Tim and Trev, from Tempe
CNN/SI's experts check in from the Fiesta Bowl
Posted: Monday January 04, 1999 10:50 AM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden and CNN/SI college football analyst Trev Alberts spoke with CNN/SI anchor Vince Cellini from Tempe on the eve of the national championship game.
Cellini: The coaches met the media for the last time on Sunday. But Tim, I know this isnít the first time youíve heard these guys preach from the pulpit.
Layden: Sunday morning, I went to a Baptist church in north Phoenix where both Bobby Bowden and Phil Fulmer had been invited to give little sermons. Well, they both showed up -- I guess you could say theyíre each trying to get the last possible edge at the last minute.
Cellini: Never underestimate the power of prayer. A guy who can put the fear of God in opposing running backs is Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson, the All-America. Youíve had a chance to look at this guy, Trev -- heís got to be accounted for by the Seminoles... what makes him so tough?
Alberts: Iíve just loved watching Al Wilson all year long. This guy is an outstanding football player, the heart and soul of this Tennessee defense. In the SEC Championship against Mississippi State, heís there in the middle when the play develops, he reads the quarterbackís eyes, gets back to the hook-curl responsibility where heís supposed to be. What I particularly like about him is as the ball is released, heís got the explosion -- he grabbed an interception -- and the closing speed. Tim, youíve got to like this young manís ability to change the complexion of a game all by himself.
Layden: Yes, and not just on the field, but in the locker room, too. Al Wilson is the guy who took over the emotional leadership of this team last year by tearing apart a locker room at halftime of the SEC Championship Game, right in front of Peyton Manning and Leonard Little, who were the senior leaders of that team. Guys this year said that even though Al Wilson missed four games, they could hear his voice on the sideline over the crowd of 100,000. I talked to Peyton Manning this week, Vince, and he told me that Al Wilson is the guy, when he speaks, heís got something to say and everybody listens.
Cellini: Heís an amazing leader. But Florida State has faced top-notch linebackers this season. In fact, they saw three of the Butkus Award finalists, including the winner, Chris Claiborne of USC. Trev, itís not so much Al Wilson but rather, whoís playing behind him that seems to concern you...
Alberts: This might be nitpicking a little bit in terms of this Tennessee defense but if there is a weakness on the defense, itís got to be the defensive backs. Steve Johnson will give a 10-yard cushion in man-to-man; thatís a lack of confidence. And sometimes, when he gets beat on a play, heíll start jogging. I donít have a problem if a guy gets beat on man-to-man coverage, but you cannot start jogging. Tim, this has got to be an area that the Seminoles feel like they can exploit...
Layden: They know that the Tennessee secondary is a weakness. The problem is on their side of the ball. Theyíre starting Marcus Outzen at quarterback, a guy who has only played two and a half games, who was recruited because heís a good athlete, to be a backup. He throws a weak, wobbly ball, doesnít throw the deep pass very well. The question isnít whether Tennesseeís secondary is weak or not, itís whether Florida State can exploit it.
Cellini: Itís been quite a metamorphosis for this Tennessee team, comparing last yearís bowl appearance to the one theyíre about to have...
Alberts: I remember talking to David Cutcliffe, the former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, who told me that the best thing that ever happened to this football team was getting spanked by Nebraska in last yearís Orange Bowl. He said they realized if they were ever going to get back to a national championship-type game, and win this game, they were going to have to be much more physical and have to run the football. Even without Jamal Lewis, the Vols were ranked 17th in the nation, rushing for 214 yards a game. Tim, seven times this team has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game -- thatís a marked improvement over last year.
Layden: Thatís not bad at all, but I think on Monday night, Florida State is going to be even better than that. The Seminoles started the year in their running game with a real young offensive line. Jason Whitaker, their left tackle, told me that the whole season was like a baptism for them. Sometimes the preacher holds the baby under water a little too long. Well, theyíre not babies anymore, and the guy running behind them is sophomore Travis Minor. He hurt his ankle in the USC game but has had six weeks to rest it and heís healthy. I think youíre going to see the best Florida State running game weíve seen all year.
Alberts: No doubt. I think the other thing about Florida State is their ability to do anything out of any formation. If you take a look at this team, if they come out in a three wide receiver set, shotgun formation, theyíll run the football. But if they come out in an I formation, predominantly a run scheme, they can still throw the football. Itís very difficult to game plan based on formation against Florida State -- they can do anything out of any formation.
Cellini: And while Outzen is inexperienced, a former high school option quarterback, heís got two rushing touchdowns this year, so at times, in effect, he is a ball carrier.
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