TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- Florida State finally flashed some offense.
Helped by a previously non-existent ground game, the 18th-ranked Seminoles found the endzone in the first half on its very first drive. It was the first time this season FSU scored an offensive touchdown in the first half and the first time FSU reached the endzone on an opening drive since last year's Maryland game. When the dust settled, the 'Noles rolled to a 55-7 victory over winless Rice.
Much-maligned Lorenzo Booker ran for 115 yards and a touchdown and Drew Weatherford threw for a score for Florida State (3-1), but it was the running game that clicked posting 287 yards - nearly double its season total - and the offense surpassed by one point the combined tally from its first three contests.
The Seminoles survived with second-half surges against Miami and Troy but were not as fortunate in last week's 27-20 home loss to Clemson. The primary culprit has been a running game that ranked a pitiful 118th out of 119 Division I-A teams, putting plenty of pressure on Weatherford and a young defense.
In the finale of a three-game homestand, FSU was able to put together a consistent ground game powered by Booker, who had 89 yards in the first half - 29 more than his season total. His 34-yard run set up fullback Joe Surratt's fourth TD in a many games, a one-yard run just 3:33 into the contest. He went on to score his fifth of the season in the third quarter.
Antone Smith's four-yard TD run on a pitch play gave the Seminoles the lead for good at 14-7 with 4:35 left in the first quarter. The score capped a 72-yard drive in which Smith had 34 yards on four carries. When the dust settled, FSU posted 287 rushing yards which was the most since the 'Noles rushed for 321 against West Virginia in the 2005 Gator Bowl.
"We were trying to put up 400 something just so we could catch up and average 100 for the season," Booker joked. "But 300 is not bad at all. It definitely gets us going. The more reps we get, no matter who it's against, we are going to be on the same page."
Both Booker (115) and Smith (137) broke the 100-yard barrier.
Weatherford took a seat for Xavier Lee on FSU's third possession. The teams traded turnovers, with freshman Marcus Ball's 54-yard interception return setting up a 32-yard field goal by Gary Cismesia early in the second quarter.
Cismesia boomed a 53-yarder later in the period before Weatherford found 6-6 wideout Greg Carr with an 18-yard TD pass, pushing the halftime advantage to 26-7.
The defense's only hiccup came on Rice's first possession, when Jarrett Dillard had two catches for 50 yards, including a 32-yard TD haul from Joel Armstrong on a nice play fake that gave the Owls (0-4) a 7-7 tie and brief hope. For the next 53 minutes and 56 seconds, Mickey Andrews' squad kept the Owls off the scoreboard.
"We really needed that especially to get some of the young guys to play," defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "Especially, since we went out and struggled game in and game out. We should have pitched a shutout, but they confused us on a long pass."
On FSU's first possession of the second half, Booker scooted 24 yards to set up Surratt's second TD, a two-yard plunge. Later, Smith raced 62 yards to the 7 and Booker went around right end for a score on the next play, making it 47-7.
Carr, who had nine TDs as a freshman but came into this game with just one, hauled in a 57-yard TD toss from the strong-armed Lee, his second score of the game, in the fourth quarter.
Weatherford completed 8-of 12 passes without an interception and Lee was 5-of-11 for 111 yards and a score. Smith had a career-best 137 yards on 12 carries and Carr had five catches for 107 yards for the Seminoles, who amassed 500 yards.
Armstrong was 9-of-24 for 128 yards and an interception. Dillard caught seven passes for 113 yards.
Ball, the brother of Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball, suffered a knee injury on punt coverage and was carted off the field in the third quarter. The initial indications are that the injury could be season-ending.
"I just heard it was bad," head coach Bobby Bowden said after the game. "Could be a season loss. Too bad because that kid is a heck of a player."
Since Ball has played in four games this season, he would not be eligible for a medical redshirt. To receive a medical hardship, the NCAA requires that the player suffer a bona fide injury and play in no more than than three of the first five games.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden, Division I's all-time winningest coach, improved to 11-1 lifetime against teams from Texas.
The 'Noles will have an off week and face N.C. State on Thursday, October 5th.