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Working out of the shotgun in the second game of the year, at Clemson, Ward led the Seminoles to two late touchdowns in a come-from-behind 24-20 victory. His only success moving the ball against Miami, three games later, came when he operated out of the shotgun. Says Bowden, "We got to thinking, Every time we go to that darn shotgun, we don't have to punt."
With 14:27 left in the Georgia Tech game, the Seminoles trailed 21-7. "I was working on my alibis," Bowden would say later. Once Ward dropped back into the fast break, as the shotgun had been dubbed by team radio analyst Vic Prinzi, the Yellow Jackets were toast. The Seminoles scored 22 points in 12 minutes and won 29-24.
By this time, callers to Tallahassee's sports-radio shows were asking the question that Kathy Richt had posed to her husband after the Miami loss: "Why don't you start the game in the shotgun?" Against Maryland three weeks later the Seminoles did just that. Florida State scored on each of its six first-half possessions. Eleven school offensive records fell, and the Seminoles never punted during the 69-21 win. Next on the chopping block was Tulane. Result: that 70-7 rout, the worst defeat in Green Wave history.
Surely Florida State would get a reality check the following week, when it was to host Florida. The Seminoles coasted to 38 first-half points and a 45-24 victory. Finally, in the Orange Bowl, torrential rains limited Florida State to three touchdowns in its whipping of Nebraska.
Should the Seminoles sustain the momentum of the final third of last season and live up to their preseason No. 1 ranking, let it be recorded that this team came of age on Oct. 17, 1992—the day of its outrageous comeback at Georgia Tech. After the Seminoles' loss to Miami, in which their offense failed to score a touchdown, resentment by defensive players had riven the team. Says Abraham, "People on defense were wondering, What happened to that 31 points a game?" When they fell behind by two touchdowns late in the Georgia Tech game, the Seminoles arrived at their "moment of truth," according to wide receiver Matt Frier. "We were either gonna stab each other in the back or bond."
Robert Bly might have scripted the final quarter. On the sideline defensive players crashed the meetings of their offensive counterparts. "Just do this for us!" they shouted. During a timeout in Florida State's winning drive, defensive tackle Dan Footman and linebacker Reggie Freeman stepped onto the field to exhort the offensive huddle. "There were 60 guys hugging, cheering each other on," says Frier. "It was a first for us."
Another augury: In the first quarter of that game, All-America linebacker Marvin Jones left the field with a sprained ankle. His replacement, Derrick Brooks, made 20 tackles. Brooks is a 6'1", 225-pound Academic All-America with 4.45 speed in the 40. "Watch him this season," says outside-linebacker coach Jim Gladden. "He is going to be out of this world."
Of the six defensive starters the Seminoles lost from last year's squad, four were among the first 53 players chosen in the NFL draft. The most damaging exodus was from the line, which lost three of four first-stringers. Then during practice earlier this month Florida State lost senior cornerback Corey Fuller and junior free safety Steve Gilmer to freak knee injuries. The most valuable returnee to the defense may be Andrews, the coordinator, whose off-season flirtation with Houston, which considered him for head coach, threw a good scare into Bowden. Andrews' defense is an attacking, man-to-man scheme heavily reliant on situation substitutions. It is not uncommon for 36 defenders to play at least five downs per game—numbers unheard of at other schools. The offensive-minded Bowden readily admits the system is Greek to him. "Mickey is my Stonewall Jackson," says Bowden, a military-history buff. "He handles that whole show."
One of Bowden's strengths is his ability to see his own weaknesses and delegate accordingly. He has surrounded himself with a superb staff whose average length of tenure is a remarkable 10.8 years. By no means, however, is Bowden a hands-off coach. He frequently sprints up to Richt on the sideline with "suggestions," as he calls them, and is often overheard asking Andrews, "Are you sure you've got the right people on the field?" On the eve of each game, around midnight, Bowden—clad in nothing but his boxers—assembles his staff in his hotel room, pulls up a wastebasket for use as a spittoon and begins his weekly "What if?" meeting.
What if Ward breaks his arm on the first play? What if we score a touchdown and want to go for two—what's the play? What if they tackle us for a safety—do we kick off or punt? Only after each scenario has been satisfactorily addressed are the coaches allowed sleep.