Thur 1/1/05, 12:30pm
AP Rank: 26
Last Game: Pitt
Returning Starters: 16
AP Rank: 17
Last Game: Florida
Returning Starters: 13
Last Meeting: 1982
UGLY STAT OF THE GAME
Florida State has never lost a Gator Bowl. The Seminoles are 4-0-1 all time in the Jacksonville contest. WVU, on the other hand, has never won the game. The Mountaineers are 0-4 all time near the banks of the St. John's River.
GIVING IT THE BOOT
If Brad Cooper makes his first extra point attempt against Florida State, he will break the WVU single-season consecutive PAT mark of 43. Cooper currently co-holds that mark with Jay Taylor, who is currently kicking for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite their offensive problems this year, Florida State has extended its streak of scoring games to 209. Only four other teams have avoided a shutout longer than the Seminoles, who haven't been blanked since a 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of Miami on September 3, 1988.
REACHING THE PROMISED LAND
Thirteen different FSU players have scored touchdowns this year, as opposed to twelve Mountaineers. The breakdown between offense and defense is also a close one. Of those thirteen Noles to reach paydirt, ten are offensive players while three are on defense.
For WVU, nine offensive (Rasheed Marshall, Kay Jay Harris, Pernell Williams, Jason Colson, Chris Henry, Miquelle Henderson, Brandon Myles, Charles Hales and Bryan Wright), and three defensive players (Adam Jones, Mike Lorello and Adam Lehnortt) have rung up at least six points.
APPLE OR CHERRY?
If you are among the many that believe West Virginia underachieved this year, then do you also believe that the Mountaineers overachieved in the past two seasons? Befor eyou answer that question, you might want to revisit the turnover margins of the past three years.
During the 2002 and 2003 seasons, WVU ranked in the top five in the country in turnover margin. West Virginia protected the ball, and took it away from opponents, and as a result were able to stay in games and earn bowl bids with late season surges.
This year, the story was different. While the Mountaineers were still on the plus side of a 22-18 margin, that .36 average per game was far below the marks of the previous two seasons. WVU finished tied for 35th in turnover margin after the regular season. Wonder how much those additional possessions of two years ago had to do with the outcomes of games like Virginia Tech and Pitt?
In the last 13 years, FSU has scored 59 touchdowns on defense and special teams. Think an extra 4 ½ TDs per year might mean something to your team? With West Virginia hoping to keep this game a close defensive battle, one punt return or fumble pickup for a score could be enough to dash Mountaineer hopes.
West Virginia had more sacks than their opponents this year. The Mountaineers had 24 sacks on the campaign, and yielded 21. No one is going to call WVU's pass rush a juggernaut yet, but the team did get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year.
However, was it worth it? West Virginia had five sacks against Boston College, but never seriously threatened to win the game. BC, while not piling up big yardage, completed a number of short passes that WVU's defense typically doesn't yield.
WAKE UP CALL
Just in case you think too much has been made of FSU's defensive prowess, consider this. The Nole defense has allowed just 11 touchdowns this year. That's one score per game for opposing offenses.
While opponents have scored five additional TDs on returns against Florida State, the ability of their defense to keep offenses out of the end zone has been huge in a number of games this year. WVU will, in all likelihood, have to get in the end zone at least twice in order to come home with the championship trophy.