Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden is not alarmed that his vaunted defense was chewed up by Georgia Tech and was nearly upset Saturday night. Why isn't he worried? The Seminoles are not going to see quarterback Joe Hamilton or a team that runs the option as well as the Yellow Jackets the rest of the season.
"The option just drives you batty if you can throw the ball, too," Bowden said the morning after his top-ranked team edged No. 10 Georgia Tech, 41-35. "We're better off with our defense if we cut them loose. It's a good thing we don't have to face another team that runs the option like that."
Bowden didn't like what he saw from his defensive backs, who were harassed by Hamilton's threat to run as well as his threat to pass. The senior quarterback passed for 387 yards (22 of 25 attempts) and his deft ballhandling helped the Yellow Jackets gain 153 yards rushing. Sacks, however, brought the rushing total down to 114.
Bowden said the Yellow Jackets ran the ball so well out of the option that his defensive backs "had to worry about it and couldn't play pass defense." He also said Georgia Tech used illegal pick plays to get its receivers open, notably on an 80-yard catch-and-run from Hamilton to Dez White in the first quarter that tied the score at 7.
The charge of illegal picks sounded like an alibi for a defense that was caught being too aggressive. The Seminoles tried to intimidate Hamilton and the Yellow Jackets by massing at the line of scrimmage, and twice Hamilton turned short passes into long touchdowns.
"We haven't had a better performance by an opposing quarterback in this stadium in a long time," Bowden said.
There hasn't been a more shaky performance by a Florida State defense at Doak Campbell Stadium in a long time, either. Georgia Tech had 501 total yards.
"People have been saying nice things about us the whole preseason," Bowden said. "Well, the offense found out last week [in a 41-7 victory over Louisiana Tech] that they weren't as good as they thought they were and this week the defense gets to learn that lesson.
"Maybe that was our wake-up call. Maybe Penn State got one yesterday, too" in a 20-17 victory over unranked Pittsburgh.
Bowden also said he wasn't alarmed by the play of his defense, which returned eight starters from a unit that was ranked No. 1 in 1998. In the victory over Louisiana Tech in the season opener, Tim Rattay passed for 240 yards against the Seminoles, which was followed up by Georgia Tech's strong game.
"I think everything is correctable," Bowden said. "If Rattay was playing at a bigger school, he'd be a Heisman candidate and Hamilton already is a Heisman candidate."
Of course, as long as the Seminoles have Peter Warrick playing offense for them, along with a cast of other breakaway threats, Florida State won't have trouble keeping up in a shootout.
Warrick caught eight passes for 142 yards and ran 17 yards for another score. Florida State also got 122 yards rushing from tailback Travis Minor and watched backup tailback Jeff Chaney turn a screen pass into a dazzling 29-yard touchdown play.
The Seminoles could have done the Atlantic Coast Conference's image a favor by losing a well-played game (no turnovers). After all, Florida State's dominance of the conference (two losses in 57 games, seven titles) and the lack of a second powerhouse team is the biggest knock on the conference.
"I'm glad we didn't have to lose a game to show everybody it's a pretty good league," Bowden said.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech lost sophomore running back Joe Burns (broken ankle) for the season. He is the team's third-leading rusher with 87 yards on 14 carries and second-leading receiver with seven catches for 96 yards. He led the Yellow Jackets with 474 yards rushing last season.