The Bulldogs believed the Seminoles would rely on proven strengths despite being directed by an uproven quarterback(s).
The Bulldogs guessed right.
Unfortunately for FSU, however, mistakes ruined Fabian Walker's collegiate debut as third-ranked Georgia upended the beleagured Seminoles 26-13 before a Superdome crowd of 74,269. Not even a welcomed spark late from Anquan Boldin at quarterback was enough to help FSU.
"Honestly, I thought we were a play away. I felt like we were in the game the entire time," Boldin said. "The only thing we needed was a big play to spark this offense. I mean I felt like we were right back into the game."
Walker, from Americus, Ga., was eager to make the most of his opportunity against the Bulldogs. Many wondered how the Seminoles would respond behind a quarterback who played sparingly and entered the season on the third team.
While FSU coach Bobby Bowden didn't expect Walker to play like a seasoned veteran, he had hoped Walker would play well enough to help FSU (9-5) avoid its first five-defeat season since 1981.
It didn't happen.
"They did exactly what anybody would do and that's blitz a new quarterback," Bowden said. "They blitzed our quarterback and we simply couldn't get anything going with that. Our hands were tied so bad there. When you blitz like that, not only do you get to the quarterback you stop the running game."
Three Walker turnovers -- two inteceptions and a fumble -- led to 10 Georgia points as the Bulldogs (13-1) won 13 games for the first time school history. The Seminoles simply lacked the offensive firepower early to keep pace with the Southeastern Conference champions.
NOT SURPRISED: The Bulldogs say they were extremely concerned about the Seminoles' offense despite question marks at quarterback. Walker made his first career start after entering the season third-string behind Chris Rix and the dismissed Adrian McPherson.
"We feel like Florida State will do what Florida State does," Georgia defensive coordinator Bryan VanGorder said prior to the game.
"They will do what they've done all year. I don't think you will see much change at all. We think their quarterback (Walker) is a good athlete. Obviously, we have very little film on him. We don't know the mentality of Fabian or his patience level. We'll have to feel things out in the game and see how it develops. He seems like a calm and poised quarterback."
All-American defensive end David Pollack said the Bulldogs couldn't afford to take Walker lightly simply because of the talent that surrounded him.
"I didn't know anything about him (from high school)," Pollack said. "I know he's talented because he's at Florida State. They're three or four deep at every position. He's worked in their system in practice all year long. He's played some snaps. He throws it well, from what I've seen."
NOT ENOUGH: Walker finished 7-of-12 for 69 yards and one touchdown in just under three quarters. He had a long completion of just 20 yards.
As expected, Boldin also doubled at quarterback and gave FSU a needed boost. His 40-yard scoring strike to Craphonso Thorpe pulled the Seminoles within 23-13 entering the fourth quarter. He also caught FSU's first scoring pass and added 38 rushing yards.
The Seminoles finished with 262 total yards. Georgia's defense, however, sacked Walker and Boldin three times each. Leon Washington was the Seminoles' leading runner with 48 yards on 10 carries.
"I thought I play alright, but of course I could have played better," said Boldin, who completed 6-of-14 passes for 78 yards. "They blitzed a lot, but that's nothing new when you have a new quarterback. I played alright. I didn't play a great game obviously but I played alright."
BAD DECISION: Walker directed the Seminoles to an early 7-3 lead, tossing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Boldin at the 13:41 mark in the second quarter. Walker was more functional than flashy as the Seminoles outgained the Bulldogs 80-59 in the game's opening 15 minutes.
But, as feared, the good times didn't last. The Bulldogs' defense, ranked fourth overall in the Southeastern Conference, pressured Walker into a pair of interceptions.
The first did not lead to any Georgia points as Billy Bennett was wide left on a 47-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter. The second, however, changed the game's complexion and ruined Walker's storybook ending.
Trying to avoid a sack, an off-balance Walker threw an ill-advised pass into the right flat to Wille Reid. Bruce Thornton stepped in front of Reid and returned it 71 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:24 remaining in the second quarter.
"If I could go back I would change it," Walker said. "I was trying to compete and make a play but it went against us at that time. I got a lot of different looks. They are a great defensive team. They have my respect."
CHANGES: The longest season in FSU history provided more than a few challenges and changes for the Seminoles. While FSU's off-field troubles and associated lineup changes have been well-documented, the shear number of changes in last night's lineup compared to the Aug. 24 opener against Iowa State, was a staggering nine.
QB Fabian Walker and DE Eric Moore made their first career starts against the Bulldogs. TB Nick Maddox, C David Castillo, ST Alex Barron, TT Brett Williams, NG Travis Johnson, MLB Allen Augustin and ROV Jerome Carter either didn't start or played another position in the opener.
RECRUITING EDGE: Georgia and FSU are battling for several touted high school prospects in both states. Georgia has commitments from five players the Seminoles wanted, but other top players are undecided.
Since Georgia coach Mark Richt is viewed as the rising coach with a surging program, the natural issue is whether players will turn his way by watching the Sugar Bowl's outcome.
"I think this game maybe has more ramifications for recruiting down the road," Richt said. "I think some kid who is maybe 12, 13 or 14 is going to watch this game and see something great about one of these teams and say, 'That's the team I want to play for.' But I don't think this game will make or break anybody's recruiting year."
LOOKING AHEAD: The Sugar Bowl will host next season's national title game. Because of the desire to keep the championship game separate from all other bowls, it will be played on Jan. 4, 2004. The reason is the NFL playoff schedule. ABC-TV, which has broadcast rights to the NFL Wild Card games, in addition to all BCS Bowls, does not want college football's main event to conflict with an NFL game that weekend. Since New Year's Day is on a Thursday, the Sugar Bowl will be on Sunday night, thus presenting football fans with a full day of NFL and college football