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FSU rides a new style

Offense emphasizes run over pass; defense earns its first shutout in 23 games.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


College Football 2000 Preview
[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
FSU's Chris Hope prevents a completion to Louisville's D.J. Kramer.
TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida State Seminoles sure didn't look like themselves against Louisville on Saturday night.

Not only did the defense get its first shutout in 23 games, a struggling offense bypassed the usually precise passing of Chris Weinke in favor of the oft-criticized running of Travis Minor and Jeff Chaney to carry the Seminoles to a convincing 31-0 win.

Just who the heck were those guys anyway?

Simply put, welcome sights.

At least they were to the partisan Doak Campbell Stadium crowd of 80,741 and coach Bobby Bowden, all of whom recognize that a strong running game and a stingy defense can carry the No. 2-ranked Seminoles (4-0) a long, long way.

Especially since they realize that Weinke, a Heisman Trophy candidate, isn't likely to have too many games in which he throws three interceptions and finishes with a season-low 221 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-29 passing.

"Our offense wasn't quite as hot as it has been," Bowden said. "The first three quarters, we were hot and cold, hot and cold, hot and cold. But I don't care. We won the ball game and we shut somebody out." The Cardinals (2-1), who were off last week and had more time to prepare for FSU, hadn't been shut out since 1992. But FSU had to stonewall the Cardinals late in the fourth quarter after they had first and goal on the 1.

"We've been saying to coach (Mickey) Andrews, "We're trying to get you that baseball with a nail in it that the baseball team gives us (for a shutout),' " senior linebacker Brian Allen said. "It takes 11 guys wanting to. And we did that tonight. I bet we cut down on our missed assignments and our missed tackles. It was a total team effort tonight."

That included a running game that in the first two games produced next to nothing.

But Minor and Chaney showed signs of life last week against North Carolina, then the nation's toughest run defense, with 163 of the team's 194 yards. They outdid themselves against the Cardinals, who entered as the nation's leader against the run (19.5 yards a game).

Minor had 120 yards and Chaney added 72 to fuel a ground game that churned out 235 yards, the most since FSU had 265 in a win against Georgia Tech in 1996.

"The running game caught a lot of heat early in the year, that we can't run the ball," said Minor, who was more upset with a third-quarter fumble than he was pleased with recording his first back-to-back 100-yard games since the end of the 1998 season. "But we never lost confidence in ourselves. We know we have the personnel to run the ball. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. The coaches had the confidence in us today and we showed up."

The pass-happy Seminoles, upset with some late hits (including a head-whipping shot to Weinke's back as he took a step out of bounds) that made the Cardinals look like dirty birds in the first half, were determined to make a statement in the second.

"We wanted to come out and bust them in the mouth running the ball," senior offensive tackle Tarlos Thomas said.

"Our goal was to shove it down their throats in the second half and we did that," Weinke said. "They were trying to be big and bad in the first half and show us how tough they were. But again, when you get 250 yards rushing on a football team, they're not very tough."

The Seminoles ran 18 times for 157 yards in the third quarter, including 11 straight plays at one point, to set up two game-breaking touchdowns: a 3-yard run by Weinke and a 31-yard touchdown pass to receiver Atrews Bell.

"At halftime, we knew we were being impatient," said offensive coordinator Mark Richt, who saw his team squander several scoring chances and lead 17-0 at the half thanks to an interception return by linebacker Tommy Polley and a defense that continually gave the offense good field position.

"We knew that if they were going to play a loose zone, we better be able to run the football. I didn't believe we'd call a run that many times in a row, but every time we called a play, I think 5 yards was the least amount we were getting. ... It makes it easy to call a game when the guys were getting it done like they were."

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