Leon Washington's first career rushing touchdown in the second quarter helped FSU prove it could be successful . Washington, making his second career start at tailback in place of the injured Nick Maddox, finished with 134 rushing yards on 26 carries in the Seminoles' 31-14 victory over the Gators.
Thanks in part to Washington's effort, the Seminoles displayed welcomed balance offensively -- 225 yards rushing and 194 passing yards.
"It feels good having a good game against Florida," Washington said.
"The guys on the line did a great job, one of their best jobs of the year. They were opening up gigantic holes -- semi-trucks could have run through. We also had a great week of practice, probably one of our best practices of the year."
Washington had a rushing sidekick in starting quarterback Chris Rix. Rix, making his first start since the Notre Dame game, did his damage scrambling from the pocket. He chipped in 83 rushing yards on 14 carries (5.9 average).
With Washington paving the way, FSU featured its eighth 100-yard rusher in 13 games this season. That total represents FSU's best mark since it had eight 100-yard rushers in 11 games in 1995. The Seminoles also had eight 100-yard rushers in 1987 and a program-best 11 in 11 games in 1984.
"We were watching Colorado beat Nebraska (Friday), and they played a freshman tailback who gained 137 yards," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "Before the game, I told my offensive line about that. I said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we got Leon (Washington) 137 yards.' Someone said that he got 135. That is probably where we won the game."
Washington got off to a good start against a UF defense that had allowed 162.9 rushing yards per game. Washington's 75 first-half rushing yards on 11 carries was more than he had in any game this season. He entered with 91 yards on 24 carries (3.8 average).
Washington's 7-yard touchdown run at the 14:54 mark pushed the Seminoles in front for good at 10-3. Washington averaged 5.2 yards per carry and had a long rush of 18 yards, helping the Seminoles ease the loss of Maddox.
The last time a true freshman recorded a 100-yard rushing game for FSU was Travis Minor, who had 142 yards against the Gators in 1997.
"I am glad I was able to get it done when the coaches gave me my shot," Washington said. "We knew if everybody did their job on offense, we'd be able to move the ball. Like I said, first of all, it starts with the offensive line. They really opened up some holes. It didn't matter who was running the ball with the job they were doing up front."
Still, many believed FSU would miss Maddox.
Maddox, who had registered consecutive 100-yard rushing games against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, has been hampered by an ankle sprain suffered against the Yellow Jackets Nov. 9. He sat out the North Carolina game and re-aggravated the injury in FSU's loss at North Carolina State last weekend.
Washington, of course, has made his mark on special teams for the Seminoles. He recorded a 97-yard kickoff return for a score against Clemson Oct. 3 and entered with 586 return yards. He added 45 yards on three punt returns and two kickoffs against UF.
Washington was backed by another true freshman Saturday in Thomas Clatyon, who did not play. A third true freshman, Torrance Washington, also saw time at fullback. The group also played a key role in pass protection for Rix, who tossed two touchdowns against a Gators' pass defense that had allowed 145.3 yards per game.
"We had some young guys really step up," Washington said. Although UF hadn't been as tough against the run as it has been in past seasons, opponents have found it difficult to score on the Gators by any means in the first half.
The Seminoles' offensive line was also considered a question mark due to injury.
Seniors Antoine Mirambeau (knee) and first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection Montrae Holland (ankle) were held out. David Castillo started his second consecutive game at center in place of Mirambeau, while Bobby Meeks stepped in at guard for Holland.
The makeshift line did its part, however, helping the Seminoles and Washington prove they could run when needed. Washington also dedicated his game to former FSU quarterback Adrian McPherson, who was dismissed from the team on Monday.
"Of course you're a little nervous before any football game, but I wasn't any more nervous tonight than I was for any other game," Washington said.