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TALLAHASSEE -- Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Florida State knew it was heading to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl to play Virginia Tech.
But the 28-17 win against Georgia Tech made coach Bobby Bowden feel better about that trip.
"If we had gotten beat, I'd have nearly felt guilty going," he said Sunday morning.
The Seminoles (7-4), back in the rankings at No. 24 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, salvaged some pride and avoided their first five-loss regular season since 1981. They also provided Bowden a clearer picture of what can be on New Year's Day and next season.
"What you see is the capability of your team, the potential of your team," he said of a group that he had called the hardest to gauge in his career. "Not for the first time this year, but one of the few times, our defense stopped the other team.
"To be successful, you're going to make some (offensive) mistakes. The defense must stop them. Of course, that's what happened Saturday. ... Every time that happens, you've got a chance to win. Can I predict that the next game? I don't know, but I feel better about it than I did last week because we responded pretty well."
MOTIVATIONAL PLOY: On the eve of the game, Bowden prepared a highlight film featuring such former FSU defensive stars as Marvin Jones and Derrick Brooks. If sophomore defensive tackle Darnell Dockett needed motivation beyond the accusations from Gainesville that he tried intentionally to injure Florida tailback Earnest Graham and quarterback Rex Grossman, that seemingly did the trick.
His five tackles for a loss set the tone for the FSU defense.
"Somebody needs to lead and inspire," Bowden said. "People get excited about a big play. Like the ones Derrick Brooks used to make, like Marvin Jones used to make. ... (Dockett) didn't have to say a word; he helped inspire just by the way he played."
DIRTY PLAY? NO WAY: Bowden said Saturday's game provided an example, as he has told people who have sent him letters since the UF controversy erupted, of what could be incorrectly perceived a dirty tackle.
As FSU quarterback Chris Rix struggled to reach the end zone on a run, Georgia Tech free safety Jeremy Muyres reached out and grabbed him by the face mask -- which seemed inadvertent. Rix's helmet spun 90 degrees and the play left him supine for several moments.
"I could accuse that guy, 'Hey. You're trying to break his neck,' " Bowden said. "But he wasn't. That was as clean a tackle as you could make. It was a football tackle, but it looked distorted."
DIFFERENT BOWL TIMETABLE: Bowden is relieved that he doesn't face a long layoff before the bowl.
Last season, the Seminoles had a 44-day break between the regular-season finale against Florida and the Orange Bowl showdown against Oklahoma. They had 45 days off before the 2000 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech and 44 days off before the 1999 Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee.
"That's been a problem for us ... that's a long time," he said. "We haven't been very successful at it."
That's an understatement. FSU was 1-2 in those games.
"Now, we've got 30 days ... so there should be more carryover (from the last game)," he said. "We won't have to practice as many days."
THE LAST WORD: "I don't think we could have beaten them the third game of the season. Delaying the game benefited us because we're playing better now than we were then." -- Bowden on the impact of rescheduling the Georgia Tech game from Sept. 15 to Dec. 1.