Cool Customer

<b> Florida State</b> returns to practice Monday following a long weekend. The Seminoles, of course, will turn up the heat in their preparation for Saturday's showdown at rival Florida. The Gators have won their last five following a 3-3 start and are playing well on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Offensively, true freshman quarterback <b>Chris Leak</b> has displayed maturity beyond in his years.

"He's certainly a very talented player, a very accurate passer, has been able to perform exceptionally well for a freshman against the kind of people they've played against," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said during last Thursday's media day.

"(He has) not made a lot of mistakes with the football. Protects it well. He can move the ball. He can play out of the pocket. Just an exceptional performer to be a true freshman like that."

Leak, 18, has is 6-1 in his seven starts for the Gators this season.

He has helped UF rank fourth in the Southeastern Conference and 43rd nationally in passing offense (238.1 yards per game). In addition, UF is fourth in the league and 44th in the country in total offense with an average of 361.7 yards per game.

Leak's greatest attribute, however, has been his ability to perform under pressure.

Leak's also the only freshman (true or redshirt) in school history to defeat three ranked opponents in consecutive games, picking up three wins away from home against top-11 ranked teams -- LSU, Arkansas and Georgia. (Kerwin Bell also defeated three ranked teams in 1984 as a redshirt freshman. However, the wins did not come in consecutive games).

In UF's win over South Carolina two Saturdays ago, Leak passed Rex Grossman's redshirt freshman total of 1,866 passing yards. Leak has 1,894 passing yards on the season along with 12 touchdown passes -- Danny Wuerffel holds the UF freshman record with 2,230 yards passing in 1993.

Andrews admitted one key against Leak will be the Seminoles' ability to pressure him. FSU enters with 32 sacks, two shy of last year's mark in 14 games.

"Well, we're not a real big blitz team," Andrews said.

"We'll zone-blitz some. We'll do a little zero blitz. We'll start off trying to get our pressure with our four-man front. There'll be times when we'll choose to cover, we'll play a three-man front. And we'll send some five-man, six-man blitz. Hopefully, we can get him moving around in the pocket.

"A lot of people have trouble throwing the football moving. He hasn't shown that that's a problem for him, but certainly it's a lot easier when you sit back there. When you practice against air, you don't see folks scrambling to throw the football. So evidently, it must be easier to throw from a set position. Whether we can do that, we'll just have to wait and see."

While Leak will draw plenty of attention, the Gators' running game also must be slowed, namely Ciatrick Fason.

In the first six games of the season, Fason had 93 rushing yards and averaged 15.5 yards per game. Since that point, Fason has registered 452 yards for an average of 89.2 yards per game.

Fason turned in a career-high performance with 190 yards at South Carolina, becoming the first UF running back this season to have three or more rushes of 20 yards or longer. Eight of Fason's 20 carries went for first downs and it was the most rushing yards for a Gator back since Errict Rhett had 196 yards against Auburn in 1993.

Fason has teamed with Deshawn Wynn and Ron Carthon to give the Gators a productive tailback trio.

"We've only seen him play a few games. But the more they give him the ball, naturally you think his production would be better, but to go out there and have 190 yards against South Carolina was kind of a shock maybe to some people," Andrews said. "But he's a very talented guy -- all three of their backs are."

Nole Digest Top Stories