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Nehlen then blessed reporters with this truly divine scoop: "To have the opportunity to play for the national championship," he said, "the good Lord says you've got to do every single thing [right] for 11 straight weeks."
Wonder where in the Bible it says that. The Book of Numbers, perhaps?
Even with friends in high places, Nehlen could not swing enough coalition votes for the Mountaineers to leapfrog over Florida State, whose gut-check win in Gainesville last Saturday concluded a two-week period in which the Seminoles answered several questions about themselves.
After Florida State's loss to the Irish, those close to the team wondered, Would the Seminoles go in the tank? There was a precedent. After dropping out of the '91 national-championship hunt with a loss to Miami, Florida State had played listlessly in a loss to Florida. Indeed, after this year's defeat by Notre Dame, there were signs of trouble among the Seminoles. Tight end Lonnie Johnson, a senior and captain, issued a warning to wide receiver Kevin Knox, one of the team's more gregarious souls. "Some of the guys on this team laugh and talk right through a game," Johnson says now. "It concerned me a little bit. So I said something."
On the defense, end Derrick Alexander had a heart-to-heart with linebacker Derrick Brooks, who had sat out part of the Notre Dame game with an ankle sprain. Alexander feared Brooks's injuries might be making him gun shy. Says Alexander, "I told him, 'We need you out there.' "
These healthy confrontations led to a therapeutic 62-3 win over North Carolina State, a well-timed drubbing that occurred the same day that Notre Dame lost to Boston College. The Seminoles were back in the chase for No. 1.
Archrival Florida would be their last—and most dangerous—upset threat. The game matched the two top-scoring teams in the nation, the Seminoles averaging 44.1 points per game to Florida's 42.3. The Gators were riding a 23-game winning streak in the Swamp, where they were spurred on by a crowd of 85,507, the largest in state history.
Forget the 33-21 final score. Florida State was at least three touchdowns better than that. Not only did Ward throw four scoring passes, but the Seminoles made five more trips beyond the Florida 15-yard line, which resulted in a pair of field goals.
Florida State led 27-7 as the fourth quarter began. With six minutes to play, it was a six-point game. That's when Ward, on third-and-10 at his own 21, scrambled left, then lofted the ball over Florida linebacker Ed Robinson and into the hands of freshman tailback Warrick Dunn, who sped 79 yards up the sideline to put the game out of reach.
Bowden's capsule description of the victory: "Almost a rout and almost close."