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Sugar Plums
Ivan Maisel
December 27, 1999
In a sweet matchup of two potent teams, Florida State figures to win its second national title of the decade, but Virginia Tech won't go without a fight
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December 27, 1999

Sugar Plums

In a sweet matchup of two potent teams, Florida State figures to win its second national title of the decade, but Virginia Tech won't go without a fight

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Still, all of that gets Virginia Tech no better than a draw against the Seminoles' special-teamers, who blocked six kicks this season and haven't had a boot of their own blocked in 21 games. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (SI, Dec. 20) is unparalleled as an offensive and defensive weapon. Referring to Janikowski's ability to produce touch-backs, Beamer says, "I don't think we want to work on our kickoff returns, do we?"

How good is the Florida State defense?

The Seminoles, who had 40 sacks in 1998, got only 29 this season, in part because they were out of control at times. "Instead of breaking down and making a play, we try to knock the quarterback out," end Jamal Reynolds laments. "We can't keep going for the kill shot."

The offenses that gave Florida State the most trouble—Georgia Tech's and Miami's—featured mobile quarterbacks with accurate arms. Sound like anyone you know, Hokies fans? The Yellow Jackets' Joe Hamilton completed 22 of 25 passes for 387 yards and four scores in a gallant 41-35 losing effort. "If you look at the teams who have beaten Florida State recently," says Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, "they always make plays with the wide receiver." Tennessee's Peerless Price (four catches for 199 yards and one touchdown) in last January's Fiesta Bowl, North Carolina State's Torry Holt (nine for 135 and one touchdown) in the Wolfpack's 1998 upset of the Seminoles and Florida's Jacquez Green (seven for 145) in the 1997 regular-season finale can attest to that. They were the clutch receivers on the last teams to defeat Florida State.

This season Seminoles senior corner-back Mario Edwards got left behind like a lunch box more than once. He'll be tested in the Sugar Bowl by Virginia Tech sophomore Andre Davis, who averaged 275 yards per catch, the best among the top Division I-A receivers, and who has proved to be the ideal partner for Vick.

At quarterback, will youth win out over experience?

This is how well Vick improvises: In the Hokies' 62-7 win over Temple he left the locker room without his wristband with the plays scripted on it. He borrowed the wristband from the third-string quarterback, Grant Noel, before the opening series. However, since Vick is lefthanded and Noel is righthanded, their scripts differed. Early in the third quarter, offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle signaled for Vick to call a run by himself around left end. On the borrowed wristband, however, the signal corresponded to a play around right end. "As he comes out of the huddle, and I see the formation," Bustle says, "I'm thinking, What the hell is he calling?" Vick took the snap, started to the right, reversed field and went 75 yards down the left side for a touchdown. "Something a freshman would do," Bustle summarizes. Not many of them.

Vick led the nation in passing efficiency (180.4, a Division I-A freshman record) and finished third in the Heisman vote. "He throws the deep ball as well as anyone I've seen," says Virginia defensive coordinator Rick Lantz, who coached against both teams and believes the Hokies will win. " Vick gets the ball out there in catchable position." It's tempting to believe he's Tiger Woods in shoulder pads, but Bustle didn't let Vick stray from tightly scripted game plans. Vick averaged only nine completions and 15 attempts. He rarely threw over the middle, where coaches don't allow freshman quarterbacks to venture. "We ran more pass patterns against Florida than [the Hokies ran] in any three games," Amato says.

Both quarterbacks are winners. Vick is 10-0 as a starter. (He missed Virginia Tech's game against Alabama-Birmingham with an ankle injury.) Bobby Bowden says Weinke, who has won his last 20 starts, came of age this year at Clemson. "There were 86,000 people, and it's a loud place," Bowden says. "National TV. We're behind 14-3-How much worse could it be? He pulls it out, though." Weinke drove his teammates through the Warrick episode without letting them rubberneck. At Florida, when he threw an interception that the Gators' Bennie Alexander returned 43 yards to give Florida a 16-13 lead, Weinke didn't flinch. He led the Seminoles to a field goal and two touchdowns on three of their next four possessions. If there's a quarterback who can withstand the pressure Virginia Tech Lombardi Award winner Corey Moore will apply from defensive end, it's Weinke. "We're ready to play," Weinke says. "How many people get the opportunity to play for a national championship? Guys are focused even more than I've seen throughout the year."

Friedgen, one of Beamer's closest friends, can't help but think about Super Bowl XXIX, in which Friedgen was offensive coordinator for the surprising San Diego Chargers as they met the San Francisco 49ers. "I don't know how you prepare players for an atmosphere like that," he says. " San Francisco had been there as an annual event. The 49ers were ready to go to work. Our guys were in awe."

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