The headline of Saturday's game wasn't so much the final result, but the fact that Xavier Lee got his first career start.
Drew Weatherford, who was second in the ACC in passing coming into the Maryland game, had started 20 straight games going back to his first start as a redshirt freshman. The official explanation for Weatherford not starting is that he was being held out as a precaution because of tendonitis in his ankle. Despite the tendonitis, the sophomore from Land O'Lakes was available to play if needed -- he wasn't needed.
"We didn't know until nearly game time who was going to start," head coach Bobby Bowden said. "Our doctors felt like if we could hold Drew out of there we ought to hold him out of there."
Prior to Saturday, Lee had only seen real action in two games this season - Rice and Duke. The former prep All-American quarterback made the most of his first college start completing 22-of-36 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 50 yards.
"I was very impressed. That is the best I have seen him do since he's been at Florida State and that includes games, practice and spring training," Bowden said. "It didn't look like Xavier Lee. He really answered the bell tonight"
Despite the impressive stats from Lee, and an all-around improved offense, the Seminoles dropped to 4-4 on the season, Bobby Bowden's worst start since his first season at FSU in 1976.
What makes the outcome even more frustrating for anybody wearing Garnet and Gold is that FSU generally dominated the contest more than doubling Maryland's offensive output by 458 to 223 yards but still fell short on the scoreboard, 27-24. The difference was once again mistakes as the Tribe lost a key first half fumble, were penalized 13 times for 100 yards, had four dropped passes and several breakdowns on special teams including giving up a blocked field goal that would have tied the game in the final seconds.
The 'Noles' first drive was a mirror image of what took place last week against Boston College. On a third and 10 play, Lee completed a pass to Greg Carr that was fumbled when the sophomore wideout was struggling to get enough yards for the first down. Maryland linebacker Rick Costa recovered the loose ball at FSU's 48-yard line. Six plays later Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach completed a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dan Gronkowski to put the home team up 7-0.
Florida State would answer on the next drive thanks to Lee and Antone Smith. Lee went three-for-three and Smith accounted for 58 yards on the drive (46 rushing, 12 receiving). The true sophomore tailback form Pahokee (Fla.) finished off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
From there, the Seminole defense continued to struggle trying figuring out Ralph Friedgen's offense. The Terps marched right back down the field and looked ready to score again with a first and goal from the 7-yard line. But an illegal motion call and a Buster Davis' sack forced a 38-yard field goal.
After FSU went three-and-out on offense to start the second quarter, and after a 35-yard punt return by Danny Oquendo, the Terps had great field position from the 'Noles' 23-yard line. Five plays later Maryland punched in another touchdown on a Hollenbach 5-yard strike to freshman wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and extended the lead to 17-7. Later in the half, Maryland added another field goal to go up 20-7.
Instead of settling for a 13-point deficit at the half, the Seminoles came out aggressive on the next series with a successful 37-yard jump ball to Greg Carr. Four plays after a pass interference call put the ball on Maryland's 23-yard line, and with 53 seconds left on the clock, Lee hooked up again with Carr for a 15-yard touchdown in the back of the endzone to cut the Terps lead to 20-14 at the half.
The Seminole offense started the second half much like they started the game with a huge mistake. A promising drive was cut short at midfield when Maryland snuffed out a fourth-and-one run by Joe Surratt. The junior fullback then proceeded to remove his helmet resulting in a 15-yard personal foul penalty giving the Terps great field position at FSU's 29-yard line. Three plays later, Hollenbach hit Heyward-Bey and cornerback J.R. Bryant misplayed the route and tackle, allowing Heyward-Bey to get to the outside for a 30-yard touchdown.
Instead of packing it in, the offense answered with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. On the drive, Lee was 4-for-4 for 49 yards and also ran for 28. This time, Chris Davis did the honors running wide open on a post route and it was an easy pitch and catch from Lee for the 17-yard score.
It looked like FSU might give the score right back to Maryland after Oquendo returned a punt 45 yards to FSU's 33-yard line. But a Lawrence Timmons' sack took the Terps out of field goal range and forced a punt.
Lee went back to work and got FSU inside Maryland's 10-yard line but the drive stalled thanks to two straight incompletions. Replays showed that cornerback Josh Wilson had his arm around Carr's waist on the third down incompletion in the endzone. There was no call and FSU was forced to settle for a 23-yard Gary Cismesia field goal to cut the score to 27-24.
Florida State got one last chance to tie the game or take the lead late. After being plagued with key penalties all game, FSU finally got one to go its way on a fourth-and-one from its own 46-yard line. It looked like the quarterback sneak fell inches short but Maryland was flagged for offsides giving the 'Noles new life. Even with that break, key mistakes once again cost the Seminoles ending another possible game-winning or game-tying drive.
With the offense in great shape facing a second and five from Maryland's 16-yard line, three straight mistakes cost FSU the game. Maryland defensive end Jeremy Navarre got in for the sack and Lee was flagged for an illegal forward pass when he tried to throw the ball away -- the penalty cost FSU five more yards on top of the sack. On the next play Carr dropped a pass that would have given the 'Noles first and goal inside the five-yard line. Instead, FSU was forced into a 46-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by the Terrapins.
"I knew he had the range because he's kicked a 53-yarder this year and that without wind," Bowden said of the field goal attempt. "With the wind (at his back) didn't think distance would be a factor. Somebody in the press box said they thought we kicked it low."
The big question facing the team this week won't be field goal kicking or this Saturday's game against Virginia, but who will be the starting quarterback. It looks like the media and fans will have to wait a while to get that answer.
"Right now it's just a good problem," Bowden said. "We have no idea what we'll do."
Florida State will return to Tallahassee for a four-game home stand starting with Virginia this Saturday with kickoff scheduled for noon.
Gene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. During football season, he hosts a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee on NewsRadio 1270 WFLA, and appears as a weekly guest on 1460 ESPN Radio in Jacksonville. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.