Warchant.com Season MVPs: Craphonso Thorpe (offense) & Darnell Dockett (defense)
Junior Quarterback Chris Rix was great at times and not so great at other times. In his three biggest games of the season he was horrible (Miami in October), great (UF in November) and mediocre (Miami in January). Early in the season he shredded the North Carolina and Colorado defenses and there was even talk of him being a Heisman candidate. Things fell apart against a tough Miami defense in week six. The season highlight had to be completing a 4th-and-14 pass and then throwing a long touchdown to P.K. Sam to beat the Gators on their home field. Also impressive was a fourth quarter comeback against Georgia Tech after FSU fell behind 13-0. Rix finished the season 216-of-382 for 3,107 yards with 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He moved into second place behind Chris Weinke on the FSU career yardage list. Backup quarterback Fabian Walker saw limited action in clean-up duty. Walker finished the season 30-of-50 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Running Backs: B
At the beginning of the season fans were talking about a potential Heisman run for tailback Greg Jones if he was able to rebound from his knee injury. However, that didn't come close to happening. Jones' carries were limited, and his knee never quite fully recovered. On the plus side Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker were both very impressive making for a bright future. Jones played the part of the bruising power back. Once he got going, which wasn't always that easy behind a young offensive line, the 250-pound tailback destroyed anyone in his path. He hit North Carolina's Dexter Reid so hard that the collision was dubbed the "Mr. Potato Head" play because it looked like all Reid's parts were flying off. Jones finished the season with 144 carries for 618 yards and 7 touchdowns. Freshman Lorenzo Booker was pure speed and quickness as he demonstrated on a 71-yard TD run against N.C. State. Booker finished the season with 62 carries for 334 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sophomore Leon Washington showed power, speed and quickness. His highlight was a 121-yard performance, and rushing for the game-winning touchdown, against N.C. State. Washington finished the season with 74 carries for 387 yards.
One media outlet described Florida State's wide receivers as the fifth best unit in the state before the season started. The Seminole receivers proved them dead wrong. FSU's wideouts were able to hang on to the ball much better this year as there were fewer dropped passes than in 2002. Junior Craphonso Thorpe was on pace to having a record-breaking season until he went down with an injury against N.C. State. Thorpe had a spectacular 217-yard, two-touchdown performance against Notre Dame. The Tallahassee native finished with 51 catches for 994 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior P.K. Sam was solid throughout the year and made a twisting, turning game winning catch against the Gators. Sam finished with 50 catches for 735 yards and 5 touchdowns. The receiving corps was a deep group with Chris Davis, Chauncey Stovall, Willie Reid, and Dominic Robinson all pulling down 16 or more receptions each.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line had very little depth and suffered through a good number of injuries throughout the season. However, they managed to put together a solid season despite all the problems. The most encouraging sign is that the unit improved over the last few games of the season, which gave the running game a major boost. The highlight for the offensive line was dominating the line of scrimmage late in the game against Virginia. FSU's final drive lasted over six minutes and sealed the game for the 'Noles.
What is also encouraging is that all five starters, and all the backups, are expected to be back in 2004.
Defensive Line: B+
The defensive line was deep with talent and it seemed like someone different stepped up each game. Defensive end Eric Moore had a breakout game against Georgia Tech. Fans found about Kamerion Wimbley in the Colorado game. Kevin Emanuel was dominating against Duke. Chauncey Davis showed flashes in a couple games. The one constant was defensive tackle Darnell Dockett controlling the inside of the line. He leaves FSU as the career leader in tackles for loss and will be difficult to replace.
The linebackers were deep and plenty of players saw action. While the linebackers displayed great speed and made some big plays, they had occasionally had trouble stopping the run and the short passing game. The biggest disappointment might have been the inconsistent play of the three senior starters. Entering the 2003 season Michael Boulware, Kendyll Pope and Allen Augustin had 60 starts between them. With that kind of experience, and with the high expectations surrounding of Pope and Boulware, the unit probably underachieved a bit. However, the linebackers were effective in getting to quarterbacks quickly during blitzes. Boulware led the team with 111 tackles. Allen Augustin was second with 82 tackles.
The biggest positive was the play of the younger guys. Despite playing in a backup role, both A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims finished in the top 10 for total tackles. Both will likely move up to starting roles in 2004.
In addition to the wide receivers, the secondary was the unit that performed best relative to pre-season expectations. The cornerbacks were much better on coverage throughout the year. Unlike the 2002 season, there were very few breakdowns on long pass plays. The safeties and rovers contributed significantly to stopping the pass and the run. B.J. Ward was third on the team with 80 tackles. Leroy Smith and Pat Watkins led the team with three interceptions each.
Special Teams: B-
There was a definite improvement over last year's special teams. In fact, the kick and punt teams were, for the most part, an asset in 2003, instead of a liability. The highlights for the special teams were five field goal attempts blocked by B.J. Ward, and a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 77-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington. Senior punter Jesse Stein had a solid year punting 57 times for 2401 total yards (a 42.1 yd average). Antonio Cromartie did a good job returning the bulk of the kickoffs with a 23.7-yard return average. At times, the kicking and punting units had some trouble with blocking the opponent's rush. Overall, Xavier Beitia and the kicking team was pretty good, going 19 of 25 on field goals and 50 of 51 on PATs, but two potential game winning field goals were missed.
Offensive Coaching: C+
The offense showed at times that it could put up plenty of yards and points. However, at other times it was simply anemic. Play calling was inconsistent through out the season and the offense never seemed to establish any kind of an identity. At times FSU aired it out all over the field, and at others they tried to be an I-formation smash-mouth team. The biggest problem may be that the offense became too conservative and predictable, particularly when FSU had the lead or was in a big game. Getting playmakers Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker into action was a good move, but a strict series rotation sometimes led to the wrong personnel for a play call (i.e., Greg Jones on a sweep or Booker up the middle into traffic).
The good news is that everybody but Greg Jones is back in 2004. Without a big bruising running back in the rotation it may be a little easier for the offense to find its identity in 2004.
Defensive Coaching: B
The defense did well with a "bend but don't break" philosophy. While giving up a lot of yardage at times, Mickey Andrews' troops were generally able to tighten up and keep points off the board. Towards the end of the season, the defense was not as effective as opponents learned to pick apart the defense with a lot of short passes and misdirection (N.C. State in particular). Frequent substitutions gave a lot of players experience and allowed the young talent to make plays.
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