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Title Hopes History, Focus Turns To Acc

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

October 14, 2002 TALLAHASSEE — Its national championship aspirations dashed in early October for a second consecutive year, Florida State had to re-adjust its goals following the latest gut-wrenching loss to Miami. That wasn't particularly good news for the rest of the ACC. “We've got to get ready for the rest of the season,” senior linebacker and defensive captain Jerel Hudson said. “It's not the season I was looking for, but now we've got to pay attention to the ACC title.”

Hudson's tone was far from condescending. In fact, it was representative of the general mood from the locker room following FSU's 28-27 loss to No. 1 Miami. The Seminoles' disappointment was obvious, but the over-riding emotion was anger. It wasn't directed at kicker Xavier Beitia, whose errant 43-yard field goal attempt on the final play prevented FSU from re-joining the national championship race and ending Miami's 27-game winning streak.

“We came up a field goal short,” FSU wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We did everything we wanted to do. Some things we didn't capitalize on, but we did what we wanted to do. We could have won the game. We've got to live with it now.”

The Seminoles still have obvious defensive shortcomings. They surrendered 477 yards to the Hurricanes — 155 of those in the fourth quarter — and blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead. But in the process, they re-discovered their pass rush against a formidable offensive line and got some big plays from players who had been struggling to produce.

With defensive end Alonzo Jackson leading the charge, FSU sacked Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey just once, but it was the first time in his three games against the Seminoles. More importantly, they generated enough pressure to knock him to the ground more than a dozen times, and those hurries led Dorsey to a pedestrian 20-for-45 passing line and contributed to the first interceptions of the season by linebacker Michael Boulware and free safety Kyler Hall.

The improved effort and execution added to the frustration but also served as motivation for better days ahead.

“It just hurts for it to come down to this,” FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope said. “It's hard to take it. We can't be sad or mad about anything. We can't hang out heads. We played the best football we've played all year against the No. 1 team in the nation. We can't ask for nothing better. ... We out-hit them, we out-fought them, we out-played them. They just made the bigger plays when they needed them.”

“We lost, but one thing I know from this loss, every man in this room put everything on that field,” cornerback Stanford Samuels said. “We dominated the No. 1 team in the nation. That there at the end, that's fate. That's all that is.”

The Seminoles will have an extra week to get rid of the emotional hangover of defeat, before Notre Dame makes its first visit to Tallahassee on Oct. 26. Then it's back to the ACC schedule, with trips to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

FSU coach Bobby Bowden believes the Seminoles ultimately will find strength from the way they played in defeat.

“(Miami) didn't take it to us,” Bowden said. “We took it to them. Ö They're the No. 1 team in the country, but it ain't like we've gone back in the gutter.”

Disconsolate Beitia Remains Star

No one will need the week off to recover more than Beitia, who was still sobbing an hour after the game when he was ushered to the bus by his parents and team chaplain Clint Purvis.

Before his game-ending miss, Beitia had extended his streak of consecutive field goals this season to eight and was six-for-six from behind 40 yards. That included conversions of 45 and 43 yards earlier in the Miami game.

Prior to the game, Bowden said if he had Beitia on hand for FSU's 27-24 loss at Miami in 2000, the Seminoles would not have opened the door for the Hurricanes' current 28-game winning streak. Matt Munyon missed a 49-yard field goal (Wide Right III) on the game's final play, and the team opted against a pair of early field goal attempts because of inconsistency in the kicking game.

Bowden still had high praise for Beitia following the defeat.

“I feel as good about him as any kicker I've had here, including (Sebastian) Janikowski,” he said. “I wouldn't swap him for any kicker we've ever had.”

Beitia had no shortage of support from his teammates after the loss. All five captains made a trip into a back room in an attempt to console him, while holder Chance Gwaltney and long snapper Brian Sawyer stood up to answer questions about the fatal last kick.

“None of that is X's fault,” said Sawyer, who short-hopped the final snap, forcing Gwaltney to make a great recovery just to get the ball upright. “It would be a real injustice to put all the blame on him.”

Sawyer, a junior and third-year starter, accepted his portion of the blame.

“(Gwaltney) told me he liked them a little lower, but they were a little lower than I wanted them today,” Sawyer said. “I guess a little bit of the heat and humidity had something to do with it. The ball was wet. But that's not an excuse. I had a good game in Louisville and it was pouring down. There's no excuse for it. That's all I've got to do.”

Gwaltney admitted that the low snap may have thrown off the timing of the kick, but he never had a doubt that Beitia would make good on the try.

“He's the best kicker I've ever been around,” Gwaltney said. “I told him (in the huddle), ëWhen you make it, I'm going to tackle you.'”

Beitia was disconsolate and never spoke to the media, but through FSU's sports information office he described the game-ending setting as a “blur.”

The general consensus in the aftermath was that Beitia eventually will recover from the miss, just as Dan Mowrey did after his errant final attempt in the 19-16 loss in 1992. Mowrey came back to win the starting job two years later. FSU doesn't have that luxury with Beitia, but it seems unlikely that the sophomore — who has missed just five of 29 career attempts — will fade into oblivion like Gerry Thomas (Wide Right I) and Munyon before him.

Strong Foundation: Ground Game

If there was any doubt about Florida State's offensive personality heading into the Miami game, it was laid to rest with Greg Jones' 189-yard rushing performance. The Seminoles' offensive line totally dominated a Miami front considered the best in college football, helping FSU to nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession.

Jones' performance was the best by an FSU back since Sammie Smith went for 189 yards against Miami in 1987. It gave him 822 yards on the season and moved him closer to becoming the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996.

“I knew Greg Jones was a great back,” Miami coach Larry Coker said, “but he is a step above the rest.”

With FSU's ground game churning out 296 rushing yards against the Hurricanes, quarterback Chris Rix was reduced to a care-taking role in the Seminoles' offense. He attempted just 19 passes, and his 83 yards were the fewest by an FSU starting quarterback since Thad Busby's starting debut against Duke (73) in 1995.

While Rix avoided interceptions for the fifth time in the last six games, it remained to be seen how he might respond to a larger role down the stretch.