What We Learned
Oklahoma halts Florida State's reign ... emphatically
Updated: Thursday January 04, 2001 5:21 AM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
MIAMI -- Oklahoma stunned Florida State 13-2 in the BCS national championship, and here are three things we now know.
1. There's a new sheriff in town
Move over, Florida State. Your hold atop college football's hierarchy has been lifted. Quite definitively.
"When I look at it now, it probably should have been Miami and Oklahoma," playing for the championship, a very forthright Bobby Bowden said.
Bowden might as well be talking about more than this one game when mentioning those two programs. The two dominant teams of the 1980s made bold statements this bowl season that they will be the ones to rule the 2000s.
All season long, Bob Stoops wrote the book on overt optimism, looking a long list of doubters in the eye and telling them with a straight face they should win every game. Lo and behold, they did.
"We've established a toughness," said Stoops. "We've established discipline in a way that we work and a confidence level that we play at."
That confidence boils over in the way seemingly every Sooner approaches the game. On Wednesday night, a bunch of guys who had never played under the bright lights of the national championship took the field against a team who's been to four of the last five and whooped them. It starts with Stoops, a coach who is typically becoming the prototype for building a program in today's age, not an older, Bear Bryant-type that whips the boys into shape through intimidation, but as a young, easy-to-relate-to friend to the players who preaches simple confidence.
"We expected it," linebacker Rocky Calmus said of the program's statement victory. "That's what happens when you come out expecting it."
Replacing leader Josh Heupel next season will not be easy, but as the Sooners proved against FSU, they are far more than just Heupel. Among the cornerstones who will be around for at least another season: running back Quentin Griffin, tackle Frank Romero, every notable receiver, safety Roy Williams and cornerbacks Michael Thompson and Derrick Strait.
"What everyone probably realizes now is how young a team we are," said Stoops. "We've got 23 freshmen and sophomores in the two-deep and that's not usually written about a national championship team."
Note to rest of country: Uh-oh.
As for Florida State, for the first time in several years, a crack in the armor can be found. The string of 14 consecutive AP top-four finishes comes to a halt. And a whole lot of key players are leaving, as is a key assistant coach.
In Gainesville tonight, the sting from Tuesday's Sugar Bowl loss is quickly wearing off.
2. He was missed
Ever since the Dec. 20 announcement that top Florida State receiver Marvin Minnis was academically ineligible, Seminoles coaches and players were universal in their belief that other receivers would step up, no problem.
Not to say that Minnis alone would have reversed the ugly 13-2 deficit by which the Seminoles lost. But unlike last season, when Florida State didn't miss a beat with star Peter Warrick suspended, too much inexperience and confusion among the remaining receiving corps doomed FSU in this game.
In the past, even if Minnis wasn't open on the primary route, QB Chris Weinke could at least count on an Anquan Boldin or Atrews Bell as capable to fall-back guys. Now they were the ones running the primary routes, and no one else, save the occasional dump-off catch by fullback Randy Golightly, stepped up. Some weren't coming back on the ball at the right time. Others flat out dropped it.
"We missed Snoop a lot, man," Bell said. "I think had Chris hit a couple of those passes we dropped, he would have gotten into his usual rhythm."
Bell did his part. He caught seven balls for 137 yards, very Snoop-like numbers. The more disappointing performances came from Boldin and Robert Morgan, held to 31 and 21 yards respectively, though not for lack of Weinke throwing it their way.
The problem is, with no Minnis to worry about covering, Oklahoma's defensive backs had the others bottled up. And even when they didn't, Boldin and Morgan had become so rattled by the second half, they were dropping balls without any provocation.
"We knew we were going to miss Snoop," said offensive coordinator Mark Richt. "He made big plays for us all year, and in game like that, all it might have taken was a play or two to gain momentum."
It's a sad day when the national championship may have been decided because of one player's academic deficiencies.
3. There is still defense being played in college football
It would take a lot of digging to figure out the last time a major college football game was only 3-0 at halftime, 6-0 going into the fourth quarter, or even had only 15 total points scored.
And it's not like these two offenses were, say, Ohio State's.
Both defenses put on a clinic in this championship in both run and pass coverage. And this wasn't super-aggressive, blitz-like-crazy defense, either. This was just good plain coverage.
"It was just a matter of doing what we were supposed to do on defense," said Strait. "It was just that easy."
Weinke, accustomed to finding his choice of receivers open at any given moment, was forced to do a lot more scrambling to bide time. Mostly, that just ended with the quarterback scattering out of bounds, short of the necessary first down yardage.
Heupel found the same problem the first couple times he looked downfield. Fortunately for him, OU's offense is much more oriented toward picking up yardage in short increments. His ability to find the 5- to 8-yard pass paced the Sooners' night. But his 214-yard day wasn't exactly lethal either.
"It was a great defensive ballgame," said Bowden. "A great defensive struggle of which their defense outlasted us."
At some times, it was if one unit was trying to outdo the other with each play. For instance, 5:31 into the first quarter, it appeared Heupel had again made the great play, jumping away from a tackler to toss a short throw to Andre Woolfolk across the middle. But no sooner was Woolfolk on the way to big yardage then Cody drilled him right where the hand holds the ball, forcing a fumble recovered by Clevan Thomas.
But on the very next play, Weinke attempted his own strike down the middle only to find Sooners linebacker Torrance Marshall waiting to intercept. His return brought the ball back to the very spot Woolfolk had fumbled, on OU's 47.
And though neither team is particularly keen on running, it was still amazing to watch OU's Calmus and Marshall and Florida State's Brian Allen and Tommy Polley stuff the line like they did. Florida State gained only 27 yards rushing on 17 attempts; OU finished with 56 on 36.
"It was a great team effort," said Marshall. "We had 11 hands on the ball all night, and that's what we came into the game ready to do."
They, and Florida State for that matter, did it better than anyone has in a championship situation in a long, long time.