January 5, 1999
TEMPE, Ariz. – Florida State looked exactly like what it was Monday night: a young team which had accumulated a significant amount of rust over its 44-day layoff since its last game.
Although players at FSU are accustomed to playing in big games, the Noles were victimized by one costly mistake after another in the national title game. Still, Florida State was never entirely out of contention in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We’d take two steps forward and 10 steps back,” said noseguard Corey Simon. “You can’t do that in big games.”
“We shot ourselves in the butt tonight,” said quarterback Marcus Outzen, who valiantly scrambled seven yard to draw FSU within seven points with under four minutes remaining.
“It hurts, we all played as hard as we could, but we played like a team that has been off for a month and two weeks. That’s not to say that Tennessee didn’t play a tremendous game, but we feel that we didn’t get many breaks tonight and we killed ourselves with penalties.”
Indeed, the Seminoles were penalized for 110 yards, which was two more yards than their rushing attack gained. But that’s hardly where their miscues ended.
They roughed the punter, negating Ron Dugans’ return to the Tennessee 29. They roughed the field goal kicker, tuning a John Hall field goal into a Shawn Bryson touchdown. They missed an extra point for only the second time all season. They surrendered their two longest receptions of the year – a 76-yarder in the first half and a 79-yard touchdown in the second half, both to Peerless Price. An early drive stalled when they were faced with a 2nd-and-41 after a swing pass went astray. Their All-American wide receiver had one catch for seven yards and was tackled by the punter after a superb effort on a return. The ball took an unfortunate hop off the turf and glanced Sebastian Janikowski on an onside attempt.
But most painful of all, 25 seconds after Bryson’s touchdown, FSU fell behind 14-0 when they gave up an interception for a touchdown for the first time since 1994.
‘We called a ‘bench,'” said Outzen. “It’s a deep out. If it’s a hard corner, (Warrick) converts to a fade. I didn’t see the corner, or else I wouldn’t have thrown it out there, but usually when he runs the out route that means the corner is backing up. I didn’t see (the corner) because with an offensive tackle in front of you, you don’t see a lot of things. You trust what’s going on. If he backs up, you run the bench. If he stays strong, you run the fade. We just miscommunicated on that and he ended up getting a real good break on that ball because he was sitting on the out route.”
If any of those or a dozen other mishaps hadn’t happened, we might not have had to watch a group of Vols dance on the Seminoles’ end zone logo as their teammates held aloft commemorative Tennessee national championship bags of Tostitos.
“You think about all of the things that happened, and you say, ‘Well, if that hadn’t happened, maybe we would have won, or if that hadn’t happened, maybe we would have won,'” said FSU head coach Bobby Bowden.
That’s the frustrating part of the game. As sloppily as the Seminoles played, they had the ball with 1:29 remaining and a chance to drive for the game-tying or game-winning score because Tennessee wasn’t exactly razor-sharp, either.
The Vols finished 1-of-12 in third-down conversions (combined, the teams converted only one of the game’s first 17 third downs) and were flagged for false start five times in the first half alone. The Vols’ vaunted rushing attack, which led the SEC at 211.3 yards per game, was held to only 127 – including an anemic 28 yards on 19 attempts for leading rusher Travis Henry.
Henry’s average of 1.5 yards per rush Monday night fell well short of his season average of 5.5, and even worse, he committed the egregious error of coughing up the ball as the Vols were simply trying to run out the clock.
That big play was typical of the never-say-die attitude displayed all night by FSU’s run defense.
“Personally, I think the front seven on our defense played great,” said linebacker Lamont Green. “I knew they had the big play capability, but I took it upon myself to help shut down the run and the other stuff was out of my control. Personally, I caused two fumbles. I caused a fumble late in the game. The offense asked for the ball back, and I gave it back to them.”
But for the Noles, this fumble would be no “Hand of God” miracle, a la Arkansas’ collapse against Tennessee. Nor would there be a last-second game winner, like the Vols had against Syracuse in the season opener, or an overtime victory, like UT had against Florida.
Still, the young Noles – who started only one senior on offense — fought to the end, making for a thrilling final six minutes of the first BCS Championship game.
“We never gave up,” said Outzen. “If I could say something about this game and the fellas, we never quit. We didn’t play very well. But we gave it our best for the whole time.”
NOTES: The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame announced that it will award its highest honor, the Gold Medal, to legendary ABC announcer Keith Jackson, for whom the Fiesta Bowl was his final game in the broadcast booth. The award, which honors those who have “demonstrated integrity, achieved success and have carried the basic values taught in amateur sport into their professional life,” was bestowed upon former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan in 1996. Seven U.S. Presidents have also received the award Tennessee’s Peerless Price, who caught four passes for 199 yards, was selected the game’s Offensive MVP, while teammate Dwayne Goodrich, who scored the 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, was named the defensive MVP and FSU tackle Ross Brannon was picked by the officials as the recipient of the Art Bodine Sportsmanship Award Monday night’s attendance of 80,470 set a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Sun Devil Stadium record, breaking the mark set in 1996 when Nebraska faced Florida It was a tough night not just for the Noles, but for the zebras. Side judge Colin McDermott sufferred a ruptured tendon in his right calf and was replaced in the second half by alternate Dave Cutaia.