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Sexton ready and waiting in the wings

Rarely is there a guy who's more popular with the fans than a team's No. 2 quarterback. He represents the promise of a brighter tomorrow and carries little, if any, of the blame for darker yesterdays.

So, say hello to Wyatt Sexton, Florida State's third-year sophomore from Tallahassee Leon High. He took over for the oft-criticized Chris Rix early in the fourth quarter Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham and, with chants of "Let's go, Wyatt" punctuating almost every play, he completed 6-of-9 passes for 47 yards.

"It's good to know the fans are behind me right now," he said, beaming. "I just have to play well and win and keep it that way."

But will he ever supplant Rix?

Coach Bobby Bowden said he was pleased with Sexton's performance, but still has no plans to use him when the outcome is in doubt.

"He's a fireman; he's ready to go in case," he said. "If I see the other guy struggling, we'd go with the other guy. Struggling doesn't mean throw one incomplete pass. I'm talking about struggling."

At least Bowden has a better idea of what Sexton can do outside of practice. He threw five passes last season as the third-stringer behind Rix and Fabian Walker. Sexton has a better idea, too.

"I did okay," he said. "The duck on the takeoff was disappointing because I like to show how I can throw the ball down the field and I drilled the linebacker with the ball; I didn't see him on a bench route. So there's definitely room for improvement. It's just good to get out here and know that football's just football and I've just got to play."

RETURN TO YESTERYEAR: Maybe FSU inducting two of its greatest pass rushers into its Hall of Fame, Peter Boulware and Andre Wadsworth, on Friday woke up the echoes. The Seminoles had eight sacks against UAB, their highest single-game total since 1998.

"You've got guys who want to be like we used to be," senior defensive tackle Travis Johnson said. "You've got guys like Andre Wadsworth and Peter Boulware come back and they're watching and you want to show them we don't have any dropoff from when they were here."

FLAG DAY: The Seminoles were called for 15 penalties for 145 yards, the most yards they've lost since 148 (on 14 penalties) on Oct. 28, 2000, against North Carolina State.

"You play a ballgame and sometimes everything's going about like you thought," Bowden said. "Win or lose, it goes like you thought. Then every now and then you play a game where something's going wrong (and you think), "What the heck's happening?' Then after the game you get your report from the officials (and) you've got 15 penalties. Boy that makes me so upset."

What was most mystifying to him was his team had six penalties for 45 yards at Miami.

THE LAST WORD: "Here you go, Tommy needs to win that game next week and I'm going to do everything I can to keep him from it, and yet it's your family. Somebody's fixing to get hurt, me or him." _ Bowden on facing his son and his twice-beaten Clemson team Saturday

_ BRIAN LANDMAN, Times staff writer