W.Va. faces top-ranked FSU rush defense in Gator Bowl

Friday, December 31st 2004, 2:27 pm
By: News On 6

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida State's Chris Rix and West Virginia's Rasheed Marshall met at a children's hospital during a recent Gator Bowl function.

They talked about getting thrust into the spotlight long ago as freshmen, Rix's California roots and their mutual respect for one another.

It's apparent they'd rather be somewhere else on New Year's Day. That didn't happen because their teams, preseason favorites in their respective conferences, couldn't secure Bowl Championship Series berths.

So the two athletic quarterbacks hope to ease the hurt by trying to end recent postseason futility in the Gator Bowl on Saturday.

``When you first hear what bowl you're going to, and it's not a BCS game, sure, guys are letting down,'' Rix said. ``But after having a week of practice, our guys have a perspective _ hey, if we're going to play this game, we're going to give it our all and make sure we win.''

That would avoid an unprecedented third straight bowl loss for the 17th-ranked Seminoles (8-3), who were second to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference and haven't finished in the Top 10 since the 2000 season.

Florida State's Bobby Bowden will face his former school for the first time since the 1982 Gator. He can earn his 19th bowl win, which would bring him within one of the NCAA record held by Penn State's Joe Paterno.

``Everybody would love to go out of the year with a win and go into the next year with momentum. It's something your kids can build off of,'' Bowden said.

``But it's not a disaster. It's not like, 'Oh man, everything's lost.' We've lost bowl games before and our best recruiting year followed. Then we've had years when we won a bowl game and didn't recruit all that well.''

Three years ago, Rix led the Seminoles to a Gator Bowl win over Virginia Tech as a freshman, throwing for 326 yards and two scores while running for another TD.

Rix was Bowden's first four-year starter at quarterback, but he's thrown just two touchdowns this season and will be making only his fifth start, getting the nod ahead of sophomore Wyatt Sexton.

``His career was kind of up and down and he gave it everything he had,'' Bowden said of Rix. ``You could describe it feast or famine.''

Marshall was the Big East offensive player of the year after throwing for 1,755 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for 790 yards and four scores.

The Mountaineers were expected to be the runaway winner in a revamped Big East, which lost Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.

West Virginia started the season at No. 10 and rose to as high as sixth before falling out of the rankings with back-to-back losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh.

It cost the Mountaineers a trip to the Fiesta Bowl and they finished in a four-way tie for the conference title. Pittsburgh got the Big East's BCS nod against Utah.

West Virginia is making its second straight trip to the Gator, choosing to learn from last year's 41-7 loss to Maryland rather than forget it. Marshall threw for just 87 yards and ran for 35.

``I really don't want that same feeling,'' he said.

West Virginia has lost 10 of its last 11 bowls, including four straight in the Gator.

Marshall and West Virginia's platoon of running backs will try to penetrate the nation's top rushing defense. Florida State allows only 69 yards on the ground per game, while the Mountaineers average 254 yards, sixth-best in Division I-A.

If West Virginia's running game stalls, Marshall will likely look to Chris Henry, who set a school record with 12 TD catches this season. He missed 1.5 games due to suspensions, including the Pittsburgh game.

The rusher who could have the biggest day may not come from West Virginia if the Mountaineers key too much on Rix.

Florida State's Leon Washington, a Jacksonville native, rushed for 793 yards this season, including a career-high 164 yards and two TDs against Syracuse.

``It's the most athletic team we may have played in the last couple of years, and that includes Miami,'' said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team is a heavy underdog. ``I'm interested in how we can compete against Florida State.''