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Fiesta winner will be best running team

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Posted: Wednesday December 30, 1998 09:39 PM


In a game of this magnitude, winning the national title will come down to who can run the ball.

Obviously with Marcus Outzen starting only his third game at quarterback, Florida State will have to rely more on its running game than Tennessee. But I also think you'll see a lot of screens out of the backfield to Travis Minor.

A forgotten man on the Seminoles team is fullback Lamarr Glen. He's very good, so keep an eye out for him.

The other important key here is Outzen. When he made his first start against Wake Forest, FSU put together a very simple offensive scheme so he wouldn't have the pressure of reading coverages and the like. But what Outzen lacks in experience, he makes up for in athletic ability because he can run with the ball.

When Chris Weinke was under center or in the shotgun, you knew where he was going to be after the snap. Florida State's offensive coordinator Mark Richt told me that Outzen is a much better athlete than Weinke.

But FSU is not going to beat the Vols with Outzen back in the shotgun throwing the ball 30 times. That's why running the ball will be so important. So look for the Seminoles to go to the I-formation and run straight at the Tennessee defense.

As for the Vols, they're not any deeper at running back than FSU.

Minor problem: Florida State's Travis Minor (23) rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games AP 

When Jamaal Lewis went down with his knee injury at the beginning of the season, even I thought they were done.

Now Tennessee also has a forgotten guy in its lineup with fullback Shawn Bryson. He's another gifted athlete who has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Very few collegiate runners can do the three things necessary to be a complete back. That is run, block and catch the ball. Bryson's someone who can do it all.

The other guy to watch out for is Travis Henry. He's a guy on a mission. I don't think Tennessee even missed a beat when Lewis went down.

Earlier this year, Tennessee's former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe (now the head coach at Ole Miss) told me the best thing that happened to the team was the last year's blowout loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

He says they realized then that in order to be successful against top competition, they would have to be able to run the ball and run it consistently. They hired a new offensive line coach in Mike Barry from Southern Cal and instilled a new mental toughness among the players.

Now they find themselves as the 17th best rushing team in the nation averaging 211 yards per game. Last year against Florida, the Vols ran the ball only 20 times and 12 of those attempts were in the first quarter alone! You won't win many games doing that. But this year against the Gators, Tennessee stuck with the running game and ultimately it worked in their favor.

I don't think either team will be successful with their quarterback throwing the ball 40 times. The key to winning the Fiesta Bowl will come down to which team will be stubborn enough to stick with their running game against the opposing team's standout defense.

Coming Thursday: The passing game

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