Aug 30, 2003
By DAVID DROSCHAK
AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Florida State fans chanted his name and Bobby Bowden was more than happy to tip his cap as he left Kenan Stadium under vastly different circumstances this time.
Chris Rix ran for a pair of short touchdowns and threw for another score as the 13th-ranked Seminoles returned to the scene of their worst regular-season loss in 16 years and beat North Carolina 37-0 Saturday night.
“I hope this shows a different mentality and a different strain of leadership,” Bowden said following a pair of average seasons for the powerhouse program.
The Florida State offense, dominated by its defense in spring and fall scrimmages, rolled up 301 yards and 18 first downs in the opening 30 minutes to build a nice working margin.
The Seminoles finished with 29 first downs and 553 yards of total offense as North Carolina was shut out in a season opener for the first time since 1966.
“This is more like it,” Bowden said after 8-4 and 9-5 seasons helped knock the Seminoles out of this year’s list of preseason title contenders. “I won’t say we’re back, but just compare this to last year.”
Rix had four turnovers in an embarrassing 41-9 loss to the Tar Heels here in 2001 – his third career start and the program’s most lopsided regular-season loss since Auburn beat the Seminoles 59-27 in 1985.
But two years later, Rix secured his spot as FSU’s starting quarterback by playing a near flawless game. He completed 11 of his first 12 passes with a pair of 1-yard scoring runs in the opening half and a 7-yard TD pass late in the third quarter.
“You can gauge a quarterback by us only punting twice,” Bowden said. “That means you’re keeping the football. He did excellent.”
The junior finished 17-of-26 for 232 yards as Bowden won his 333rd game while improving to 26-2 in openers at FSU.
“Rix was excellent with his reads,” wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe said. “He was patient. He let the play unfold. He let everything happen for us.”
North Carolina showed its fans little improvement on defense – the team’s sore spot during last year’s 3-9 record.
The Seminoles’ gameplan was to spread out the Tar Heels and use their speed. It worked from the start as Rix was able to hit receivers or running backs with swing passes or short routes that turned into big gains.
“The play calling was great and it put us in good situations and the line exceeded expectations,” Rix said. “The guys who were here (in 2001) remembered how it felt and our goal was to make sure that didn’t happen again and we walked off this field with a convincing victory.
“We showed glimpses of being back, but we’re not going to get comfortable now,” he added. “This was a start and we showed what we can do when we play together.”
Florida State averaged 10.4 yards a play in the first quarter as Greg Jones, coming off knee surgery, scored on a 5-yard run to open the scoring. Less than two minutes later, a 43-yard pass by Rix set up his first short keeper.
Freshman Lorenzo Booker, a nice complement to the powerful Jones, showed off his speed and cutback ability on the first play of the second quarter, racing 21 yards for his first career TD and a 21-0 lead.
Rix then capped a 79-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak 1:08 before halftime.
Florida State’s new offensive line looked impressive as the Seminoles rushed for 236 yards.
“Even though this was our first game we felt it was a statement game,” Jones said.
The highlight of the ground attack came late in the first quarter when Jones bulled over all-ACC defensive back Dexter Reid when he lowered his shoulder, knocking off Reid’s helmet at the tail end of a 21-yard rush.
North Carolina’s only scoring chance of the first half came on field goal attempts, but Dan Orner was wide right from 51 and 37 yards.
The loss was the Tar Heels’ seventh straight at Kenan Stadium, tying a school record for consecutive home defeats set in 1987-88.
“The team we played has got some awesome athletes,” UNC coach John Bunting said. “They have the players that I want to recruit.”
Florida State’s deep running back corps was dealt a blow when Leon Washington was lost with a dislocated right elbow injury while returning a punt in the first quarter.