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Blazers again provide a pick-me-up for Rix

As he trotted on the field for the first offensive series Saturday night, Florida State quarterback Chris Rix had to have heard the boos.

You get that kind of greeting when you've been as maddeningly inconsistent as he has been for three-plus seasons.

You get that kind of greeting when you're coming off a poor, error-prone performance in a heartbreaking overtime loss to Miami that prompted a flood of pleas for a quarterback change.

"Any human's going to hear it and I am a person and, of course, I heard it," Rix said. "Coach (Daryl) Dickey stressed to me, "You know what's going to happen, you've been through it before; expect it.' That's the mind-set I had coming in and I just really wanted to focus on this football team and concentrate on the task at hand and block everything (else) out."

Well, Rix didn't exactly win over the populace, but he did do enough right to lead the Seminoles to a 34-7 win against Alabama-Birmingham in front of an announced 81,825 at Doak Campbell Stadium.

He completed 18-of-29 for 191 yards and one interception and did not take any sacks. He also added 42 yards rushing and a touchdown before giving way to seldom-used backup Wyatt Sexton early in the fourth quarter.

Come on. Isn't that worth a cheer or two? Especially after Sept. 10 when he hit just 12-of-28 for 108 yards with two interceptions and two lost fumbles in the 16-10 opening loss.

"I would say it was good," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of his fifth-year senior's performance, adding he was upset that fans booed his starter. "I loathe those kind of people; them daggum Playstation experts, them Playstation All-Americans up there who think they know football because they happen to see a television game. It'd be like me watching Dr. Kildare and think I could operate on a brain. He's a pretty tough nut. I've been on him all week. Daryl's been on him. We've all been on him, trying to make him better. He handled it good."

Unlike in the Orange Bowl, the No. 8 Seminoles (1-1) didn't have to rely on Rix's arm to move the ball. Or not move it.

Tailback junior Leon Washington gained 104 yards and a TD on 11 carries and had 18 yards on two catches. Sophomore Lorenzo Booker added 71 yards on 16 runs and 31 yards on five receptions. With a stellar defensive effort, their production took some of the heat, at least what was coming from the Blazers, off Rix.

"It all starts with the running game," Washington said. "We came out and ran the ball and took the pressure off Chris Rix. He did a good job of protecting the ball and that's all he's got to do. We're almost all professional athletes here at Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, the big-time universities, and we definitely came out here and displayed the potential we have and the talent we have."

Though they were coming off an impressive win against Baylor, no one would confuse the Blazers (1-1) with the 'Canes or Sooners, and they appeared they would be a panacea for Rix and an offense that was last in I-A.

But the Blazers had seen and heard that before. UAB came to town on Sept. 8, 2001, a week after Rix struggled in his collegiate debut at Duke. He rebounded with 246 yards passing and a touchdown, and a team-high 52 yards rushing and an acrobatic touchdown.

Rix didn't go airborne this time, but he got the Seminoles off the ground with a 1-yard dive on the first of five fourth-down tries in the half. Cheers? Nah. The fans had plenty of goodwill when it came to the FSU defense, which picked up where it left off against Miami, at least for the first 59 minutes of that game. The Blazers had just 144 yards, and FSU sacked quarterback Darrell Hackney eight times. That's FSU's most sacks in a game since eight against Miami in 1998.

"When I saw Miami and Florida State play, I said that might be the two best defenses in the country playing in the first game of the season," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "I don't believe I have played a better defensive football team since I've been here."

The Seminoles offense, however, committed too many penalties and didn't blow the game open until early in the fourth quarter. Rix hit 2-of-4 for 50 yards on his next series and Washington completed the drive with a 2-yard run for a commanding 31-7 lead with 14:55 to play. But when Sexton came on the field, he received thunderous applause. On his first drive, he completed 6-of-8 for 47 yards as the Seminoles padded their lead with a 22-yard Xavier Beitia (Jesuit) field goal.

"I think we probably did the right thing by starting Rix," Bowden said. "A lot of people could not understand that, but there were too many positives there not to. There were also some negatives, but there were too many positives and (Sexton) was an unknown.