Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has wanted to see what backup quarterback Wyatt Sexton could do in a pressure-packed situation, not merely mopup duty.
He did on Saturday.
Sexton took over for an injured Chris Rix late in the opening quarter and efficiently engineered five scoring drives as the No. 8 Seminoles beat Clemson 41-22 Saturday afternoon in front of an announced 83,538 at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"I thought he did a good job," Bowden said. "Now we'll have to measure everybody next week and go from there. You look at that film, I know you're going to see some things that's going to show a lack of experience. But we know this, we couldn't have won without him. We do know that."
Sexton completed 17-of-26 for 162 yards and one touchdown, the Seminoles' first passing score of the season. Most important, he committed no turnovers.
Rix, who sustained a high sprain to his right ankle late in the first quarter, has been plagued by costly turnovers during his three previous seasons. He had two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the season-opening loss at Miami.
Bowden, a longtime supporter of Rix and a coach who typically won't let an injury cost a player a starting job when he's healthy, really does have something to chew on now.
Sexton had thrown five passes entering this season.
"I hate to start a controversy," Bowden said. "But there may be one there. Really, if there is, I'm the guy who'll start it. We've got to look at the film, see what we did good, see what we did bad and be fair in our judgment."
The crowd sure was impressed with Sexton, a third-year sophomore from Tallahassee Leon High, chanting his name as he left the field. That's the same hometown crowd that booed Rix last weekend before he played a down against Alabama-Birmingham.
Rix wasn't off to a good start against the reeling Tigers (1-3, 1-2 ACC), losers of three straight. It only got worse for him on the third series. With the Seminoles (2-1, 1-1) down 7-3 thanks to Clemson's extraordinary kickoff-return man, Justin Miller, who went untouched for a 97-yard touchdown, Rix rolled his ankle as he tried to fake out linebacker Eric Sampson and avoid a sack.
"I felt a couple of pops and I tried to play on it, but couldn't step into my throws," he said.
He played two more downs then gingerly walked to the locker room for X-rays, which showed no break. He returned and told Bowden he could play, but team trainer Randy Oravetz advised against it. Bowden had a chance to see if Sexton could perform.
"I was definitely nervous," Sexton said. "My nervousness in the first series threw me off mentally as well. I was so nervous I wasn't making the proper reads at times. So, it just took me a while to get my composure and then just start playing."
Fortunately for him, the Seminoles defense afforded him the luxury of time and points.
Senior defensive end Eric Moore stripped the ball from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Tackle Charles Howard recovered at the 18. A Clemson personal foul after that play moved the ball to the 9, and fullback B.J. Dean scored on a 2-yard run three plays later for a 10-7 lead with 4:06 left in the first half. On the Tigers' next offensive play, cornerback Leroy Smith perfectly timed a Whitehurst pass, jumped in front of receiver Kelvin Grant on the left sideline for the interception and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.
Whitehurst did hit receiver Curtis Baham on a 12-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-14 at the half, but after the break, the defense remained as confounding, holding the Tigers to 23 yards (173 overall) and Sexton was far more confident.
"He was very composed," said Clemson defensive end Bobby Williamson, a former East Lake star. "He's a very good quarterback. He's got a very bright future."
Off a perfect play-action pass, Sexton hit receiver Chauncey Stovall on a 47-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half that seemingly broke the game open.
Well, it would have had the Tigers not followed with a blocked punt for a safety and another Miller kickoff return for a touchdown to narrow the gap to 24-22 with 7:30 to go in the third quarter.
But Sexton and the offense scored 17 consecutive points to seal the win that avenged last year's 26-10 loss at Clemson, a game that saved coach Tommy Bowden's job but quashed any hope the then-No. 3 Seminoles had of reaching the Bowl Championship Series finale.
"I learned that I do have some composure and I can respond," Sexton said. "I didn't perform as well as I would have liked to in the first half, but I'm extremely happy the coaches had faith in me and let me play because I got the chance to show a little of what I could do."