There is no quarterback controversy at Florida State: Xavier Lee's the quarterback -- at least until Monday.
The 6-4, 235-pound redshirt junior with a cannon arm came off the bench Saturday to throw a pair of touchdown passes to De'Cody Fagg and lead Florida State to a 21-14 victory over No.22 Alabama in a showdown between one-time powers looking to regain elite status.
"He gave them a spark," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "His ability to run made us play different."
Bowden said the Lee he saw perform Saturday before the largest crowd to see a game in this city was the one he's been looking for since 2005.
"He gave us some mobility at quarterback and offensively he won the game," Bowden said. "He did what we've always wanted him to do. Xavier has always been a young man with great potential and I thought tonight he began to use that potential."
Lee, who entered the game in the second quarter, hit Fagg with a 7-yard pass for the game's first touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. The two then teamed up on a 70-yard TD pass with 4:46 left to give the Seminoles a 21-7 lead.
That play came immediately after Alabama scored its first touchdown.
Lee completed 12 of 19 passes for 224 yards after making his first appearance of the year and ran for a game-high 59 yards in what began as a defensive struggle for both teams. He replaced Drew Weatherford, who couldn't produce any first quarter points despite having good field position and a brisk wind at its back.
Bowden said offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher would make the decision on a starter for next week's game against North Carolina State.
"If he doesn't make the right one [decision], I'll correct him," Bowden teased.
Fisher, however, sounded like he was leaning to sticking with Lee.
"I'd say right now, 'you'd think so," Fisher said. "[But] we don 't want to make any rash decisions after a game."
Weatherford, who is also a redshirt junior, has started 27 games and Lee just three since they began their careers together. Despite continual speculation that Lee would transfer, he didn't.
"No athlete likes to wait and sit around and wait for their chance but patience pays off and patience is a virtue," Lee said.
"He showed some persistence there," Bowden said. "I betcha it's gonna pay dividends for him."
Florida State (3-1) gave Bowden, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., his 369th coaching win in his first game against Alabama. Bowden has three more coaching wins than Penn State's Joe Paterno.
"When it will be emotional is when I go home this summer up to Birmingham and we go out to Roebuck [golf course] and we tee that thing up on the first tee box and I say 'We whipped y'all," Bowden said.
Antone Smith scored on a 5-yard run to give Florida State a 14-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Smith's touchdown, which came on a play after Letroy Guion recovered a fumble by Alabama's John Parker Wilson, gave Florida State a 14-0 lead with 9:03 left. Wilson lost the ball as he was being sacked by Florida State's Everette Brown.
Alabama (3-2) cut the lead to 14-7 with 5:04 left on DJ Hall's leaping grab in the back of the end zone on a pass from Wilson, who added a 17-yard TD pass to Keith Brown with 1:06 left.
Wilson completed 28 of 53 passes for 240 yards with Hall catching seven for 83 yards. Alabama's leading rusher, Terry Grant, was held to just 36 of the team's 89 rushing yards.
"The only thing that we had was underneath," said Wilson, who was sacked three times and had little time to throw deep.
Alabama had 78 total yards and three first downs in a scoreless first half while Florida State was only marginally better with five first downs and 89 total yards.
Saban said the Seminoles' defense was one of the best he's seen over the years.
"I've been part of some great defensive teams as a coach and I've played against quite a few and they're up there with the best of them," Saban said.
No players benefited more from Lee's presence that Florida State's two tallest receivers, 6-foot-6 Greg Carr and 6-3 Fagg, who caught nine passes for 202 yards between them. Carr had five catches for 107 yards and Fagg, who has been troubled with dropped passes for much of his career, had 95 yards on four catches.
It was Florida State's first victory in four tries against Alabama in the first meeting between the schools since 1974 when Alabama won 8-7 by scoring a safety and field goal in the final 1:27.
The 85,412 fans at Saturday's game was the most to see a game in Jacksonville, exceeding attendance at the 2004 Super Bowl game or any of the annual Georgia-Florida rivalry games.