January 1, 1999
By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – Randy Sanders has a sense of humor. Now, it’s time to
find out if Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator can make sense of Florida’s
State’s ferocious defense.
Sanders was promoted from running backs coach two weeks ago after
assistant David Cutcliffe left to coach at Mississippi. His first assignment
couldn’t be tougher – outsmart the nation’s best defense in the national
championship-deciding Fiesta Bowl Monday night.
“They have tendencies,” Sanders said. “They have a tendency to make
Sanders, a Tennessee backup quarterback during the mid-1980s, has been a
Vols assistant since 1991. He added the title of recruiting coordinator in
All that matters now is the national title.
“I’m not nervous, but there will be a lot of anxiety about calling
a national championship game,” Sanders said. “The fact that Florida State
gives up only 214 yards a game doesn’t put us at ease.
“But if we’re prepared, there’s no reason to be nervous. It’s just a
of calling the plays and executing.”
Easier said than done.
The second-ranked Seminoles (11-1) led the nation in overall defense and
were second in points allowed at 11.5 per game. They ranked first in pass
defense (135 yards per game) and second against the run (79.8 yards).
Mark Richt, Florida State’s offensive coordinator, sat across the
Sanders at a coaches’ dinner earlier this week and wished his counterpart
Richt said Sanders faces an unenviable task.
“We go against our defense all the time,” Richt said, “and the other day
we were talking about there’s not very many third-and-20 calls out there.
don’t know if there’s any first, second or third down calls against our
“They will have to play well to have success against that bunch.”
But the top-ranked Volunteers (12-0) are confident Sanders’ play-calling
will work. And Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said he expects coach Phillip
Fulmer may have more say than usual in running the offense Monday night. In
fact, Fulmer says the Vols will open the game with 15 scripted plays, but will
make changes if needed.
“I can’t remember my first game calling plays, but I know it wasn’t the
national championship game against the No. 1 defense in the country,” Fulmer
said. “But Randy will be fine. If I had any concerns, I wouldn’t have done it.
I’m confident he’ll do as well as anyone can do against the Florida State
Cutcliffe, who made a successful head coaching debut in Mississippi’s
win over Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl Thursday night, will be missed.
But quarterback Tee Martin says Sanders, who recruited many of the current
players, already has the players’ trust.
“Coach Cutcliffe was serious all the time and had a knack for rubbing
mistake too much,” Martin said. “Coach Sanders is more like your favorite
high school teacher. You can talk to him, but you still have respect for his
job. He just handles it in a different way.”
Sanders, who spent New Year’s eve watching Florida State game films,
near Knoxville, Tenn. After his playing days he became a graduate assistant,
moved up to wide receivers coach in 1991, then to running backs coach in 1993.
With players like Jamal Lewis, Shawn Bryson and Travis Henry to work
Sanders turned the Vols running game into the best in the Southeastern
Conference. His recruiting classes have been ranked among the best in the
nation in recent years.
Although it’s recruiting season, Sanders has been hard at work
a flaw in the Seminoles’ defense.
“My philosophy is you attack their weakness,” Sanders said. “I just
haven’t found a weakness yet.”
He’s got two days.