Keys to the Game
Other than the participants, few people in the nation should have better insight into tonight's game than the players and coaches of the Virginia Cavaliers, Clemson Tigers and Miami Hurricanes. All three played Virginia Tech and Florida State, with the Hokies -- for what it's worth -- having a big edge in average victory margin, 25.7 points to 12.7. Here is look at the keys to tonight's game, with a little help from those three teams:
1. Emphasize Peter Warrick, But Look Elsewhere Too. Virginia Tech will focus on Peter Warrick, but the Seminoles have many pass-catching threats. Eleven Florida State players caught touchdown passes this season, and eight had at least 12 receptions. So there's no need to force passes to Warrick. Wide receivers Ron Dugans, Marvin Minnis or Robert Morgan can produce big gains too.
"Warrick can change the dynamics of the game every time he touches the ball," Miami Coach Butch Davis told the Orlando Sentinel. "If he gets 10, 12 touches, he's capable of producing 150 yards and three touchdowns against anybody. I'm confident that Florida State will try to get him downfield. They also use a lot of quick throws to extend the running game."
2.Answer Any Virginia Tech Score Quickly. The Hokies haven't been in an offensive shootout this year, while Florida State had to be at its best in a wide-open, 41-35 win over Georgia Tech.
When the Seminoles' opponents scored to tie the game or take the lead this season (this happened 13 times), Florida State answered with a score eight times on its next possession (six times with touchdowns). Quarterback Chris Weinke was particularly effective in those situations, completing 36 of 47 passes on those drives with four touchdowns. Virginia Tech hasn't had a team answer them score-for-score this season. The Seminoles can possibly rattle them by doing so.
3. Use Travis Minor. This won't be easy against Virginia Tech's stifling run defense, but if the Seminoles can get Minor involved, the passing game will be that much more effective. And Minor has been a presence in big games over his career. In 13 starts as a starter against Associated Press top 25 teams, he has averaged 97.2 yards rushing. He also has 32 catches for 188 yards in those games. If Minor is ineffective or gets hurt, Jeff Chaney is a more-than-able replacement. Minor had 12 carries for 31 yards Nov. 20 against Florida, which had the nation's ninth-best rush defense; Chaney had 10 carries for 41 yards.
1. Keep Michael Vick in the pocket. Vick is a terrific scrambler, making at least one 20-yard run in nine games this season. And Florida State had some trouble with mobile quarterbacks such as Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton (22 of 25 passing, 387 yards), Miami's Kenny Kelly (27 of 41 passing, 370 yards) and Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler (86 yards rushing), although Hamilton and Kelly had better, and more varied, wide receiving corps. Virginia Tech will run a lot of play-action fakes and rollouts, so Florida State's linebackers must be wary as Vick will try to take off if none of his receivers can get open. Despite showing tremendous poise all season, Vick is still a redshirt freshman in the biggest game of his career. Florida State will want to fluster him early.
"You need to keep containment on Vick with your defensive ends," Clemson free safety Robert Carswell said. "Once he breaks the line, your defense has to rally to the football because he can beat one man one-on-one and get away."
2. Force Third-and-Long Situations. In its last four regular season games, Florida State allowed only one third-down conversion in the second half in 28 opportunites. The Seminoles will want to force Vick into passing a lot, something to which he not been accustomed. And if the Hokies have to throw the ball to win, they could be in trouble if wide receiver Ricky Hall can't play because of broken foot and wide receiver Emmett Johnson has problems with the finger he dislocated last week. That would leave Andre Davis as the Hokies' only established downfield receiving threat.
"Florida State can give up some big plays, but not very often because of the athletes they have there," said Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.
3. Make Vick Throw Interceptions. Florida State led the nation with 22 interceptions, and they came from 11 players. Vick only threw five interceptions, but that was against much weaker competition. The Seminoles' defense is much faster than any other Vick has faced. Vick has rarely been rattled this season, but if Florida State's defense can get in his face early, it might have a shot at intercepting passes.Both teams "have outstanding front sevens who are quick and can run, and they both have good cover people," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "I think if the Florida State corners can cover the Virginia Tech wideouts, then they can gang up on everything else like Vick."
Florida State has blocked six kicks this season (four punts, two field goal attempts), with linebacker Tommy Polley getting two. The Seminoles have not allowed a blocked kick in 21 games.
Seminoles place kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who is playing in his last college game, is excited about playing on turf and in a dome, saying his field goal range could be as much as 68 yards. Plus, 69 percent of his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. But Janikowski never has needed to attempt a field goal to win a game for Florid State in the closing minutes, so who knows how the pressure will affect him if the situation arises.
Peter Warrick ranked 19th in the nation in punt return average (12.61 yards per return) and Reggie Durden ranked 24th (11.82). The Seminoles were second in the nation in net punting at 40.4 yards per punt.
Coach Bobby Bowden is in a bowl game with national title implications for the fourth time in the past seven seasons and the third time in the past four. He has won only one of those games, but a lot of the players on this team have been through this pressure before. This will be Florida State's first game on artificial turf this season, but the Seminoles have practiced in the Superdome throughout their stay in New Orleans. Another issue will be the value of Bowden's decision to alter the team's postseason practice routine after last season's loss to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, which was Florida State's first game in 6A weeks. The Seminoles had several practices before breaking for exams, then resumed workouts afterward. Florida State was penalized 12 times for 110 yards in that game. They weren't much better in that area this season, averaging nearly 10 infractions for 93 yards per game. They will want to avoid giving Virginia Tech that much help.
Key points in the season
Sept. 11 vs. Georgia Tech
The Seminoles survived to win, 41-35, in one of best college football games of the season. The two teams scored touchdowns on seven straight series at one point. Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton had 405 total yards and four touchdown passes, but the Seminoles hung on thanks to their offense. Wide receiver Peter Warrick caught a touchdown pass, ran for another and finished 167 yards receiving, and quarterback Chris Weinke completed 16 of 29 passes for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Oct. 23 at Clemson
Bobby Bowden squeaked out his 300th career victory with a 17-14 win over his son, Tommy, in a nationally televised night game. Sebastian Janikowski's third field goal of the night, a 39-yarder with 5:26 left, gave the Seminoles the lead. However, Clemson drove the ball back down the field only to see Tony Lazzara's potentially game-tying 42-yard field goal attempt with 1:57 remaining fall short. Warrick played in his first game after being suspended for two, and caught 11 passes for 121 yards.
Nov. 20 at Florida
Quarterback Chris Weinke made his mark in leading the Seminoles to a 30-23 win over the Gators in Gainesville. After Florida's Bennie Alexander returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown that gave the Gators a 16-13 lead in the middle of the third quarter, Weinke led the Seminoles to 17 points on their next four possessions.