The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, September 13, 2004

In Defense of Chris Rix

What you are about to read is not something that I thought would ever come out of me. I am a Miami Hurricane on a lot of levels. It’s where I went to school, it’s where I’ve worked, they’re the team I’ve cheered for for many years. It’s even where much of my charitable contributions go today – both to the athletic department and to various academic areas. For those reasons, and many others, I’m never very likely to come to the defense of a Florida State Seminole, but after watching Friday night’s game in person (and for much of the time quite painfully I might add), and seeing the coverage of the game after the fact, I felt it necessary to come to the defense of Chris Rix…

By this time you must already know that Miami won Friday night’s game 16 – 10. After trailing for most of the game by 10 points, the Hurricanes came back late in the game to score 10 points just before the end of regulation, forcing overtime. Of all the heart-wrenching defeats in this series for the Seminoles, this one had to be the worst of all and the hardest to take.

The Seminoles took an early lead with a field goal (which are always a crapshoot in this rivalry) and extended their lead in the first half by returning a Miami fumble for a touchdown. It seemed that fate was conspiring against the Canes and in favor of the Noles on Saturday night as Miami missed field goals and seemed to turn the ball over every time they were mounting a decent drive.

That all held true until the fourth quarter. This was when Florida State’s inability to move the ball against Miami’s young defense and FSU’s missed opportunities to put the game away earlier came back to haunt the Noles. As the Seminoles know, if you leave the door of opportunity cracked open even the slightest bit, the Hurricanes are likely to burst through and bust the door open, even when it seems like there isn’t enough time to do it.

That’s exactly what happened on Friday night.

You have to look at the boxscore very closely and read between the lines of the recaps to see what really happened. If you don’t, Chris Rix’s two interceptions and two fumbles jump out at you. Brock Berlin’s 20 of 36 for 255 yards looks impressive. That the two team’s combined to achieve a third down efficiency of 8 for 32 (25%) either means that the defenses were stout or the offenses were horrific (I suppose we’ll know in a few more weeks).

What doesn’t jump out at you though is that Florida State’s ground game averaged 1.6 yards per carry. This is surprising considering that FSU returned two of their featured backs from last season, along with nine experienced offensive lineman. Plus they were going up against a re-tooled Miami defense that lost four of last year’s starters to the NFL as first-round draft picks (plus three other starters). Sure, Florida State had two players with injuries on their offensive line coming into the game, but that’s part of football. Miami had injuries, knicks, and bruises to key players coming into the game – but that’s not an excuse for a 1.6 yard per carry average against an inexperienced defense.

Had Florida State been able to double that average to 3.2 yards per carry, it still would have been anemic, and trailed Miami’s average (3.4) for the game, but likely would have led to longer drives and more time of possession, which would have prevented Miami from scoring a game tying touchdown with thirty seconds remaining.

That’s not the story that’s being told though – not by the media, not by the Florida State coaches, and not by the Florida State players. Like has been done for years now – and for each of the five games that he has lost at the helm of his team’s offense – Chris Rix is taking the blame from each of those three groups for Friday night’s debacle.

This is unfair. Sure, Rix did not play like the pre-season Heisman candidate that he has been billed as for nearly every year since the dawn of the millennium. Yes, he did have two key interceptions, and two crucial fumbles, and some errant throws. That’s part of the game, and apparently Florida State doesn’t have anyone better equipped than Rix on the sidelines.

What Rix isn’t to blame for is Florida State’s inability to run the ball. The lack of holes created by FSU’s blockers caused nine of their sixteen possessions to be of three plays (or fewer). That’s an astounding percentage (56%) of three-and-outs for an offense that returned nine starters from last year’s ACC champions and a number of other regular contributors.

Any review of Friday night’s Miami – Florida State football game could be entitled “We have an official timeout for an injury” as that was the phrase most commonly heard in the stadium throughout the game (if you don’t count the mumbling chants of the Florida State fans or the foul mouthed mock rebuttal performed by the Miami faithful). On seemingly every play from the mid-third quarter through the end of overtime, a Florida State player fell to the ground during the play and was not able to pick himself up. The issue was muscle cramping. Apparently the Seminoles were dehydrated and not in as good of shape as their counterparts on the other side of the ball. In my opinion, this is inexcusable. A team that is vying for a championship must be in tip-top shape. Chris Rix, although he took a beating, was one of the few Noles who did not collapse and require assistance from a trainer for leg cramps.

His defensive counterparts, for whatever reason, were not so fortunate. During the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, one of the Noles starting cornerbacks watched from the sideline as his replacement was burned for a touchdown by Miami’s Sinorice Moss. One other side of the field, Noles corner Bryant McFadden said after the game that he was hoping the play wouldn’t come his direction because he was so badly cramped that he didn’t know if he’d be able to make a play ("That last down, I was out there off of soul and spirit," said Florida State corner Bryant McFadden, referring to Moss's game-tying touchdown, which wasn't scored on McFadden's side of the field. "I've never been cramping so bad in my life. I'm glad he didn't come at me with that play. I don't know what I would have done."). Championship caliber teams should be in good enough shape to play four full quarters of football, whether the threat of hurricanes limits outdoor practice or not (both teams were impacted by the weather, but one team was clearly in better shape. The Seminoles may well have lost this war of attrition simply because they weren’t in good enough shape to play for the whole game.

Rix also isn’t to blame for a blocked field goal, where Miami’s Devin Hester charged through the Florida State line untouched – not virtually or practically untouched, simply untouched - with two and a half minutes left in regulation. Had the Seminoles scored on that play, they would have been up by ten points and Miami would have needed two scores to win (or tie) the game. (The skeptic in a lot of us would probably say, especially at this point, that Miami would have found a way to make those two scores – even as impossible as that might seem to be – simply based on how recent history has turned out in this series).

This is rarely being mentioned though, and it’s a shame for Rix, particularly because earlier in that drive he made a courageous leap on a third-and-four play that kept Florida State’s drive alive, the clock ticking, and inched the Noles towards field goal range. That has all been forgotten though, and a missed block or blown assignment has caused Chris Rix’s leap into Florida State football immortality to be nothing more than an already distant memory of a nice play in another tragic loss.

These are four simple things that are keys to championship football that Chris Rix is not responsible for. Somehow though, Rix is taking the fall for the Noles loss to Miami because of his mis-deeds and past failures. Chris Rix went from likely being regarded as a courageous leader and a Heisman front-runner because to a scapegoat and a choke artist because of a blocked field goal, a poor ground attack, a lack of conditioning, and a collapse of his team’s defense more so (or at least for as much of a reason) as his inefficient play.


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