Florida State, trying to sneak up among the nation's elite college football teams, took a wobbly step in that direction with a 17-10 victory over Virginia Tech today.
Florida State put up 41 passes for 322 yards and four interceptions, but its defense secured the Seminoles' eighth straight victory over two seasons.
Virginia Tech also was undefeated going into this game, played before 39,200 at Lane Stadium. And the Hokies were impressive at times in their first major test of the season. But with State nose guard Ron Simmons leading the way, Tech could not overcome a team ranked 10th and 12th in the wire-service polls.
VPI cornerback Paul Davis intercepted three passes at the goal line against a team whose two-armed passing attack of Wally Woodham and Jimmy Jordan he described as the best he had ever played against. The three thefts tied a school record as Tech played smartly, usually dropping eight men back into pass coverage.
However, the zone coverages Tech Coach Bill Dooley developed left some gaping openings for Woodham, nicknamed "The Surgeon" for his ability to cut up a defense, and Jordan, known as "The Mad Bomber" because of his ability to throw long. The opportunities were there, but, many a time the two seniors' passes were not.
Two of the interceptions occurred when passes to open, deep receivers sailed a few inches over their heads or were tipped. At other times, both quarterbacks threw too short or too long to open receivers.
FSU Coach Bobby Bowden was not surprised by the turn of offensive events in a series in which the teams had averaged 50 points per game in seven previous encounters.
"We never got our offense outside last week," he said in reference to a week of steady rain in Tallahassee. "It scared me to death. I was afraid our timing would be terrible. I thought by the second half, our timing would be good again. When you've got a half to play, you've got to think that's like a practice. You ought to be hot."
The Seminoles took a 14-7 halftime lead on a 16-yard run by tailback Greg Ramsey and an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Jackie Flowers. Virginia Tech had opened the scoring on a 40-yard sweep by freshman tailback star Cyrus Lawrence.
Typical of Florida State's modus operandi today was the 80-yard, 14-play drive that put the Seminoles ahead for good in the second quarter. Jordan had replaced Woodham -- they have alternated throughout their college careers -- because Tech was covering the short routes well.
Jordan completed only four of 10 passes on the drive, but three were on third down and long to Flowers, including the touchdown pass.
Tech's Dennis Laury missed a 32-yard field goal with six seconds left in the half, but Tech did not lost its poise.Instead, the Gobblers took the second-half kickoff and moved downfield quickly.
Steve Casey, Tech's option quarterback, connected with fullback Mickey Fitzgerald for 20 yards on a short pass and run. Then Lawrence slipped through left tackle, broke two tackles and gained 24 yards. Next, Casey cut back on the option and picked up 16 yards to the FSU 21.
The already boisterous crowd increased the decibel level a few counts and the regional television audience must have been feeling these Seminoles were cigar-store Indians. It was time for Simmons, who bench-presses 525 pounds and is usually double-teamed much of a game, to take control.
After a first-down incompletion by Casey, Simmons personally ended Tech's momentum. He dropped Lawrence for a one-yard loss on a draw play, then blew through the line and sacked Casey for a six-yard loss. The Hokies had to settle for Laury's 44-yard field goal.
"I didn't give them a chance to double-block me," Simmons said. "I watched their line closely and used my speed to get inside. If I missed the play, my butt would have been in trouble because I used the wrong technique. Fortunately, it came out okay."
By double-teaming Simmons, the Hokies left linebackers Paul Plurowski and Reggie Herring unblocked and those two had 16 and 11 tackles, respectively. Simmons was credited with eight.
With Woodham back at quarterback, it looked like State would break open the game. Passes of 18, 15, and 14 yards, plus an eight-yard scamble and a five-yard sneak by the quarterback, gave the Seminoles first-and-goal at the Tech eight.
On first down, Woodham threw to Flowers for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back because of motion in the State backfield as Woodham attempted an audible and could not be heard above the roar of the crowd. Finally, he used hand signals.
Then, after a delay-of-game penalty because he tried to use an audible again and could not be heard, Davis stepped in front of Flowers on the goal line and made his first interception.
With error-free offensive play and getting a 46.5-yard punting average out of Dave Smigelsky, Tech was able to keep the count at 14-10 until a Casey pass became Tech's first turnover, Bobby Butler intercepting the ball and returning it 24 yards to the VPI 12 late in the quarter.
Jordan returned at quarterback and, on fourth down, Dave Cappelen was successful with a 20-yard field goal.
And that was all the scoring. Jordan, looking for more points, was intercepted twice on the goal line by Davis, but Tech never got outside its 35.
In his postgame statement after his first 4-0 start in four years at FSU, Bowden was on target, unlike his passers: "Our defense did it again today. Our offense didn't take advantage of opportunities . . . We almost killed ourselves."