Running to Glory

Bobby Bowden can't fib. He admits that Florida State coaches have decided the best way to win this season is to rely on the talented, senior-dominated offensive line and the running of tailbacks Greg Jones and Nick Maddox. However, will the 'Noles take that approach Saturday against a Notre Dame defense that ranks sixth nationally in rush defense? "People here can't stand it. They want the ball thrown all over the ballpark," Bowden said Wednesday.

Bobby Bowden can't fib. He admits that Florida State coaches have decided the best way to win this season is to rely on the talented, senior-dominated offensive line and the running of tailbacks Greg Jones and Nick Maddox.

The approach may not change in Saturday's showdown against sixth-ranked Notre Dame at Doak Campbell Stadium, even if the Irish rank sixth nationally in rush defense (80.1 yards per game). Linebacker Courtney Watson is a semifinalist for the Butkus Award and defensive end Ryan Roberts anchors a veteran line.

"People down here can't hardly stand it. They nearly hate talking about it," Bowden said and laughed during Wednesday's ACC teleconference. "People here can't stand it. They want the ball thrown all over the ballpark.

"I've always felt like offensively you try to do what you can do the best. Right now, it seems to be running the football. We are trying to take our talent and use it as it is and we think our offensive line and running game is probably the strongest part about this footbal team. We are prepared to throw the football. And I am sure somebody is going to play us where, ‘Hey, you better throw or you are not going to move it.' So, we hope we are prepared for that. We hope we are two-dimensional. The running game, I am eating it up. I love it. Our fans like to see it in the air a little more."

At least on paper, it appears FSU (5-2) will be better served to throw the football with more frequency against the undefeated Irish (7-0). Bowden quickly recognizes the Seminoles need balance or risk becoming predictable.

Even though FSU quarterback Chris Rix has thrown for less than 200 yards (197) in his last two games, the Seminoles are one of just eight Division 1-A teams averaging more than 200 yards in passing (205.7) and running (230.7). The last time FSU averaged more rushing yards than passing yards in a season was 1987. The Irish defense, meanwhile, have surrendered 195.7 passing yards per game.

Past history, however, suggests FSU needs to feature its rush offense.

The Seminoles had great success on the ground in the past two meetings against the Irish. In the '96 Orange Bowl, Warrick Dunn ran for 151 yards and Rock Preston added 55 yards. Dunn and Preston both went over the 150-yard mark in FSU's 23-16 victory over the Irish in Orlando in 1994.

While the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish will try to prove they deserve the Bowl Championship Series' No. 3 rating, Bowden is a believer after admitting he also wondered if Notre Dame had overachieved this season.

"Not so much now that I've started studying them. I had that same opinion," Bowden said.

"I had the opinion they were making the breaks. Now you start studying them, like we've had to do, and then you start reading about their personnel, this is a senior Notre Dame football team. They know what they are doing. And they are playing hard. What Tyrone has been able to do is get in there and make them play hard every down – that's what they are doing. They have pretty dadgum football players and I think people are beginning to realize it."

Bowden's big-game approach hasn't changed despite FSU's style of attack. He sees the game coming down to turnovers and big plays.

I know this – turnovers have been mighty important to Notre Dame," Bowden said. "They have done a magnificant job of creating turnovers. Therefore, it will be very important that we don't turn it over. I really think turnovers. They are good to beat us. We are good to beat them. I think it will come down to whoever turns that ball over the least. Then the other thing would be if one of us could get a big play."

Of course, playing Notre Dame is always a big deal, too. The last team ranked higher than FSU to play in Tallahassee -- other than the Seminoles' annual showdowns against Florida and Miami was Auburn in 1989. The No. 14 Seminoles defeated the No. 11 Tigers 22-14. FSU has not lost to a non-conference opponent other than Florida or Miami at home since 1984, when No. 16 Auburn won 42-41. Notre Dame, meanwhile, hasn't won on the road in the state of Florida since 1977

"Anytime you bring Rome into the picture that happens, you know," Bowden said of the excitement surrounding the Irish's first visit to Tally. "Notre Dame has got the national image. Notre Dame has got the historical image. Notre Dame has the world image."


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