"Well, I've seen it for three years. And you could see it when he was a freshman. The freshman year, he would do the same thing, but make mistakes. When we beat them up there, his freshman year, he threw us one, or maybe two. He just got better and better and better, and boy, he was at his best last night. There's not many answers, hardly. Try to blitz him, he burns you. Try to rush three, he burns you. Rush four, he burns you. Rush five, he burns you."
How did Clemson hold that team to just 17 points earlier in the season?
"I know it. I don't know – Clemson played a lot better than their record. They could have won that game. They had the ball, and they were throwing the ball well. I don't know what happened – I think he threw an interception that stopped a drive. All they needed was a field goal – they got beat by two. Clemson's a lot better than I think people realize. They just – I don't know. They just played."
How important is T.A. McLendon to their offense? They struggled against Clemson with him out, and they struggled against you after he got hurt.
"That was the thing that hurt them a lot this year. He got hurt there at the end. He is such a threat, running the football, as you saw. You have to play the run, and boy, that's what that guy (Philip Rivers) wants. ‘You play the run. Let me throw.'"
McLendon's fumble at the end of the first half was probably one of the biggest plays of the game, right?
"Well, true. You know, I was looking back, I saw (Allen) Augustin's play, and I saw (Lorenzo) Booker's play, and I saw Leon (Washington)'s play – there were so many plays in that game that won it. I don't think we have ever had more guys contribute to a win than that one."
Allen Augustin's play – if he doesn't break that play up, N.C. State might well have scored and forced a third overtime, right?
"No doubt about it. No doubt about it. You give that quarterback four shots at you, and he's going to make a first down. The worst he's going to do is make a first down. He did it all night."
It didn't even look like Allen was going to play, during the week of practice leading up to this game.
"No. Monday, I was thinking there's no way. Tuesday, I was thinking there's no way. Wednesday, he went out and worked a little bit, and I said, ‘Well, he looks like he might could play, but I don't know if he could run good enough, because you've got to be able to run in this game.' Because you've got to cover people. Then, Thursday, he didn't practice that much. I said, ‘Well, he didn't make it.' That's what I was thinking. I can't believe he was able to do what he did."
You had some guys playing hurt last night who made a big impact – Allen, Michael Boulware, David Castillo. That really shows some character, doesn't it?
Boulware's the same way. They really do, boy. They really showed something there.
Craphonso Thorpe's mother said he had emergency surgery last night. Have you heard that.
"Yeah. Broke both bones, didn't he?"
Have you spoken to her?
"Yeah – I talked to his daddy last night. I'm going by there as soon as I finish here. I just talked to his dad – I think he was getting ready for surgery when I talked to him. My son, Jeffrey, was over there. I just offered my condolences to him and his wife and to Craphonso."
How long a road is it for Craphonso, in terms of rehabilitation and recovery?
"We didn't redshirt him (as a freshman). Now it's a matter of how – you can see the slowness that Greg Jones has had to come back. You see what the pros did with McGahee – still going to sit him out another year, to be sure. Now Cro – I just don't know the answer to that, and I don't guess any of us do, as to whether he'll be ready next year, or maybe have to sit out."
Can Craphonso recover his speed?
"Yeah, and I think he can. Well, what did (Mike) Vick do? Was Vick a fibula, or a tibia? (Vick, the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback, broke his fibula in August and is expected to return this season). The tibia's the big one. The fibula's the one way outside. I would think that there's been many cases, especially back when I was playing football, and before me, where many guys played with a broken fibula. Now, the tibia's sitting right there, holding the leg up, and the fibula is supported by the tibia. Back in those days, when you used to hear that Bear Bryant played with a broken leg, which you heard, and Ernie Nevers played with a broken leg, that was probably a fibula. I don't think there's any way you play with your tibula broken?"
Was there ever any thought of redshirting Greg?
"I don't – if he had even hinted at it, we probably would have OK'ed it. But knowing him, I knew he was such a hard worker that he would probably be able to play. To me, if he gets through this year, he probably did the right thing, because by the time he goes to the pros, it should be completely well. For our sake, it might have been – I don't know the answer to that. But we had two other tailbacks in case, anyway."
Was there a possibility that Craphonso would have declared for the NFL draft after this season?
"This year? I don't think he would have been wise to go. I think he would have been wise to stay another year, because this year, I think he picked up about 10 pounds, and next year, he might have picked up about 10 more, and been better physically, ready to go up there. I think sometimes these guys come out early, and their body ain't ready for it. They get up there, and right off the bat, get pounded, and get hurt. Marvin Jones always felt like, one more year of maturity – you remember, he went up there and got hurt immediately."
What kind of adjustments do you make now at receiver, without Craphonso to provide that deep threat?
"He really did. We'll just have to move – I'm not sure who plays behind him. We rotate those guys so much, we could put anybody over there. We could put our next-fastest guy, or we could put our next-quickest guy over there. I would think Chris Davis is playing behind him. Who else is playing over there? We roll them so much – it could be Lorne (Sam). If you play two wideouts, you've got eight guys who can play both positions. Now, if you're playing three wideouts, you've got eight guys, and somebody has to move in and play. Now, when you play four guys, you need eight people, and we've only got seven now. We can still do it with three subs."
Do you think Chris Davis would be a guy who could step into a larger role?
"I would think so. He does have speed."
Would you still have the same vertical threat that Craphonso provided?
"Well, I don't know if we can do it as good as Cro did it. But we can still do it."
Chauncey Stovall has given you some big plays, including a deep vertical play against Clemson. Might he be in for an increased role?
"He sure did. That's right. He's beginning to move in. Thorpe fades out, 15 (Stovall) kind of fades in. Maybe it'll offset itself."
How do players deal with seeing an injury like that?
"That's why football sets itself apart from a lot of sports. There is the element of danger, the element there of injury, because it's contact, and there's so many people involved, and the strain on the knees. Not just the breaks, but the joints. A kid that goes out there, he has to play without fear. There's a lot of people that can't do that, you know?"
How big was that win, the way the game went back and forth, and your team showed enough heart to come back and win?
"We just made one more play than they did, is what we did. We made one more play than they did, that's all. If they had 80 (plays), we had 81. It was that dadgum close of a football game, could have gone any way. I've never had a conference game that big. In 12 years, I can never remember a conference game that big. Then, I think it shows you another revelation – the conference is definitely getting better. The parity is better. That North Carolina State can come to Tallahassee and play us, nose-up, like they're a Top-5 football team – where it's really tough is away from home. That's why I was amazed at North Carolina State. Our kids, we knew they'd be ready to play this week. We knew they'd be ready to play. But for North Carolina State to come down here, on our field, and battle us like they're playing in Raliegh – we had the home-field advantage, but the conference is getting where, even if you're not playing somebody as good as North Carolina State, the fact that you play them at their place, with their crowd, and you might be overconfident, or you might be normal, or whatever. You can't be up every Saturday. There's no way you can be up every Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised – as a matter of fact, I bet I'd be right – that had we beaten Clemson, that this team would have beat us badly last night. I think we wouldn't be in the frame of mind that we needed to be in."
What did Chuck Amato say to you after the game?
"He said, ‘Well, I went for that fourth down – they're going to be all over me when I get back. I wanted to try to win with my top guy.' I said, ‘Well, I admire you for it. You showed guts, a lot of guts doing it.' I forgot the rest."
How difficult was last week for you? Even the radio shows seemed a lot less friendly than usual?
"Are you talking about the Judas and Benedict show? Is that the one you're talking about? I don't listen to those things. I knew about them, but I don't listen to them."
Not sports-talk radio – your own call-in show.
"Oh, my show? Isn't that universal? See, here's the thing about it. You're asking me a question here, which is true. But don't you guess the coach at Miami got the same questions? Don't you guess the coach at Virginia Tech got the same questions? Out west? That's just the way it is nowadays. That's the way it is. I said, if you listened to the show, me or Mr. Coker (Miami head coach Larry Coker), hey, you could put that guy over here, and it'd be the same question. The quarterbacks. Same way. That's the way football is now. That's the way athletics are."
So 341 wins and a couple of national titles can't buy you some time?
"It don't buy nothing. It buys nothing. This is a time where it's ‘What have you done for me lately?"
Since your son is your offensive coordinator, is it harder for you to take that type of criticism personally?
"I guess I have. I guess I've shown it a little bit. A lot of people, on these call-in shows, a lot of coaches, have gone to screening, and let them send the questions in and throw out the ones they don't want. I nearly would rather try to answer them off the cuff. I don't like to read a question and work up an answer. I'd rather just try to respond to it. I guess people say I've gotten touchy the last couple of weeks on it, because people just don't understand how fickle offense is. Offense is fickle. I've always compared it to the cat and the dog, and it's so true. My cat'll walk up to the back door, I'll open the door, and she'll just stand there. ‘Get on out, you! You were over there screaming – get on out the door!' It'll sit there and look out that way, look over that way, and I'm sitting there getting cold, so I just kick it on out the door. Now you open the door for that dog, and zoom! That's the way offenses are. Offense is like a cat, defense is like a dog. They're fickle, they're hot, they're cold."
Who told you that you were getting touchy?
"I don't know. It seems like somebody. It might have been my wife. Somebody."
How important was it to get the running game going?
"It was important. But it was not as significant as you would think. I think all you would have to do is go back to Steve Spurrier's offense, which was always pass first, run second. So many of his games, like ours, it's pass, pass, pass, and when you've got the game won, now start running. Because they're looking for pass, and you pick up 100 yards. And people are like, ‘Oh, they ran good.' ‘Yeah, but you were up 35-0 when you started running.' It's not as significant as you would think, but it is – if you had your choice, that's what you'd want, to be able to run the ball."
How big a win was this for your coaching staff, to get some redemption after a week of criticism?
"Well, they probably don't read half of it, or listen to half of it. I know Jeffrey doesn't. He knows better. My boys know better than to read the papers, if they're very critical. I know they don't listen to talk shows and things like that. Remember, they don't hear a lot of that stuff. I don't either, because I don't want to hear. It ruins my day. If I get a bad letter, a negative letter, I tell my secretary, ‘Don't give it to me. I don't want to see it. I don't want it on my mind.' Somebody'll write me a letter, I ought to be fired, ought to do this, ought to do that. But you know, men, it was the same thing with Mark Richt. It was identical with Mark Richt, for 10 years. I lost close friends over that. Guys just wouldn't have anything to do with the program, unless I got rid of Mark. And I'd say, ‘OK – let's compare him with the coordinator at Georgia, or the one at Florida, or the one at Miami, or the one at Alabama, or the one at Auburn, or the one at Tennessee, or the one at so-and-so. Tennessee wins one of the biggest games they've ever played, beating Miami down there, and threw what? Six passes? Made two yards in the fourth quarter? Great game, man! Great job! They won the ball game. But that's the way it is."
Did you see the signs about Chris earlier in the week, hung up near the stadium?
"No. I didn't see that. He might as well get used to it, if he's going to continue his career here. That's the way it is nowadays – it'll always be there. Might as well get used to it."
Was last week a difficult time to be an FSU assistant coach?
"Not as much as you would think, because, to be honest with you, we try not to listen to that stuff. We're more subjective. We look at film and say, ‘We lost because we missed that block there, we missed that pass there, we missed that there, we missed this here.' We look at it like that."
But did you try to light a fire under your staff?
"I don't think I had to light a fire under them. I did try to light a fire under the boys. All we know how to do is to go out and correct our mistakes. That's the only thing we know how to do, is correct our mistakes. That's all we know how to do, and that's what we try to do during the week."
You mentioned earlier how hard it is to get up every week. How impressive, then, is what Oklahoma's doing this season?
"Every now and then, it happens. How'd it happen to us in '99? We won every game. No. 1 in the nation from the first week to the last. Could have lost to Clemson – Oklahoma struggled against Alabama. They had to run a fake punt on fourth-and-something, way down in their own territory, and had it not worked, ‘Bama probably would have won the game. They brought that thing out about 40 yards, scored the next play, I think, and beat them by seven, I believe, or eight. You've got to get by that game, whatever that bad game is, you've simply got to get by it somehow, like our '99 team got by Clemson, 17-14. I think that team comes along every now and then. It seems like every year, it's somebody. That guy must be a great coach. Bob (Stoops) must be a great coach, what he's done."
Oklahoma got booed at home in the second half Saturday, because they didn't score after halftime in a 41-3 win over Baylor.
"Who did? (Laughs) I read a book, I don't know if y'all have read it or not, must have been 15 years ago when I read it. It was probably written in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, by, I think, the president of Oklahoma University, when Bud Wilkinson was the coach. Now, Bud won 47 in a row, and then he came back and won 31 in a row. The name of that book was something like ‘Don't Punt, Pray.' That wasn't it, but it was something like that. The whole thing – Bud was winning game after game after game, and all he got was criticism, because he couldn't beat the (point) spread. He only beat Kansas by 14 points. He should be run out of town! Really. That was years ago, but that's the way it is."
Will you have to get your team's attention again before the Florida game, or is the rivalry enough to keep them focused after this big win?
"Well, at least we've got a week off now. We've just got to get in the right frame of mind at the right time. Of course, that's such a big game. Both of us, naturally, want it so badly, because it's in-state."
You don't think that it'll be less important to your players, because you've wrapped up the ACC title and a BCS bowl?
"You'd say pride is going to be a big factor. It's a pride game."
Are you glad to have this week off, after having to expend so much emotion Saturday?
"Yeah, I'm glad we've got an open date. Could have used it last week, because we had all those guys nicked up. At this time, I'm glad we've got it."
With the way N.C. State has played you guys over the last few years, is that the big rivalry that has developed in the ACC?
"Well, right now, it's got to be the lead one, for us, because they've beaten us so many times, and played good, like they did last night. That really holds that rivalry up."
Aside from pride, is there motivation to get that 10th win, to beat a ranked team, to really give the seniors another thing to hang their hat on, in terms of re-establishing the dominance of the program after being part of its mini-decline?
"To me it is. You hope the players will think that, too. But then, I don't know how many downs they line up and start thinking about ‘We need this game so we can win 11.' That don't go through their mind. Things like that last until somebody strokes you. Once they stroke you, you're thinking about survival. You're not thinking about what the perceptions are, and all this and that. I think both teams will go into that game with a lot of pride, of wanting to win it, wanting to show who's the best, and that's really all you need in a game like this. That's all you need in a series like this with Florida. All the other stuff will be secondary."
You said last week that the players weren't mentally ready for Clemson's enthusiasm. Is one of the hardest adjustments you have to make for a game involved with determining their readiness?
"Well, they're ready, but not to the extent that the other team was ready. I don't know – I've seen it happen so many times. when you have a big, popular win – Notre Dame, you just can't get any more popular than that. And to go up there and play as good as we did, and then go the next week and play a team that just got stomped, no mind can't put that thing together. You're still going to be in a war next week, and they're going to really be mad, because they just got humiliated. That happens."
How impressive has Darnell Dockett been this season, on and off the field?
"He has matured a lot. Darnell – there's something a lot of people don't know about Darnell, but he is a very loving kid. You wouldn't think it, but he's tender. If you get him down, talking to him one-on-one, he's tender. He's not a mean, hateful guy. I can just tell by the questions he asks, and by the things he says about some of our kids, and things like that. In that regard, he has come a long way."
Has he returned to the level he reached as a sophomore, when he was all-conference?
"I think he is. I think he's playing – once people start attacking us, I think one of the first things they think of is how they're going to handle Darnell. What are they going to do about Darnell? Are they going to try to double him, or single him, or trap him, or what? I think that plays a big role in there."
Has T.K. Wetherell affected Darnell?
"I think so. I think T.K. – it sure is great when you've got a president that is concerned about the attitude of your players, and will call them into his office and express himself. That'd be very impressive to me, if I was a student. I don't remember any other president doing that."
What is it like for you to have T.K. in that office?
"Very – I don't know if the word is secure. Very comfortable. Because I know he understands the problems. He went through them, and I went through them with him one time, when I was coaching him. I know he understands the problems."
How often do you meet with T.K.?
"Formally, not hardly any, but running into him, and he comes out to practice and gets on the tower with me a lot. He'll climb the tower, and we'll sit up there and talk and watch. And I'll call him on the phone a lot of times. I'll meet with him sometimes, but it's usually kind of calling him and saying, ‘I need to talk to you.' He's very accessible, that's the thing about him. And he's that way with everybody. He's accessible to everybody – players."
Does he ever suggest any plays when you're up in the tower together during practice?
"(Laughs) No. If I ask him, I'm sure he would, though."
How different do you feel about this team than maybe you did in the last few years?
"I think they're beginning to show the things we used to see. It's a shame we didn't play better against Clemson, but we didn't. It's a shame we didn't play better against Miami, but we didn't. The one thing the kids have not done, is they have not pointed fingers at each other, and they have not quit fighting. They fought the whole time against Clemson, they fought the whole time against Miami, and they have not quit fighting. They fought the whole time against Clemson, they fought the whole time against Miami. If they hadn't fought the whole game yesterday, they would have lost. If they hadn't fought the whole game against Virginia, they would have lost."
Do you think they're re-establishing the foundation of the way the program was?
"I think we're back on that pace. I do feel like we're back on that pace, you know? We do need to win another game or two to make it look like it statistically, but I think, down in their hearts, they have raised the standard back."
A lot of the defensive players, especially, feel like they've shown the ability at least to get back to where FSU used to be as a defense.
"I think so. We just – you don't see it as much as I do – we just need a little more consistency at quarterback. It's been a big play – right now, we hope you make more big plays than bad plays."
Last night was kind of a snapshot of Chris Rix's whole career – the good and bad plays.
"Yeah. For the first time – many a time, I'll get on the phone with Jeffrey or Daryl (quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey) and say, ‘Should we make a change?' And a lot of times, it's ‘Not yet.' Or there have been times where it's ‘Yeah, let's do it.' So at the halftime, I was going to really challenge those coaches to see – the thing you don't know is, would Fabian be more consistent? Because we need consistency. Again, you're not sure. When he played against Clemson, it was good, bad, good, bad. So we don't know the answer to that yet, and I was willing to make a change at that half, but they felt like, ‘Oh, we need to go another series with him (Rix), and if he can't do it, let's make a move.' My mindset was thinking that, well, maybe Chris'll be better off if we sit him out, let the other guy play, and if the other guy can't do it, then you know Chris has got to do it. But they all felt like we ought to leave him a little bit longer, and it was wise."
Would that decision have been different if you hadn't gotten that turnover at the end of the first half that set up the touchdown? After all, if you hadn't scored that touchdown, you would have been down 20-3 at the half.
"It could have been. I could have felt more firm about it, you know?"
Isn't the thing about Chris that he combines the bad plays with some really impressive ones, like the slant pass for a touchdown to Craphonso on third and goal?
"Yeah. I'm trying to think back to other quarterbacks I've had that have really been that hot and cold. I can't think of any, can I?"
Does that alter your thinking about the way you prepare for Florida?
"We give them the same amount of reps, but I think we could probably go like we are right now."
Is there a chance Rix is overcoached? You've told him so many things not to do, is he thinking too much on the field? On second and goal late in the first half, he looked like he was too hesitant to run, and passed up a chance to score.
"That one bothered me. That one bothered me. I thought in my mind, if he can't get in there, maybe we can get by with a non-runner. That caught my eye. I don't think he's overcoached. He just – well, y'all see it like I see it."
What's your confidence level in your placekicker right now?
"Placekicker – I'll have to look at that film and see whether they blocked it, or whether we didn't get it up."
Didn't you say last night that you didn't feel good about it?
"Well, I've seen him go out there – the day he had four and missed the fifth one, he just pulled that thing over there. I thought about how bad he wanted that, because it would set a record, and he kicked too quick and snapped it over there. Then I was thinking about that the other night – this is such a crucial kick, and I hope he doesn't snap it. He didn't get it up – but again, I guess it's something all kickers go through. Boy, it's scary."
The odd thing is, he's one of the most accurate kickers you've ever had, but he's had two chances to win games for you, and he's missed them both.
"That's right. That's exactly right. You never know when the learning comes in and gets him over that point. Maybe now, from that and from that other one, he won't do that again. You just don't know."
Are you talking about your quarterback or your kicker?
How tough is that going to be on Xavier, knowing that if he makes that kick, you'd win the game, and Craphonso and David Castillo wouldn't get hurt? If he hits the kick, there's no overtime, and they were healthy at the end of regulation.
"Well, I'd change a lot of things. I would think it'd be on their minds."
You wouldn't want your players thinking that, right? Not that anyone would blame Xavier, but wouldn't that be an unpleasant situation?
"No. That's something you can't control. That's something he couldn't control."
Do you get a little antsy on the sidelines when Lorenzo Booker goes for a 71-yard touchdown and only carries once more in the half?
"We roll them. He happened not to be in there when his number was called. Where it paid off is having fresh legs in the fourth quarter. They all ran good. Leon was probably more fresh than North Carolina State was at the end."
Is there a temptation to try to find more at-bats for Lorenzo?
"Yeah. I don't know why he didn't get more. Again, we don't have a formula that says, ‘Be sure to run him three times, be sure to run him five.' We don't have that. We just go out there and call the plays. If he happens to be there, he's in. If the other guy's in, the other guy might get more called."
Do you think that the ACC expansion and the addition of a conference championship game will change your rivalry with Florida?
"I don't know. I feel like our Seminole graduates and boosters, Florida-Florida State will nearly always be in their craw. Whereas, for the programs, the Miami game might get bigger, because it has ACC, and national, and state implications. Florida doesn't have anything to do with the ACC. That's why this game was so big last night. If we lose to them and beat Florida, you don't get a BCS bowl. You beat them and lose to Florida, you do get a BCS bowl. So that moves that game up on our prerogatives."
How different is it going to be if the Florida game isn't your last regular season game? If you play in an ACC championship game, that'd be after the Florida game.
"That's a change that could occur. It happened to Florida. We were always their last game, and now they have to play another one, if they get in that game. We would just have to make the same adjustment."
Steve Spurrier always complained about that, didn't he?
"Oh, sure. ‘I've got to play Florida State, and I'm more interested in this game than I am Florida State.' It's a good problem. It means you're a good team."