By Dave Glenn, ACCSports.com
November 17, 2003 TALLAHASSEE There's a greater appreciation these days for what an ACC championship means to the Florida State football program. Pushed to the limit in a 50-44 double-overtime win against N.C. State, the Seminoles recently wrapped up their 11th league title ninth outright in 12 seasons. This is the first one I think we won truly on a victory, maybe since way back, senior middle linebacker Allen Augustin said. This is what it came down to for us (seniors). Our last game at home it was kind of a storybook ending. FSU once again and this title won't get any easier to attain, with Miami and Virginia Tech coming on board next season is the cream of the crop in the conference. But if you're willing to accept that as fact, you also should consider the shortcomings the Seminoles managed to overcome along the way. Unlike in many years past, talent alone wasn't enough to lift this team to the top of the ACC heap. Most of those imperfections were on offense, where the Seminoles dealt with a myriad of problems, among them:
- a re-tooled offensive line that lost four seniors from 2002 and was forced to play through numerous injuries and without a dominant player at either guard or center;
- a mistake-prone quarterback in redshirt junior Chris Rix, whose inconsistencies made him no better than the league's fifth-best starter, behind N.C. State's Philip Rivers, Virginia's Matt Schaub, North Carolina's Darian Durant and Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst;
- a running attack that revolved around senior tailback Greg Jones, who only on rare occasions resembled the 250-pound bruiser that plowed to nearly 1,000 yards before suffering a torn knee ligament last season. Though Jones received the lion's share of the attention, super-quick sophomore Leon Washington was the team's most productive runner;
- though Craphonso Thorpe and P.K. Sam emerged as reliable go-to receivers from a deep corps, the Seminoles never developed a third wideout and/or a game-breaker in the Peter Warrick mold.
- Clemson beats South Carolina to finish 8-4, gets a better bowl trip than it expected after getting destroyed at Wake Forest, and Bowden and the athletic administration announce his desire to continue his career with the Tigers. That announcement likely would include a contract extension.
- Bowden beats South Carolina and then in Ken Hatfield-like fashion announces he's going to pursue his career somewhere else, somewhere he is appreciated. Clemson took a real beating from Bobby and Ann Bowden in the press before and after the Florida State game. To paraphrase Ann, Tommy has plenty of money, Clemson can't win the right way unless Tommy is in charge, and if they fire Tommy, the only way they're going to win in the future is by cheating. And the story of the elder Bowden leaving dissatisfied West Virginia for struggling FSU many years ago was told several times before the Seminoles came to town. Is the son planning on following in his father's footsteps by bolting, if he gets the right opportunity? One of the possible landing places, hypothetically at least, is Mississippi State. There were several reports the week before the Duke game that someone in the Bowden camp initiated contact with MSU.
- Bowden loses to South Carolina and then is fired by athletic director Terry Don Phillips. That decision would be based on several factors, including wins and losses. Phillips, who has promised to evaluate Bowden after the season, was silent during the recent weeks of controversy. To some people, that silence spoke volumes about Bowden's future. The buzz before the Duke game was that a move already had been made. Meanwhile, insiders said Phillips is taking an Olympic judge-type approach to evaluating Bowden throw out the high (Florida State), throw out the low (Wake Forest) and grade the rest.
- Bowden loses to South Carolina and the Hatfield-type departure takes place. The company line would be that Bowden asked for a contract extension after the season and Phillips decided against it, so the two parties decided to go in different directions.
Phillips and Bowden don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. One small example:
the purple jerseys. Before the Duke game, a press release was issued, indicating
that the seniors had asked to wear purple jerseys in their final home game.
Earlier in the season, Phillips said the Tigers would never wear purple at home
because of the One Clemson, Solid Orange campaign.
According to the press release, the Clemson seniors requested they wear the
purple jerseys on Senior Day against Duke, and (Bowden and Phillips) granted
their wish. Because of the One Clemson, Solid Orange campaign, the Tigers
had to wear orange pants with the purple jerseys. Thankfully, Jefferson-Pilot
was in Atlanta for the UNC-Tech game.
Insiders have said for months that the relationship between Phillips and Bowden
is cool at best. Bowden said they talk at least once a week, because Phillips
is a football guy.
Meanwhile, one of the categories in Bowden's postseason evaluation will be
whether or not he's considered a team player in the Clemson athletic department.
Ask everyone in the athletic department about that topic, and most will tell
you the same thing: Bowden gets an unsatisfactory grade in that category.
Hokies Suffer Another Late Fade
BLACKSBURG Since the start of the new millennium, the late season
has been the cruelest season for Virginia Tech's football program. Early dreams
of playing in BCS games have turned into late-season nightmares in each of the
last four seasons.
From 1996-99, Virginia Tech played some of its best football during crunch
time. The Hokies were 12-4 in games played in the months of November and December,
and the losses came by an average of less than a touchdown (6.8 points).
The 2000-03 seasons haven't been the same. After squeezing by Temple 24-23
in overtime on Nov. 15, Virginia Tech raised its November and December mark
in 2000-03 to 7-8 overall and 3-8 in Big East competition. The eight losses
came by an average of 13.3 points.
Following a 31-28 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 8 that virtually eliminated the
Hokies from BCS and Big East title contention, Tech coach Frank Beamer challenged
his team. He told them he believed they could be one of the four best teams
in program history. He told them they had the capability to become the third
team in school history to finish with 11 wins, and the fourth to end the season
ranked in the Associated Press top 10.
I think looking at what's possible and not what could have been is what's
important, Beamer said.
Heading into Tech's 28-7 loss to West Virginia on Oct. 22, it would've been
difficult to imagine Beamer ever addressing his team's desire. But a lot has
changed since that day.
A quarterback controversy has emerged in Blacksburg. Junior Bryan Randall,
who spent the first half of the season being mentioned as a darkhorse Heisman
Trophy candidate, has been in a duel with redshirt freshman Marcus Vick for
the starting QB position.
A rash of nagging injuries to starters and key backups made depth an issue
for the Hokies on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The injuries included
a medial collateral ligament injury to one of offensive guard Jacob Gibson's
knees, an MCL injury for defensive tackle Kevin Lewis, a dislocated right thumb
for defensive end Nathaniel Adibi and a dislocated left shoulder for defensive
tackle Jason Lallis.
An inability to finish teams off, a task the Hokies struggled with in the
first few games of the season, crept back up again. Pittsburgh rallied for a
game-winning touchdown in the final minute of its game against Tech. Temple
came back from 17 points down in the last 14 minutes of regulation to tie Tech
and send the game to overtime.
A propensity to miss tackles re-appeared as well. Poor tackling technique
plagued the Hokies in a three-game, late-season losing streak in 2002, and it
caused Tech trouble in the Pitt and Temple games this year. Linebackers Mikal
Baaqee and Vegas Robinson were the main culprits.
Now, one has to wonder how focused standout players such as split end Ernest
Wilford, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tailback Kevin Jones will be down the
stretch, with their BCS hopes finally squashed. Wilford, a senior, is being
projected as a possible first- or second-round pick in the NFL draft. Meanwhile,
Hall and Jones are considering the possibility of skipping their senior seasons
and jumping to the NFL. Jones' numbers certainly haven't reflected any lack
of focus, but Hall failed to stay between the receiver and the ball on several
occasions late in the season.
Perhaps the most likely reason for Tech's late swoons in recent history can
simply be explained as post-BCS depression. November losses in each of the last
four seasons crushed any lingering hopes the Hokies had for bids to BCS games.
Of course, if Tech had played the month of November with the opportunity to
play in a BCS game still on the line, who's to say things would've been any
different? But it does appear that the prospects of making another trip to a
second-tier bowl took the steam out of the Hokies.
It's tough because I know all of us sacrificed something, Baaqee said. This
summer, I sacrificed a lot. I sacrificed things with my family I'll never get
back. Just to be (in Blacksburg) and do the little things. I'm not regretting
it, but I mean the goals I had planned on working for and sacrificed other things
for, now (those goals) are gone, too. It's sort of tough.
The Hokies will have to lose that attitude long before they dive into the
ACC next season. If they don't, and the schedule-makers don't do Tech any favors
and put teams such as FSU and Maryland late in the season, the Hokies might
be destined to continue this undesirable trend.
Wolfpack: Good Calls, Bad Results
RALEIGH Before anyone says it, there were few similarities between
the back-to-back quarterback sneaks that didn't work for N.C. State in the triple-overtime
loss at Ohio State and the back-to-back quarterback sneaks called in the second
overtime of the Wolfpack's 50-44 loss to Florida State.
In the former, State coach Chuck Amato had options, but he chose to save beat-up
tailback T.A. McLendon for a fourth-down attempt that ultimately failed, ending
his team's bid for an amazing comeback. It was widely regarded as a poor decision
by a first-year offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, who was still getting a
feel for his new team.
But against the Seminoles, going to superhero Philip Rivers, who gained nine
yards on second down and was stopped for no gain on third down, shouldn't be
criticized. There were few other options in the Wolfpack's non-existent running
game, and Rivers already had run for a six-yard touchdown that no one on the
FSU defense expected.
After he had shredded them through the air all game long, Rivers was the only
real choice to attempt to get the two feet needed for the first down. But Florida
State senior tackle Darnell Dockett, perhaps the best defensive player in the
ACC this season, combined with senior linebacker Allen Augustin to hit Rivers
behind the line of scrimmage.
The options were limited because McLendon was hurt again, stopped by a bruised
shoulder he suffered in the fourth quarter. And Amato had completely given up
on senior Cotra Jackson, sophomore Josh Brown and Reggie Davis, the freshman
who burned his redshirt year three weeks before when McLendon was out following
two knee surgeries.
Davis carried the ball once in the FSU game. The only other running back the
Wolfpack used was multi-purpose man Tramain Hall, in a split formation with
So, by the time the Wolfpack had the ball in a fourth-and-one situation, Amato
was left with a choice that was immediately open for second-guessing: He decided
to go for a first down instead of a field goal.
Again, it didn't work out, but it was the right move for the Pack under the
circumstances. Amato wanted to be aggressive, to leave the ball in the hands
of one of the best players in school history (Rivers), and he obviously had
lost faith in his placekicker.
Senior Adam Kiker, who after the game admitted he had doubts about himself,
already had missed a field goal and an extra point that may have prevented the
game from going to overtime in the first place. Amato even went to redshirt
freshman John Deraney, previously a kickoffs-only specialist for the Wolfpack,
for extra points following the Pack's last touchdown of regulation and its touchdown
in the first overtime.
So Amato called for his sure thing: a short pass from Rivers to senior wide
receiver Jerricho Cotchery, a play that had been open and frequently used all
game long. It would have worked again had Augustin, who has been struggling
with injuries and was not expected to play in the game, not tipped the ball
at the last second. The Wolfpack didn't score, and the Seminoles needed only
two plays to score the game-winning touchdown.
Was it the right thing to do? Yes. The Wolfpack had made so many mistakes
earlier in the game, it couldn't hope to just out-last the Seminoles. It needed
to do something to win the game as soon as possible.
Where Amato can be criticized is how his team handled the end of the first
20-10 and backed up on his own goal line, Amato chose to give the ball to McLendon with less than a minute to play before the break. The pro-FSU crowd was in shock, and the Wolfpack had all the momentum. Then McLendon, strangely fighting for extra yards on a meaningless play near the sideline, fumbled it away and gave the ball to the Seminoles at the three-yard line. Even Chris Rix could get his team into the end zone from there. McLendon's fumble clearly was the biggest play of an exciting game filled with big plays, but most of the post-game questions went in a different direction: Was Amato's fourth-down gamble the right thing to do? His mentor thought so. It was a very gutsy call, and very typical of Chuck, FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. You have to hand it to him. That really takes some guts to do what he did. He went for the win all the way. Of course, those comments came from the same guy who thought an on-sides kick was a good idea in the third quarter. Still, Amato stuck by his decision to try for the win on the road, with the ACC championship hanging in the balance. The right thing to do is probably go for the field goal and make them have to score a touchdown, Amato said. But I said, Hey, let's win. Let them have the tough thing to do and score a touchdown, too.' I don't want to play 25 overtimes. Daniels Symbolizes Tech Success ATLANTA In this season of exceeded expectations, perhaps no Georgia Tech player better epitomizes the team's rise quite like sophomore tailback P.J. Daniels, the fun-loving, never-tiring former walk-on who has been among ACC leaders in rushing all season. Like the Yellow Jackets, who were picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason, Daniels entered this fall with very few expectations. After all, he came to Tech as a walk-on, after scholarship offers from Stanford, Northwestern and Tulane fell through because Daniels made his qualifying standardized test score late. A 5-10, 205-pound bundle of energy, Daniels began last season as the team's seventh-string tailback. Others' injuries and ineffectiveness gave Daniels a chance and, despite a lack of breakaway speed, he emerged as an effective straight-ahead option for the Jackets. He rushed for 255 yards on 72 carries in 2002 and at times showed an ability to be the team's workhorse, but he was expected to return to a backup role again this season. Instead, he emerged from a muddled tailback situation to replace Tony Hollings, who failed out of school in the spring and quickly left for the NFL. Now Daniels, who worked long and hard for his opportunity, isn't about to let it slip away. Daniels rushed for more than 1,000 yards through 10 games oddly, that marked just the seventh 1,000-yard season in school history and his workload has been extraordinary. No other Tech tailback has emerged as an effective player, so Daniels does the vast majority of running. He's also the team's best blocking tailback, meaning he often stays in the backfield in passing situations. He's improved as a pass catcher, and his all-out hustle has saved the Yellow Jackets on a number of occasions, whether it's recovering a fumble or making a tackle following an interception. Daniels has done it mainly with tough, up-the-middle running and an ability to break tackles. He often drags defenders for a few extra yards and refuses to step out of bounds, something he said he learned from his childhood idol, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Tech feeds off Daniels' energy. I really never see this guy tired in the huddle, senior receiver Jonathan Smith said, after Daniels carried 36 times for 240 yards against North Carolina. I'll be out there blocking for him, and I come back and put my hands on my knees, and he's still up there smiling and ready for the next play. It doesn't hurt that Daniels is among the most popular players on the team, a nod to his hard work, determination and easy smile. He is quick to joke with his teammates and consistently credits his linemen and fullbacks for his standout efforts. Daniels emerged as a team leader in the offseason, when he took a small group of players to coach Chan Gailey's office to express confidence in their leader despite a tumultuous offseason. Gailey can't help but smile when talking about Daniels, a player who would be a big part of the team even if he never took the field. But in what could have been a trying season Tech's preseason problems have been well-documented Daniels' on-field contributions have been almost immeasurable. With a true freshman quarterback and a spotty passing game, Daniels has allowed the Yellow Jackets to sustain drives and give their thin defense much-needed recovery time on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Tech continues to look for a home-run threat in the backfield. True freshman Rashaun Grant, who has spent this season on the scout team while recovering from a nasty ankle injury suffered in high school, could be that guy. The Yellow Jackets also will try to bring in a big back and a speed back during the current recruiting cycle. Of course, bumping Daniels from the starting lineup will be tough. He's come too far to give it up easily. Excitement, Bowl Hopes Fade Fast WINSTON-SALEM The theme running through this Wake Forest football season is that the bloom has come off the rose for Jim Grobe and his staff. Everyone still agrees Grobe is a great coach and a perfect fit for the Demon Deacons, but the 2003 campaign has proven to be the reality check many predicted in August. In Grobe's first two seasons, few of his moves were questioned. Virtually everyone was simply shocked at what they were seeing, and Grobe could do no wrong. But this season, the gloves have come off. Despite the lower expectations and some big wins, Grobe and his staff are being questioned on many points. It's difficult for many to remember that, before the season, almost everyone agreed it would be difficult for Grobe to repeat his success. That's because, two games into the season, Wake was in the Top 25 for the first time in 10 years, after upsetting Boston College and N.C. State. That wasn't the team Grobe had been warning everyone was thin at key positions and very young. That was just more magic from Grobe and his staff. Gradually, though, bad things began to happen, and reality set in. Since then, reporters twice have had to ask Grobe whether a particular game was Wake's worst performance in his three seasons. That happened after home losses to Georgia Tech and Connecticut. In those games, the Deacons appeared completely flat, something that hadn't been seen previously from a Grobe-led team. Now they have to beat a very solid Maryland program just to finish 6-6, and nobody is giving the Deacs much of a chance in that one. Defensive coordinator Dean Hood has come under heavy fire, as his unit will finish near the bottom of the ACC for a third straight season. Hood's task has been very difficult, as he hasn't had the personnel needed to dominate the line. He's had to basically invent a 3-3-5 scheme to take advantage of what he does have. Still, some of Hood's techniques have been questionable. The most obvious has been a willingness to allow teams to complete seven- to 10-yard out routes with ease. Wake's cornerbacks regularly give huge cushions, then back up with the snap. Even when teams need only five yards, the Deacons generally won't jam receivers at the line. Hood probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for this season, because his front-line talent was so limited. But next fall, his real test will arrive, and he may have to change schemes. The Deacons will be deep and pretty talented along the front and in the secondary, but they'll be thin at linebacker. The pressure will be on to stop opponents, not just slow them down and hope they make mistakes. Meanwhile, first-year offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke has shown his inexperience. A few of his plans have been inventive, keeping opponents guessing, much like his predecessor, Troy Calhoun, often did. But many have been the opposite, as Lobotzke seemed to vacillate between trying new things and trying to establish Wake's old standbys, the inside zone run and the orbit sweep. More often than not, he's been too conservative, as Wake's talent lies at the skill positions and not on the offensive line. Several opponents have basically said they've known what was coming. Lobotzke has failed under pressure as well. At key points, Wake made bad decisions against Purdue, Virginia and North Carolina. For Grobe, the worst part is that this season has given outsiders especially recruits a reason to say, Same old Wake Forest. That's not just on the field, but in the stands. Despite some big home crowds, bowl scouts don't seem to feel much differently about the Deacons. A Continental Tire Bowl official recently told one reporter that the bowl's representatives would do anything they could to avoid picking Wake Forest. After seeing Wake's turnout at the UNC game, a Peach Bowl representative just snickered and made a disparaging remark about the Deacs. Empty seats don't spend money in town, on concessions, etc. Same old Wake Forest probably isn't the reality, but it's the perception in some circles, and everyone understands the importance of perception. Cavaliers Display Need For Speed CHARLOTTESVILLE There was one positive note for Virginia in a mid- to late-season swoon that resulted in three straight losses and four in a span of five games: All of those defeats came on the road, and the Cavs' final two regular-season games are at Scott Stadium. That's not to say Virginia (3-1 at home) didn't have some problems to address after giving up more than 1,000 yards in losses at N.C. State (51-37) and Maryland (27-17). The Cavaliers defeated both of those teams in Charlottesville during a 2002 season that may have raised expectations to an unrealistic level. Al Groh's second Virginia team finished 9-5 in 2002, despite ranking eighth in the ACC in total defense and ninth in total offense. Moreover, UVa was out-gained in five straight victories, the kind of numbers that eventually catch up with a team. As a result, the Cavaliers went into the final weeks of the regular season at 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the ACC. Virginia needs to beat either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech just to have the .500 record that would make the Cavaliers eligible for consideration by one of the six bowls with which the ACC is affiliated. There's no secret as to what it will take for Virginia to get back on the winning track. The Cavaliers must eliminate big plays by the opposition. Virginia allowed a scoring play of 75 yards or more in four of its losses, including an 80-yard run by Maryland sophomore Josh Allen at a time when UVa had momentum for the first time all night. The scary part was, even Allen's teammates thought he had been stopped at the line of scrimmage. However, Muffin Curry's failure to provide outside containment and the absence of speed throughout UVa's secondary made for a game-turning situation. Groh has made it a point to upgrade the Cavaliers' team speed through recruiting, but Virginia seemed unusually slow against the Terrapins. It might have helped if free safety Willie Davis hadn't been hurt in the season's second week, but Davis may never return after suffering nerve damage in a collision at South Carolina. The Cavaliers are redshirting sophomore Michael Johnson, probably the team's fastest player, but Johnson is a tailback prospect who wouldn't be playing defense anyway. Linebackers Darryl Blackstock (outside) and Ahmad Brooks (inside) have uncommon speed, but UVa has problems at the defensive skill positions. The same goes for the offense, where quarterback Matt Schaub has broken the UVa career passing record despite relying heavily on backs Alvin Pearman and Wali Lundy, as well as tight end Heath Miller. Top returning wide receiver Michael McGrew, who suffered a season-ending injury in August, was not a deep threat. Nor are the current starters, Ryan Sawyer and Ottowa Anderson. The Cavaliers have been able to parlay Groh's energy and the 2002 turnaround into two successful recruiting years but, if Virginia wants to make an impression with the uncommitted players in this year's class, it needs to show some life in the last two games.
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