Who's under center?
Unlikely pair of Martin, Outzen to start at QB in Fiesta
Posted: Saturday January 02, 1999 06:39 PM
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Tee Martin knew the game plan from the start. Wait for Peyton Manning to break nearly every single record in the history of passing, then he'd get a chance to be Tennessee's quarterback.
Worked out well, too.
Marcus Outzen knew the game plan when he signed at Florida State. Wait until the next century for Chris Weinke to leave, then he'd get a shot to run the Seminoles' offense.
Weinke, though, injured his neck against Virginia last month and Outzen was calling signals a few minutes later.
Worked out well for Outzen, too.
On Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl, it's No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) vs. No. 2 Florida State (11-1) in the national championship deciding game.
If the matchup seemed improbable at the start of the season, what were the odds of a quarterback matchup featuring Martin vs. Marcus? Astronomical, for sure.
"It's just amazing I'm in this position," said Outzen, who considered transferring after last season but was talked into staying by coach Bobby Bowden. "It's beyond my wildest dreams."
The same could be said for Tennessee, which couldn't win a national championship -- or beat Florida -- with Manning, but is one victory away from its first national title since 1951 with Martin.
"I never came into the season thinking about replacing Peyton," Martin said. "We planned to come into the season and win games. We knew we could do it if we focused as a team. This is not surprising to us."
It is to just about everyone else.
Martin, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior from Mobile, Ala., threw 16 passes his first two years at Tennessee. Manning threw for 11,201 yards before moving on to the NFL.
But Martin stepped right up and led the Vols to an unlikely perfect regular-season, which included narrow wins over Syracuse, Florida and Arkansas, an NCAA record-setting effort against South Carolina and a comeback 24-14 win over Mississippi State in the SEC title game.
"All I know is this kid hasn't lost," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He has had a great year and has been a phenomenal leader for our team in a very quiet way. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Tee Martin."
If Martin handled the pressure of replacing Manning calmly, perhaps it was because he learned at an early age how to deal with stressful situations. He witnessed three murders, and 12 of his friends have died in the past three years, either by accident or illness or as crime victims.
He also wanted to make the most of his chance. Ten starters from last year's 11-2 team had to be replaced.
"Everybody who was behind those guys wanted to show what we could do," Martin said, "because it was like we didn't exist at the university for a couple of years."
And when players began working out last summer, Martin knew this team would be different; it would be a team, not just Manning's team.
"Everybody felt they mattered, that they made a difference, that they played a big part in the team's success," Martin said. "I didn't want to come in and have the weight on my shoulders."
But it was there, mostly because his teammates trusted him to carry the load.
"He leaves everything he has out there on the field, and it's great to have a quarterback like that," wide receiver Peerless Price said.
Martin threw for 2,164 yards and 19 touchdowns, with only six interceptions, and ran for 287 yards and seven TDs. Against South Carolina, he set three NCAA records by hitting 23 of 24 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns.
Former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who left to coach Mississippi after the SEC title game, retooled the offense to take advantage of Martin's running ability. But after tailback Jamal Lewis' season-ending knee injury against Auburn, it became crucial for Martin to become a more consistent passer.
"I had confidence in my ability, but my breakout game was Georgia," said Martin, who threw for 156 yards and two touchdowns in a 22-3 win over the Bulldogs in the Vols first game without Lewis. "I just needed to go out and show I could do it."
Outzen is eager to show he can do it against the Volunteers, having come through against the Gators in only his second start. The 6-2, 220-pound sophomore from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was 13 of 22 for 167 yards and one TD in the 23-12 win over Florida.
Bowden believes Outzen will be just fine at gametime.
"This could not be any bigger to him than Florida," Bowden said. "Florida is our big game every year, Florida and Miami. Whoever wins that game goes to play for the national championship. Florida has knocked us out of two national championships the last two years, Miami knocked us out of about four. So when you play in that ballgame and won in that ballgame, you ain't afraid of nobody else.
"They might beat you, but you ain't afraid of 'em."
When Outzen and his father went to Bowden, the coach told the quarterback to go through spring practice and see what happens. Expected starter Dan Kendra got hurt in practice, Weinke became the starter and Outzen and freshman Jared Jones the backups.
Before the half ended against Virginia, Weinke went out with a neck injury and Outzen became the starter.
"I think in the spring he saw he could compete," Bowden said, "so he stayed with it, thank goodness. So anyway, here he is now and who would have ever predicted this?"
Certainly not Outzen.
"I knew coming to Florida State I would be a backup and the most I could ask was just some mopup duty," he said. "A quarter here or there because at Florida State we get on top of people and we let a lot of people play."
Both quarterbacks will face tough defenses. The Seminoles are tops in the nation, allowing 214.8 yards per game, while the Vols are 17th at 303 yards per game.
"They have a basic defense and they have some good guys who get the job done," Martin said. "We've watched them for a few weeks and it's not like we had to figure out a whole lot of complicated stuff. It's just that it's going to be a physical game and execution is all we're focusing on."
Outzen says the Vols' defense has a familiar look. "They remind me a lot of our defense -- they're fast."
"I think it's going to be a deal of which quarterback takes care of the football best," Martin said. "There are good defenses on the field and you don't want to make a lot of mistakes."
So far, Martin and Outzen haven't.
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