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Big lead is FSU's savior

The previews are over.

No. 3-ranked Florida State spent the past couple months sitting _ and sometimes dozing off _ through eight trailers, as it did in Saturday's 48-35 win over North Carolina State.

And now, the feature presentation.

That being, of course, what the critics hail as a potential showstopper next week at undefeated and No. 5 North Carolina, a showdown that should decide the ACC race and sort out the national-title picture.

"This is what we've worked all year for," FSU senior safety Shevin Smith said. "We heard all summer that North Carolina was going to win the ACC. We're 8-0 and we've put ourselves in position to win the ACC and a national championship."

Well, for some, most notably FSU coach Bobby Bowden and his perfection-seeking staff, that position is a bit more tenuous today.

After jumping out to a 27-0 first-quarter lead behind a flawless, spectacular performance from senior quarterback Thad Busby, the Seminoles (8-0, 6-0) did not resemble a championship group.

Roll film.

The Wolfpack (3-5, 1-5), which has lost four straight games, took over and moved the ball almost at will against the nation's top-ranked defense.

Despite working behind a piecemeal offensive line, sophomore QB Jamie Barnette consistently found junior flanker Torry Holt in the clear down field. Holt finished with a school-record 12 catches for 168 yards and an ACC-record five TDs.

N.C. State amassed 448 yards, including 181 on the ground. FSU was limiting teams to 197.9 total yards and 36.6 via the ground.

"They outfought us; they outcoached us. I don't know what else to tell you," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "We played a quarter and we don't play for three quarters. We stood around and watched them have fun for three quarters."

FSU missed a field goal on a bobbled snap, two PATs and had a punt blocked that set up N.C. State's fourth score.

While Andrews was angry and frustrated, Bowden was worried. He is painfully aware the struggling Wolfpack managed just one touchdown in a 20-7 loss to visiting UNC, the nation's No. 2 defense.

"I can't believe how open they got people," Bowden said. "I can't believe how well they protected the quarterback. It changes your thinking with them scoring that many on us."

But Bowden was quick to add it was not all disconcerting. Busby completed 26 of 36 passes for 463 yards and five touchdowns, both career-highs.

And his Seminoles looked like world-beaters at the start, parlaying their no-huddle, shotgun formation into quick-strike big plays as they had against Georgia Tech and Virginia.

After junior LB Lamont Green returned an interception 16 yards to the N.C. State 15, Busby capped a two-play, 13-second drive with a bullet pass to senior receiver E.G. Green for a 6-yard TD.

Green was a favorite target all game, finishing with eight catches for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns. His final score gave him 26 in his career, breaking a school record.

But freshman kicker Sebastian Janikowski, whose powerful left leg consistently sent his kickoffs out of the end zone, missed the extra point, a harbinger of PAT woes to come.

On their next possession, Busby capped a short drive with a screen to freshman TB Travis Minor, who looked like a veteran as he patiently waited for freshman guard Donald Heaven to rumble across the field and clear the way to burst free for a 16-yard score and a 13-0 lead.

This time, FSU needed 1:21.

An eternity by recent standards. FSU scored three TDs on five plays, using 53 seconds, last weekend at Virginia.

"We started off on a roll just like we did last week and we need to keep doing that," Busby said. "We've got so many weapons on our offense with all of our receivers and backs, I just have to try to keep from making bad plays."

Even after muffing a field goal, Busby came back on the next series with a 31-yard strike to sophomore Germaine Stringer, the fastest of FSU's talented receivers. Minor closed out the quarter with a 10-yard sweep for another TD to bring the homecoming crowd of 71,415 at Doak Campbell Stadium to its feet.

"People were expecting and predicting a blowout, so we got on that thought and started the game like that until we realized we could compete with FSU," N.C. State coach Mike O'Cain said.

His team realized that when Barnette orchestrated a surprisingly easy 80-yard drive, which he completed with a perfectly lofted ball to Holt. The pair hooked up again late in the half to cut the deficit to 27-14.

"You lose some intensity when it's 27-0 and it looks like the other team's not going to do anything," Bowden said. "Then, they get one, a smell of it, and we couldn't stop them. We lost confidence."

Minor scored on a 1-yard run late in the third, but Barnette and Holt combined for three more scores to keep the game remarkably close.

"You could just sense it; our minds were not in the game," LB Daryl Bush said. "The good part is it's behind us. We got an ACC win and now we can look ahead to the game everyone's been looking to."