North Carolina's rout of Florida State revealed the Seminoles' deficiencies
Last Friday night Florida State coach Bobby Bowden tried to explain to his sixth-ranked Seminoles that they could lose to 0-3 North Carolina the next day. The wisdom of his 408 games as a head coach, however, was no match for the cockiness and skepticism that he sensed in the team's hotel meeting room. Twenty-four hours later the players got the message—too late.
"This [ North Carolina] team had fumbled the ball," Bowden said on Sunday, a day after the Tar Heels humiliated the Seminoles 41-9. "This team had thrown interceptions. This team had missed tackles. We were a young team that fell into a trap. I warned the kids about it. What happens if [the Tar Heels] quit turning the ball over? Sometimes, that goes unheard."
North Carolina, playing its first home game under new coach John Bunting, threw two interceptions and still won going away, thanks mostly to Florida State's five turnovers and 14 penalties. The Tar Heels exposed the Seminoles' lack of experience, depth and, surprisingly, leadership—all of which led to the worst loss a Bowden-coached team had suffered in 13 years.
Florida State freshman quarterback Chris Rix completed only 8 of 21 passes, threw one interception and lost two fumbles. Trailing 17-9 midway through the third quarter, Rix threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker that was called back because junior tackle Brett Williams had held defensive end Julius Peppers. The loss of the touchdown so unnerved Prix that he didn't get the next play off in time, incurring yet another penalty.
With the score 20-9 in the fourth quarter, the rest of the Seminoles lost their composure. On each of North Carolina's three touchdown drives in the final period, Florida State committed a personal foul. Bowden expressed concern that Iris veterans allowed the younger players to panic.
After three straight years in which they made trips to the national championship game, how could the Seminoles slip so badly? They're so thin at wide receiver and inexperienced at quarterback that Bowden uses his trademark shotgun offense only in limited doses. On Saturday, Florida State ran the ball 37 times and passed only 25 times. Injuries have weakened the defensive line, especially after senior end Eric Powell was lost for the season after being shot in the back when two men tried to rob him in Orlando on Sept. 16.
Despite the lopsidedness of the defeat, Bowden said he doesn't feel as bad about this loss as he did after falling 24-7 to North Carolina State in 1998, when Chris Weinke threw six interceptions in his first road game, or as bad as when Florida State started 0-2 in '89. Those teams had veterans who should have known better than to become overconfident.
This year's Seminoles need experience, and they got a bitter dose of it on Saturday. "Are we ready to work?" Williams asked after the loss. "We've got the talent It's a matter of whether these guys are angry enough to kick it into gear the rest of the year."
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