Sugar Bowl Preview
Florida State vs. Virginia Tech
Date:  January 4th, 2000
Location:  New Orleans, LA
FSU's Record:  11-0
FSU's USA Today Page
FSU's Statistics

All the Marbles
By Will Stewart, December 31st, 1999

There’s a tendency to be satisfied with just "being here," a tendency to let the bright lights, glitter, and incessant coverage of this game to blind you to the true goal: winning it.

All season long, the Hokies’ mission has been about proving themselves. They realized early in the season that they were good, very good, and since then, the Hokies have slowly and resoundingly converted a long list of non-believers into believers.

But still, there’s a nagging doubt, and a question: how good are they? Are they good enough to beat the best? Once the Hokies are removed from a steady diet of good-but-not-great teams like Miami, Syracuse, Virginia, and Boston College, can they knock off the undisputed king, the Florida State Seminoles?

Certainly, the mainstream media seems to think they can. Never mind the accolades that have been lavished on the Hokies all season long. When it gets down to just flat-out picking a winner for this game, most publications and talking heads seem to think that the Hokies will come out on top. The large number of games that Tech has had on national television (thank you, ESPN) have given the country multiple opportunities to observe what a balanced team Tech is.

But the adoration and respect can turn on a dime when you’re a newcomer. Last year, FSU played a terrible game in the national championship and lost to Tennessee, but no one is questioning FSU’s credentials. They’re an established power. The Hokies, on the other hand, cannot afford a slip-up, or much of what they have spent all season building will be lost.

Win, and the nation will tip its hat to Tech. Lose close, and the country will shrug and say, "I guess they were pretty good."

Lose big, and over the course of the next year, the most often heard phrase associated with Virginia Tech football will be, "I told you they weren’t that good."

In a season of "prove-it" games, this is the last one, and the biggest one. After spending years flirting with the upper echelon of college football, including narrowly missing several undefeated seasons, the most talented Tech team ever now gets to test its legs and see if it has what it takes to run with the big dogs.

Usually, my previews are very heavy on statistical analysis. In this preview, though, I’ll discuss FSU’s strengths and weaknesses, and then probe the keys to the game before giving a prediction.

Florida State's Year Thus Far

Aug. 28 Florida State 41, Louisiana Tech 7 
Sept. 11 Florida State 41, Georgia Tech 35 
Sept. 18 Florida State 42, North Carolina State 11 
Sept. 25 Florida State 42, North Carolina 10 
Oct. 2 Florida State 51, Duke 23 
Oct. 9 Florida State 31, Miami (Fla.) 21 
Oct. 16 Florida State 33, Wake Forest 10 
Oct. 23 Florida State 17, Clemson 14 
Oct. 30 Florida State 35, Virginia 10 
|Nov. 13 Florida State 49, Maryland 10 
Nov. 20 Florida State 30, Florida 23 

Florida State's Strengths

Peter Warrick. Anyone who has seen Warrick play knows that he’s a phenomenal talent. He can score from anywhere on the field, by running, receiving, or returning kicks. He doesn’t have normal knees, like the rest of the world – they’re made from a special flexible space-age material that can bend in any direction and take tremendous amounts of stress.

But hidden behind all the hype and highlight films are some interesting, little-known stats that take the mystery out of Warrick and make him a little more human. Warrick ranks 7th in the NCAA in catches per game, with 7.89 (71 catches in 9 games), and 8th in yards per game, with 103.78.

But it may shock you to know that the Hokies have three receivers who average more yards per catch than Warrick. Warrick averages 13.2 yards per catch, whereas Tech’s Andre Davis, Ricky Hall, and Emmett Johnson average 25.7, 15.9, and 14.7 yards per catch.

Warrick builds his reputation on making a lot of catches, and turning some of those catches into unbelievable highlights. But the simple fact is, you’re more likely to see Andre Davis break open behind the defense for a bomb than you are to see Warrick. Davis also has more TD catches than Warrick, 9 to 8 (but Warrick missed two games with a suspension).

Warrick also is not infallible. After a two-game layoff due to his Dillard’s shopping spree, he came back against Clemson and looked rusty, dropping several passes that hit him in the hands. FSU threw the ball to him over 20 times that game, and he had 11 catches.

FSU does the smart thing: they get the ball into Warrick’s hands a lot by throwing short, high-percentage passes, and then they let him make the plays. This drags down his yards-per-catch average, but he will occasionally bust a big one, if you don’t tackle him.

All this analysis can be summed up in this: respect Peter Warrick, yes, but don’t fear him. He’s going to get his catches, and the key is to contain him, tackle him and limit his yards after the catch. He will make plays – if he does, just forget about it and move on. But if you defend him well, he won’t dominate the game.

Chris Weinke. Weinke is 27 years old, and the Seminoles rave about his composure and his leadership ability. From that standpoint, the Hokies probably haven’t played a QB of his caliber all year long. Every other QB the Hokies have faced wilted under the pressure to one degree or another.

The point is, the Noles believe in Weinke. He is their undisputed leader, and they count on him not to fold up his tent in the big game. Weinke has his liabilities, though, and we’ll discuss what the Hokies need to do to expose those later in the "Keys to the Game" section.

Defensive Tackles. FSU defensive tackles Corey Simon and Jerry Johnson are All-American and All-ACC, respectively. They anchor a run defense that is 10th-best in the country, giving up only 98.8 yards per game. They will present tremendous problems for the Tech offensive line trio of center Keith Short and guards Matt Lehr and Josh Redding.

FSU Linebackers. The Noles linebacking trio has an incredible total of 302 tackles amongst the three of them. Outside backers Tommy Polley and Brian Allen, and inside linebacker Bradley Jennings rank 1-2-3 on the FSU team in tackles.

Offensive Line. FSU has given up just 22 sacks in 420 passing attempts. That’s amazing. By contrast, Tech’s opponents have 26 sacks in 199 passing attempts. FSU obviously pass-blocks a lot, and they’re obviously good at it. Getting pressure on the quarterback is a big key for Virginia Tech, but it sounds like it could be difficult. Fullback Dan Kendra is Chris Weinke’s personal protector in the passing game, making it more difficult for a blitzing player to get to him.

The Kickers. Sebastian Janikowski: wait’ll you see this guy kick. Let’s just say that the Hokies will be starting from the 20 yard almost every time he kicks off. And he’s pretty accurate on field goals as well, going 23 of 30 on the year. As for the punting game, FSU punter Keith Cottrell was second in the country in net punting, averaged 42.7 yards per kick, and didn’t have a single one blocked.

Florida State Weaknesses

Uh, yeah, right. Next topic?

Seriously, FSU does have a few chinks in the armor – every team does, even the good ones. Here are the relative weak spots that the Hokies might be able to take advantage of.

The Running Game. FSU only averages 122 yards per game. As a team, they average just 3.4 yards per rush (compared to Tech’s 5.0) and only had 1333 yards rushing all year (compared to Tech’s 2793). But don’t be fooled too much. FSU’s top three rushers (Travis Minor, Jeff Chaney, and Nick Maddox) average 4.3 yards per carry, and Minor can make big plays. Also, if you take Chris Weinke’s (-109) yards rushing out of the team totals, their yards-per-carry average jumps to over 3.9 yards per carry.

The Noles are not nearly as good a running team as the Hokies. They concentrate on the pass and use the run just to keep other teams honest. So don’t look for Florida State to bull the Hokies over on offense.

Pass Defense. This is without a doubt the Noles’ most glaring weakness. They intercepted an impressive 22 passes this year, but the good news stops right there for FSU.

First of all, Florida State only had 29 sacks this year, a big drop-off from their usual numbers. By contrast, the Hokies had 58 sacks, exactly twice as many. The poor performance here for FSU is due primarily to the fact that their defensive ends aren’t up to Florida State standards.

Secondly, several teams blistered them with the passing game. Georgia Tech (380 yards), Miami (370) and Florida (387) all rolled up impressive totals against the FSU pass defense. And mobile quarterbacks like Tech’s Michael Vick have given the Noles problems. Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton was an incredible 22-for-25 with 3 TD’s and no interceptions in their game with FSU.

Florida State cornerback Mario Edwards had 7 interceptions as a junior in 1998 but zero this year. In their Sugar Bowl preview, The Sporting News pointed out that Edwards was beaten deep twice by Tennessee’s Peerless Price in the Fiesta Bowl last year and hasn’t been the same since.

Depth at Defensive Tackle. The Noles starting two defensive tackles, Simon and Johnson, are great, as mentioned above. But they have to play a lot of downs, so if the Hokies are able to establish the running game at all, Tech could wear Simon and Johnson down as the game reaches its later stages. To Tech’s detriment, though, Lehr and Redding, at 285 and 304 respectively, don’t vastly outweigh Simon and Johnson (275 and 280).

Keys to the Game for Tech

Run the Ball Well. Simon and Johnson are great run-stuffers, but the Hokies have to give their patented up-the-gut attack a try. I doubt that Tech will be consistently successful running the ball (see "How the Game Will Go" down below for more details), but a team like the Hokies that has a run-pass ratio of 11-4 can’t just go out and start throwing the ball.

Protect Vick. FSU is brutal on the quarterback. They hit him, hit him, hit him, and by all accounts, not all of the hits are clean. That’s fine. The Hokies need to realize that much like the Tech defense, a main goal of the FSU defense is to pressure the QB and rattle him. Tech needs to protect Vick well and prevent multiple players from getting on him at the same time. Vick can handle escaping one player at a time, but if they pour over him in waves, his decision-making might (finally, after all these games) break down.

Pressure Weinke. Pressuring the quarterback is always a goal of the Tech defense, and in this game, it’s no different. Most observers agree that if the Hokies start swarming Weinke, he’ll make mistakes and perhaps throw interceptions that could swing the outcome of the game (every quarterback that Tech swarms eventually makes mistakes). If Weinke is allowed to sit in the pocket and throw those quick-hitters to Warrick unmolested, it will make the going much harder for the Hokies.

Contain Warrick. Again, the game plan by Florida State is to hit Warrick with short passes and let him do the rest. The Hokies must tackle Warrick after he makes the catch and limit his effectiveness, much like Clemson did in their game with FSU (Warrick had 11 catches against the Tigers, but only averaged 11 yards per catch, and didn’t score). Much like Tech did against Clemson, the Hokies can’t get too hung up on the number of completions that FSU has – they just need to make the tackle after the completion. And when Warrick gets the ball on a running play, the Hokies need to take him down quickly (again, Clemson was effective here, limiting Warrick to minus-10 yards on 1 carry).

Kibble Must Play Well. Jimmy Kibble has been spraying his kickoffs and punts all over the field, very much kicking like a freshman instead of the senior that he is. He needs to straighten out his kickoffs and boom some deep punts. Tech is going up against the nation’s second-best net punting team in Florida State, and the Hokies can’t afford to have Kibble go into the tank and give up ten yards or more on every exchange of punts.

Stay Calm. If and when Warrick breaks a long one, or the FSU defense blindsides Michael Vick, causing a fumble, the Hokies need to simply stay calm and get back to work. They belong here, they’re a very good team, and they earned it. Miami rocked the Hokies back on their heels this year, taking a 10-0 lead, but Tech fought through it and eventually dominated the game. In the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the Texas Longhorns got up 10-0, but again, Tech fought back and dominated.

In this game, the Hokies need to let FSU take their best shot, and then just grin at them, smile, and punch them right back. Clemson and Georgia Tech both hung tight with this team without backing down, and the Hokies can – and should – do the same.

Along those lines, if the FSU team tries to rattle Tech with late hits, trash-talking, and questionable play, the Hokies need to keep their composure, as they did against Miami and Nate Webster’s eye-gouging tactics. I don’t think FSU is predisposed to this kind of behavior, but you never know what a team will do to win a national championship.

How the Game Will Go

The Hokies will come out and try to run a balanced offense. The run/pass ratio will move towards 50/50, and Vick may throw as many as 25 passes or more. But the Hokies will still probe the middle of the FSU defensive line and see how Short, Lehr, and Redding stack up against Simon and Johnson.

I don’t think Tech will have much success up the middle, if any. FSU’s tackles and linebackers are too good, and Shyrone Stith has struggled up the middle on astroturf against lesser teams than FSU (Pitt, WVU).

Don’t be surprised if Andre Kendrick is the savior of the running game, much like he was against Pitt and WVU. Kendrick has a lot of success off-tackle, and given that FSU’s defensive ends aren’t up to their usual standards, this may be where Tech’s running yardage comes from, not from Stith up the middle.

Tech will run a little more option now that Vick is supposedly healthy from his season-long ankle injury, and Vick will probably pick up some decent yardage from it, but not great.

Overall, I look for FSU to limit Tech’s ground game to about 150 yards, with Kendrick leading in yardage. Anything better than 150 yards is very good news for Tech.

Rickey Bustle will have Vick throw deep to Andre Davis very early in the game, both to test out FSU’s defensive backs and to send the message that they’ll have to respect the deep threat. Vick will throw to Davis, Hall, and the tight ends, but that’s about it. Parham and Johnson (who injured his finger in practice and may play with a splint on it, if at all) will be lightly utilized.

Vick will have 175-250 yards passing, with 2 TD’s and one or two interceptions. He’ll have a good amount of time to pass, but FSU’s variety of coverages, including some zone, may confuse him into a pick or two.

Overall, the Hokies will gain 325-400 yards on offense, with the majority of it spearheaded by Vick’s tremendous play-making ability and Kendrick’s running.

On defense, the Hokies will bring the pressure that they always bring. FSU will double-team Corey Moore with the tight end and/or fullback Kendra, and they’ll try to negate Tech’s pass rush with quick hitters that allow their receivers, mainly Warrick, to run with the ball after the catch.

The Hokies will have 4 or 5 sacks in this game, and they’ll be able to force Weinke into mistakes here and there. If Weinke does throw an interception, it’s critical that the Hokies turn it up another notch on defense and keep him off-balance. He threw an interception for a touchdown against Florida but was able to come back from that. If the Hokies force him into a mistake, they need to keep up the pressure and force him into more.

Florida State will use the running game sparingly and won’t get more than about 125 yards from it, tops. They will probably get about 225-300 yards from the passing game, giving them 350-425 yards total.

Tech will not return a single Janikowski kickoff all game long. He’ll boom every one out of the end zone.


I think this game will be very similar to Tech’s games with Miami and Clemson. Much like the Canes, I think that Florida State will come out and will probably rock the Hokies back on their heels and take a 10-0 or 14-0 lead.

After that, the Hokies will settle down, perhaps making a big play and closing the gap to 10-7 or 14-7. The two teams will slug it out from that point on, with momentum slowly swinging over to Tech’s side.

As the game wears on, the Hokies will make more and more yardage with each drive, but Florida State will make less and less. Janikowski’s leg and a possible big play from the FSU receivers will keep it close, but the Hokies will eventually break through against the Seminoles, perhaps posting two quick touchdowns that will enable them to pull away late. By the end of the game, Tech will be in control, although the final score won’t show it.

The final score: Tech 31, FSU 24. Time to party on Bourbon Street!

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