Know The Feeling

<b>Mark Richt</b> did not enjoy a storybook ending at Florida State. Richt was blamed by fans and media alike for the Seminoles' national championship defeat to Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl, pointing to distractions after being named the new head coach at Georgia. Of course, <b>Jeff Bowden </b> has taken his share of criticism as well since following Richt as FSU's offensive coordinator. "My skin has gotten thicker. You better have it. You are not going to make it," Bowden said.

Mark Richt did not enjoy a storybook ending to his career at Florida State.

Richt was blamed by fans and media alike for the Seminoles' national championship defeat to Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl, pointing to distractions after being named the new head coach at Georgia. While Richt has admitted to double-duty struggles, FSU players and coaches refuse to point fingers at Richt for that loss.

Jeff Bowden, who has taken his share of criticism since replacing Richt as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator, believes any blame should be shared equally.

"As you all know, and I have said it, the coordinator is going to take the blame, but he's not out there playing that game," said Bowden, who will be on the opposite side of the field of Richt when FSU tangles with fourth-ranked Georgia in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl.

"You look at the plays we ran in that Orange Bowl, there are the same ones he's 12-1 with up at Georgia. Same plays. He's not running a different offense. Sometimes players have to make plays. We just didn't play as good as we could play that night. (Our) defense played superbly."

No. 3 FSU (11-2) entered the game as a 10 ½-point favorites and were hoping to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Nebraska in 1994-95.

Of course, the Seminoles' offense was a mess that game.

All-American receiver Marvin Minnis was suspended for failing grades. Quarterback Chris Weinke. fresh off the Heisman Trophy trail, was 25-of-51 for 274 yards and two interceptions and a fumble. He did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time that season and the Seminoles finished with 301 yards - 248 under their average - in the 13-2 defeat.

The sword, naturally, fell on Richt, who, folks screamed, was preoccupied with his new job as Georgia's coach.

"All the criticism he took when he was here - to think what he took when he was here with the winning what we were doing at the time - it amazed me then," Bowden said. "It doesn't amaze me right now. This is what you would expect. Back then, it was hard to understand because there is a bottom line and it's getting those Ws. And we got an awful lot of Ws."

Of course, the criticism surrounding FSU's offensive struggles the past two seasons has fallen squarely on Bowden's shoulders. Many believed Bowden, who was named coordinator by his father after coaching Seminole receivers for six seasons, lacked the credentials to handle such a high-profile position. He has shared offensive responsibilities with Daryl Dickey. who was hired following the 2001 Orange Bowl to coach FSU's quarterbacks.

FSU has struggled with consistency the past two years, though the Seminoles averaged 31.9 points and 408.5 yards per game this season. FSU averaged 5.8 yards per play and nearly had a 1,000-yard rusher (Greg Jones had 938 yards in nine games before being lost for the season to a knee injury) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Anquan Boldin finished with 62 catches for 977 yards).

"My skin has gotten thicker," Bowden said. "It's part of the maturing process. You better have it (thick skin). You are not going to make it. I had three older brothers who helped give me thick skin. But my wife does not have it. My 5-year-old daughter doesn't have it. My 12-year-old son who listens to the radio doesn't have it. I don't expect them to have it. That's been part of the education.

"That's one thing, having been here when Mark was winning and see what he went through, it hurt him, too. Bothered him, too. I saw what he had to go through with his family."

Bowden and Dickey also continue to learn about each other. The two switched game spots when FSU hosted Florida in the Seminoles' regular-season finale - Bowden moved into the press box, while Dickey was on the sidelines. The move provided immediate results as Chris Rix threw for 277 yards, Leon Washington rushed for 134 and FSU did not have a turnover in the 31-14 victory.

""That move is kind of something I've been wanting for a long time," Bowden said. "We are going to stay with that move. That was something we thought we needed to do. We were gonna do it but we said, 'No, it's too close to the game time. There's too much going on with the A.D. thing. Let's wait until next year.' And Tuesday (before Florida game), that morning he said I am pretty good with this. I said, 'It's done then.' Once he said that, there was no hesitation."

Bowden felt his spot high above the field proved beneficial.

"I could just see the corner alignments on both sides as opposed to what I see on my side of the field," Bowden said. "I can see what they were giving the wide receivers more clearly. I feel like I am just a spectator watching the game. I know what I am looking for. Really, I am focused on the perimeter - that part of the game. I will look for things I recognize for things. The first thing I felt is it is different being up in the box and I need another game still to hopefully get even more comfortable. The greatest gain from the whole move, to me, was having Daryl right beside his quarterback. That was the greatest gain we got."

Now Bowden and Dickey have a new set of worries as the Seminoles continue their preparations for the Bulldogs and their top-ranked SEC defense. Rix has been ruled academically ineligible for the bowl after skipping two exams, leaving the offense with a talented but unproven sophomore in Fabian Walker. Walker has thrown only eight passes and appeared in only three games in his career.

Richt admitted FSU "right now is concerned a little bit with their quarterback situation, but other than that they're still a team that beat Florida. They beat a team handily that we could not beat. ... They are very capable of whipping us. I know that.''

Bowden also knows he's happy for Richt, who has won 20 games in two seasons with the 'Dawgs - that's five more than any previous Georgia coach, including Vince Dooley, who was 13-7-1 during his first two years in Athens, Ga. While Richt didn't depart from FSU on a high note, that was and never has never been an issue with Bowden.

"How can you not be happy for him because you know he's going to the final step in coaching, which is as a head football coach," Bowden said. "Plus, at a program at which you would consider a top 10 type program you go to in the country as a had coach. I couldn't feel anything but ecstatic for him for that reason."

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