38-16 win over North Carolina and against Syracuse. But while Sexton was struggling in his first road game against the Orange in the Carrier Dome, Bowden admits he was looking for Rix, who was standing on the sideline.
"If Chris had been completely healthy, somewhere in the middle of the second quarter I probably would have put Chris in there to see if he could get something going," Bowden said. "When Chris is hot, you aren't going to beat him. The only thing is he has those bad days, too."
Unfortunately for Bowden, Rix has endured too many bad days during his tumultuous four-year career in Tallahassee. So even as Rix returns to health, Bowden will again start Sexton, the son of Seminoles assistant head coach Billy Sexton, in Saturday night's game against sixth-ranked Virginia at Doak Campbell Stadium. The seventh-ranked Seminoles have beaten the Cavaliers in 11 of 12 meetings since 1992, and they've never lost to Virginia at home.
Rix, who has a 26-11 record as a starter, "won't start until I am sure he is well," Bowden said. "Just because he can move around out there without any contact and throw the ball, that doesn't mean he is well. I don't want to put him in a situation where he hurts that ankle and now we'll wait two or three more weeks to get him well."
Sexton, 6 feet 3 and 206 pounds, has played reasonably well since replacing Rix late in the first quarter of the Seminoles' 41-22 win over Clemson. In the past three games, all victories, Sexton has completed 63 percent of his passes for 524 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. In 21/2 games, Rix completed only 50.8 percent of his passes for 321 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
But against Syracuse, which lost to Virginia, 31-10, on Sept. 25, Sexton threw for 75 yards in the first half, and the Seminoles trailed 10-3 at halftime. Sexton, who had attempted only 14 passes at FSU before he replaced Rix, finally seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. He struggled reading signals from the sideline, misfired on several passes and didn't manage the clock very well.
"He was a little unsure of himself," Bowden said. "He didn't throw with authority at the first of the game. We had a guy coming across the middle, and he threw behind him. We had another guy coming across and he threw too far ahead of him. And so he just wasn't as sure of himself."
While Bowden said he would have pulled Sexton if he'd had another quarterback available (the Seminoles want to redshirt freshman Xavier Lee, and freshman Drew Weatherford has a badly sprained ankle), his son, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, said he would have been more patient.
"I don't know, that's Dad," Jeff Bowden said. "I didn't feel that way. I felt like it wasn't the time. There were a lot of feelings about spreading it around and, 'Let's start throwing,' but I felt like we were fine in the I-formation and we were moving the ball."
While Florida State has one of the nation's top running games -- the Seminoles ran for a season-high 258 yards against Syracuse, and their season average of 200.2 rushing yards per game is their highest since 1995 -- the coaches have tried to remain balanced on offense, even with the inexperienced Sexton under center. Junior Leon Washington has run for 150 yards or more two games in a row, and sophomore Lorenzo Booker has run for at least 70 yards in four consecutive games. Still, Wyatt opened the North Carolina game by throwing eight consecutive passes, and nine of FSU's first 14 plays against Syracuse were passes.
"So from that you would deduce that they felt pretty comfortable in really throwing him out there and letting him go right away," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "It wasn't, 'We're going to ease him into it and use the running game and try to get ahead and then we'll get him some passes.' I'd say their mentality, which it has been over the years, is there's a way that we play and whoever is our quarterback has been . . . groomed to do that."