After a crushing defeat to archrival Florida in late November the Seminoles came into the Champs Sports Bowl with a lot to prove. With a season that saw improvements in different facets of the team, finishing with 5 losses would have been a poor way to end the season. Many media types considered the game against Wisconsin as a challenge for the Seminoles, especially due to the way Boston College took it to them earlier in the season.
In the end the sheer quickness and athleticism of the Seminoles took over, as they punished the Badgers on the way to 28 second half points in a 42-13 shellacking of the Big 10 program. To say the Noles had some motivation was one thing, but the things that went down at the pre-bowl luncheon proved to be the proverbial deathnell in the game for Wisconsin. Listening to Neefy Moffett and Patrick Robinson, the team was prepared hours before kickoff.
"We took what happened at the luncheon personally," said Moffett. "They made this rap about us, and were dancing around. They told us how they were going to hit us in the mouth and beat us. That was extra motivation for us coming into to tonight."
"The pregame meal was intense," said junior cornerback Patrick Robinson. "It played a role in the game before kickoff and after it started. We played intense the whole time."
Both Moffett and Robinson played well for the Noles, as the team had one of its most complete games over the past few seasons.
Coming into the 2008 season kicker was a major question mark. After surgery on his knee Graham Gano missed the first two games of the season, which intensified those worries. Even though he wasn't fully healthy until well into the season, Gano had one of the best seasons a kicker has had in a Seminole uniform. The Lou Groza award winner played a pivotal role in the game for FSU, as he helped the Noles control the field position battle early in the game. For Gano, he can't recall a time when he punted the way he did in the bowl game."
"I can't ever remember punting like I did tonight," said Gano after his first 3 kicks landed inside Wisconsin's 3 yard line. "The guys did an excellent job snapping the ball and blocking for me."
Gano was also nominated as the guy who would dig up turf from the Citrus Bowl stadium for the Sod Cemetery. When asked the significance of him digging up the turf at the 1 yard line, Gano said that his performance helped dictate the grass he was going to dig up.
"Being the guy for the Sod Cemetery was a neat experience," explained Gano. "This was a Sod game and I will never forget being the one who dug the grass. Someone told me I should get it from the 1 yard line because of the way I played, so I did. It was hard to dig up but I got it."
Everette Brown was the best player overall for the Noles in 2008. The All-American ended his junior season on a high note as he put pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Dustin Sherer all night long. Brown's performance this year has catapulted his name onto the top of many experts' mock drafts, leading many to feel like he will forgo his final year of eligibility to go to the NFL. When asked after the game if a decision had been made, Brown said not yet.
"What decision," joked Brown when asked by a reporter if he had made up his mind yet. "I haven't made my decision yet. I am going to go up to North Carolina and enjoy the holidays with my family which is something I haven't gotten to do yet. I'm going to keep my priorities in order and go from there."
It was a tale of two halves for the Seminole defense as the Badgers pretty much had their way with the Noles defense. Brown said they knew they had to remain confident and focused on the task at hand, and that he knew eventually they'd be able to stop Wisconsin's attack.
"In the 1st half the defense couldn't get frustrated," explained Brown. "We knew they were one dimensional and that we needed to stick to our gameplan. The biggest thing was stopping them up front. They may have been bigger than us, but like Coach Bowden says, the guy who gets to the point of attack first and has the leverage is going to win. That's what we did."
FSU's defense outscored the badgers in the game 14-13; the 2 touchdowns by the defense were game changers that helped propel the Noles to the convincing win.
"The returns by the defense were huge," said Brown, "and getting the takeaways was great. Those were big momentum plays. The passion and intensity we had was great."
The defense didn't have one guy who dominated the game, but the entire unit from top to bottom played very well. Everette said that as long as everyone did their jobs, a win was going to happen.
"As a defense we knew that every man had to do his job, and that if they did we'd get it done," explained Brown. "Wisconsin came in wanting to play Wisconsin football, but we made them play FSU ball."
Derek Nicholson's 75 yard fumble return were the first points on the board for the Noles, and it helped change the tone of the game. Nicholson helped lead the Noles defense to the win, and it was a game he was excited to play in.
"We played FSU football tonight," stated Nicholson. "They made some plays but we didn't let them score. I'm just happy; we have a great staff here. We have these freshmen who had to come in and play early and who now have the experience. They have key guys coming back who'll make plays like Dekoda (Watson), Patrick (Robinson) and Justin (Mincey)."
The second half saw the Nole defense play lights out as the forced the Badgers into having to pass the ball, which is something they haven't had a lot of success with since the injury to Travis Beckham earlier in the season. When that happened, Derrick says he knew what was about to commence.
"In the 2nd half we got up on them, so they had to pass," said Nicholson. "We started teeing off on them and got a lot of action in there."
Even though Derek's career at FSU has come to an end, he says he cannot wait for the future to see how this team develops.
"We're headed back in the right direction," said Derek, "and this team should be a top 15 team with this win. "We're close to becoming a dominant team. As seniors we wanted to go out with a bang and we all wanted to play well. I can't wait to come back and watch this team make it back to dominating the teams like we used to."