The fifth-year guys knew what this game meant. They had been recruited to play for the Seminoles in the winter of 1992-93, in the wake of Wide Right II, back when Florida State versus Miami was the top rivalry in college football and the Hurricanes owned the Seminoles.
The older Florida State players understood that Miami not long ago served as a yardstick for the Seminoles' program. The Hurricanes beat Florida State five out of six times from 1987 to '92, including twice when last-minute field goal attempts drifted wide right. They repeatedly ruined Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden's national championship dreams. Even when Florida State did beat Miami, in 1989, the Hurricanes won the national championship.
It didn't matter that Florida State had won three of four meetings with Miami since 1993, or that these Hurricanes showed up in Tallahassee last Saturday with a 1-3 record. "The last couple of weeks, I was rooting for them," Florida State middle linebacker Daryl Bush, one of the Seminoles' fifth-year seniors, said after the game. "I wanted them to come in here undefeated. I wanted it to be a big game for reasons other than us saying it was a big game."
So the Seminoles prepared to play a vintage Miami team.
They got Maryland.
"I think the Hurricanes are a little bit better than Maryland," said Bush, who recognizes play action quicker than he does sarcasm, "but that's sort of what happened."
Just as Florida State had trampled the Terrapins 50-7 three weeks earlier, it destroyed Miami, 47-0, handing the Hurricanes their worst loss since 1944. Miami finished with minus-33 yards rushing and 131 yards total offense, and it avoided committing seven turnovers only by falling on all four of its fumbles. The Hurricanes didn't push inside the Florida State 30 until the final three minutes of the game. Miami coach Butch Davis called it "about as poor a performance as you can collectively have."
He got no argument from the Seminoles' elders. Proud as the fifth-year players were of their first shutout of the season, they appeared almost dumbfounded by the performance of the visitors. Take Florida State linebacker Sam Cowart, whose first-quarter hit on Miami quarterback Ryan Clement left Clement lying on the Doak Campbell Stadium turf for about a minute and set the tone for the afternoon. Though he returned to action later in the game, Clement never again set his feet firmly, and he completed only 5 of 14 passes for 52 yards. "They weren't fighting," Cowart said. "They just quit. They came out and fought for a little while, and then they just lay down. They gave up."
"They didn't have that nasty edge," said Seminoles defensive end Andre Wadsworth, who starred at Miami's Florida Christian High. "That spitting, eye-poking, ankle-twisting, earhole-digging something."
Ah, those were the days. Last Friday, Bowden sat behind his desk, chewed on a cigar and fretted. He refused to believe what his eyes had seen of the Hurricanes on tape. He refused to take Miami lightly even though the team has been ravaged over the last two seasons by the loss of 24 football scholarships due to NCAA sanctions. "They've beaten us so much," Bowden said, ignoring Miami's September losses to Pitt, 21-17, and West Virginia, 28-17. "Most of these kids were raised on wide right. They've heard it all their lives. To the players and coaches, it's still Miami week."