MIAMI — The new year again brought celebration for Florida State, frustration for Nebraska.
The third-ranked Seminoles, relying on defense and the leadership of quarterback Charlie Ward, handed No. 11 Nebraska a 27-14 loss Friday night before a rain-drenched 57,324 in the 59th Orange Bowl game. The victory marked the eighth straight time that the Seminoles end their season on a winning note, an NCAA record.
The loss extended Nebraska’s skid in postseason appearances to six in a row. The Huskers have not opened the new year with a victory since defeating Louisiana State University in the 1987 Sugar Bowl.
“They’ve got a great football team,” Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said, praising the 11-1 Seminoles. “Our effort was good enough to win, but our execution wasn’t.
“We played well enough to win. I imagine many people won’t see it that way. We missed a couple of field goals and had a couple of turnovers. If those things don’t happen, it’s a ball game.”
Nebraska, finishing 9-3, fell behind 20-0 as it squandered scoring opportunities when kicker Byron Bennett missed two first-half field goals. The Huskers also handed Florida State a cheap touchdown when freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier threw away a pitch. Florida State defensive end Dan Footman recovered the ball on the Nebraska 2-yard line to set up the Seminoles’ second touchdown of the game.
Footman’s play was one of several big ones turned in by the Florida State defense, which held Nebraska to a season-low 144 yards rushing. The Huskers’ 290 yards of total offense was its second-lowest total of the season.
“Our defense did a great job, except for a few big plays,” Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said.
Nebraska scored its first touchdown on a 41-yard pass from Frazier to Corey Dixon. A 37-yard Frazier-to-Dixon completion set up the Huskers’ other score.
Those two defensive breakdowns weren’t enough to do in the Seminoles, who assured themselves of a Top Five finish in the ratings for a sixth straight season with the win. Only Oklahoma and Miami can match that run.
Florida State, which lost only to Miami this season, might move up a notch to second in the polls after Alabama’s win over the top-rated Hurricanes in Friday’s Sugar Bowl. Bowden rejected suggestions that the Seminoles might be able to stake a claim to the top spot with another strong finish to the season.
“Do I think we’re the best?” he said. “We’re probably pretty darn close. But the people who deserve to win it are winning it tonight.
“For six years in a row, we’re close to it. We’ll just try again next year.”
Ward, who directed Florida State to lop-sided wins over Maryland, Tulane and Florida in the Seminoles’ final three games of the regular season, was named his team’s most valuable player after producing 210 yards of total offense.
Dixon, who had five catches for 123 yards, was the Huskers’ MVP for the game.
Ward came into the game averaging 286 yards of offense while directing the Seminoles’ no-huddle, shotgun offense. He said Nebraska, and rain that turned to a downpour at the beginning of the second half, forced the Seminoles to abandon the wide-open attack in favor of the ‘I’ formation.
“In the second half, they took us out of our no-huddle offense,” said Ward, a junior who should find himself near the top of any list of Heisman Trophy candidates next season. “We can’t throw the ball as much, but we tired to mix it up even though we were thrown out of our game plan.”
In the first half, the Seminoles relied on an almost even mix of shotgun and the ‘I’ to take control of the game. Florida State ran 21 plays out of its shotgun in the first two quarters and 18 from the ‘I’ formation.
Ward, who had directed Florida State to 184 points in its final three regular-season games, drove the Seminoles to a 7-0 lead on their second possession of the game. Florida State needed 10 plays to cover 75 yards, although Nebraska contributed 25 of the yards through three penalties.
The first, an offside, wiped out a sack of Ward. The second, a face mask, tacked 5 yards onto a 6-yard pass play. The third, a late hit by linebacker Ed Stewart after a Ward incompletion, gave Florida State a first down at the Nebraska 25.
On the next play, Ward rifled a touchdown pass to freshman Tamarick Vanover, who had slipped behind cornerback John Reece.
Vanover just missed coming up with a second big play on the Seminoles’ next possession. Pinned deep in its territory, Vanover ripped off a 91-yard run on a flanker reverse. The officials, though, ruled Vanover stepped out of bounds after a 24-yard gain from the 9 to the Florida State 33.
Nebraska had a chance to close the gap to within 7-3 early in the second half, but Bennett pushed a 23-yard field-goal attempt to the left. Florida State kicker Dan Mowrey then gave the Seminoles a 10-0 lead with 10:54 remaining when he nailed a 40-yard attempt.
Mowrey, who missed a 39-yard field goal on Oct. 3 that cost the Seminoles a chance to tie Miami, added a 24-yarder later in the half. In between, the Seminoles took advantage of Frazier’s ill-time pitchout to take control.
After Mowrey’s 39-yard kick, Nebraska threw an incomplete pass, then sent Frazier down the line on an option play. His overhand pitch under pressure whistled behind I-back Derek Brown, and Footman scooped it up at the 2.
“He shouldn’t have been throwing the ball when he was in trouble, but that’s going to happen,” Osborne said. “The thing we haven’t done the last part of the year was turn the ball over, and we had three of them tonight.”
Nebraska had just two turnovers in the six games since Frazier took over as the No. 1 quarterback.
Ward capitalized on Frazier’s mistake by throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kez McCorvey, who had slipped outside of Reece’s coverage and scored untouched.
Mowrey’s second field goal, with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter, pushed Florida State’s lead to 20-0. The Huskers countered with a five-play scoring drive that featured two of the five catches Dixon made in becoming the Huskers’ most valuable player for the game.
He hauled in an 18-yarder as Nebraska moved from its 37 to the Florida State 45. After Calvin Jones gained 4 yards, Dixon outfought Florida State cornerback Corey Sawyer for the football with a juggling, 41-yard scoring catch.
Nebraska’s hopes for cutting into the Seminoles’ lead were stymied by the rain, which turned from a little drizzle to a downpour to begin the second half, and a ball-control drive by Florida State.
The Seminoles covered 85 yards in 16 plays on their first possession of the second half. Sean Jackson, who rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries and had four catches for 61 yards, got the touchdown with an 11-yard run.
“We hit them with a lot of clock on our long drive and that helped us out a lot,” Ward said.
Jackson’s run put the Seminoles ahead 27-7. The Huskers got back within 13 points with 10:24 remaining in the game when Frazier threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Gerald Armstrong. Frazier’s 37-yard pass to Dixon on the play before set up the score.
That was as close as the Huskers would get.
Florida State, which ran 79 offensive plays to 56 for the Huskers, finished with 436 yards. The Seminoles were sixth in the country in total offense during the regular season with a 461-yard average.
Nebraska’s Jones led the Huskers’ rushing attack with 76 yards on 19 carries. Brown added 13 on four carries before leaving the game when he aggravated his shoulder injury. The junior suffered a separated shoulder against Oklahoma and missed Nebraska’s final regular-season game against Kansas State.
|Yards per carry||0.4||1.2|
Nebraska is 2-6 all-time against Florida State.
|Middle Tennessee State||Sept. 12|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
|Kansas State||Dec. 5|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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