Weinke's season of success deserts him
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
MIAMI -- Three quarters of the Orange Bowl had come and gone with Chris Weinke failing to achieve even a hint of the passing success that had won him the Heisman Trophy and led Florida State to another shot at history.
Forty-six minutes and 29 seconds of football between two of the nation's most prolific offenses during the regular season had yet to produce a touchdown in this 6-0 struggle.
And yet as Weinke huddled with his teammates during a television timeout before beginning this latest attempt at scoring Florida State's first points, there was a feeling sweeping through Pro Player Stadium that if the 28-year-old was ever going to resuscitate what was supposed to be his triumphant swan song, it would be here.
With the Florida State fans chanting "F-S-U" in their loudest voices, Weinke strolled to the line of scrimmage at the 19 with a familiar strut that normally indicated this would be the start of something big.
But for all his stardom, Weinke was just one player on a team, who like any other player, can't do it by himself. He needed help, and he wasn't going to get it, not from the FSU receivers who were failing to step up for their fallen teammate Snoop Minnis, and not from an Oklahoma defense that was refusing to let its youth and underdog status show up for even one play.
"There were some times I felt that we were starting to figure things out," said Weinke of an offense held 42 points below its season scoring average. "But a bad throw here, a missed block there, one person taking one play off..."
No point in the national championship game more symbolized Weinke's unprecedented frustrations than the aforementioned drive, which began 90 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It came on the heels of FSU's defense stuffing Oklahoma on a third and 1 rush. And it was the first time since early in the game that Weinke seemed to put OU's defensive mastery out of mind and revert to what got him there in the first place. A 16-yard completion to Robert Morgan, FSU's longest play since the second quarter, seemed to set the tone. And trademark pump-fake deep to Atrews Bell netted pass interference. A 14-yard completion to Ryan Sprague set up the 'Noles on the OU 49.
But with the momentum on his side, Weinke could only muster four consecutive incompletions.
On second down, he led Morgan perfectly on a bomb in the end zone. It was exactly the kind of play Minnis made throughout the season, but it slipped through Morgan's hands. Same with fourth down, where Weinke seemed to have found Anquan Boldin open in front of the end zone, only to see OU cornerback Derrick Strait bat it down.
FSU would have more opportunities before the game was over, including the one in which Weinke fumbled, setting up OU's clinching touchdown. But in reality, when the redshirt freshman Strait knocked down that ball, the game was over.
"Coach told us to come out there and hit them in the mouth, knock them in the teeth," said Strait. "And that's just what we did."
And so it was that the precocious freshman Strait, a hero so many times during the course of the night, was left dancing on the field long after the final gun had sounded Wednesday night, while the venerable Weinke, eight years his senior, was left explaining to a horde of cameras and microphones how the final game of his illustrious career went so wrong.
"For the most part, our offensive line did a heck of a job protecting me," said Weinke. "I take a lot of the blame for why we weren't clicking tonight."
In fairness, Weinke was being hard on himself. Even Superman would have struggled against guys who can cover like Strait, Michael Thompson, J.T. Thatcher and Roy Williams, and linebackers who make plays like Rocky Calmus and Torrance Marshall. They helped win 13 games for the Sooners this season, but never were more impressive than in their biggest game of the season.
"They haven't seen this kind of defense," Calmus said of FSU. "And we had a great game plan."
Great is an understatement. No one had held Weinke without a touchdown this season.
And, we're pretty sure, no one had forced four straight incompletions in a single series.