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Running Wild
Sally Jenkins
October 07, 1991
Florida State tightened its grip on the No. 1 ranking with a fast and ferocious 51-31 rout of previously unbeaten Michigan
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October 07, 1991

Running Wild

Florida State tightened its grip on the No. 1 ranking with a fast and ferocious 51-31 rout of previously unbeaten Michigan

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Florida State isn't a team; it's a carnival. It swoops, it whirls, it has more moves than a midway contortionist. Last Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Seminoles took a momentous occasion, a classic intersectional matchup with Michigan on a perfect autumn afternoon in Ann Arbor, and turned it into a spinning ride in a mad teacup. "It was fun at first," said Wolverine tailback Ricky Powers. "Then I looked at the score at the end." There was good reason to feel somewhat dizzy, for the final score read Florida State 51, Michigan 31.

What happened at Michigan Stadium eradicated every assumption made about Florida State's warm-weather slickness and speed against Michigan's Rust Belt heft and depth. After all of the fakes, flea-flickers, broken-field runs and missed point-after opportunities by the Seminoles, what happened was this: The normally begrudging Wolverines yielded more points to a visiting opponent than any other Michigan team in history.

Love the Seminoles or hate them, call them a trumped-up conglomeration of reflector-shade personalities if you like, but do not attempt to deny that they are the swiftest, most destructive team in the country. Accept, too, that they might well be the next national champion. Going into the game, Michigan was ranked third, had handily beaten Notre Dame two weeks earlier and was as imposing as any team in the country. Yet the Seminoles still hung half a hundred on the scoreboard.

What did that say about Florida State? "When this team wants something, it gets it," said Seminole quarterback Casey Weldon after the game. Florida State got it in nearly every way imaginable—or at least in every way that coach Bobby Bow-den's fertile mind could imagine—in a performance that alternately shut the mouths of the 106,145 fans and left their mouths agape.

It's too bad that the score was a travesty, because the first two quarters of play bordered on the sublime. The first half included a fake field goal by the Seminoles, on which holder Brad Johnson shoveled the ball to blocking back William Floyd for a four-yard touchdown; an actual field goal by Michigan's J.D. Carlson, a dramatic 47-yarder that bounced over the crossbar; and a seven-yard scoring pass from Wolverine quarterback Elvis Grbac to fullback Burnie Legette that narrowed Florida State's lead to 25-23. And there was still 7:52 remaining before intermission. By halftime, however, the Seminoles led 31-23, and in the second half they smothered Michigan's offense, holding the Wolverines to one harmless fourth-quarter touchdown.

Florida State's offense was so potent that it could afford freshman kicker Dan Mowrey's hapless foot. Mowrey converted only one of his four extra-point attempts, and the Seminoles failed on a pair of two-point conversion attempts as well. Michigan coach Gary Moeller was so fearful of Florida State's firepower that he gambled—and lost—on two fourth-down plays early in the fourth quarter rather than attempt field goals that, if successful, could have brought the Wolverines to within eight points.

But, honestly, what would have been enough against these Seminoles? What could Michigan have done to counter guys like Amp Lee, a bumper car of a runner who slipped by, around and through four Wolverines on a 44-yard scoring dash in the first quarter, added a five-yard touchdown run in the second that had cornerback Lance Dottin lunging at air and rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 20 carries? "This man must be group-tackled," said Michigan linebacker Brian Townsend.

How could Michigan have prevailed against the often overlooked Weldon, who threw three touchdown passes with linemen collapsing all over him and Wolverine helmets aimed at his ribs? Weldon, a senior who's 10-0 as a starter, has completed 64 of 92 (70%) passes this year for 896 yards. With his performance against Michigan he may finally have elbowed his way onto the list of Heisman Trophy candidates.

The player at the top of that list is still Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard, who on Saturday made heroic touchdown catches of 13 and 42 yards and finished with 189 all-purpose yards. "It's no disgrace getting beat by Number One," said Howard softly. No, it wasn't a disgrace. It was just so surprising.

Most surprising was that Florida State was so dominant on both sides of the ball. While the Seminole offense was catching its breath, the defense intercepted Michigan four times, and two of those pickoffs were returned for the first and last touchdowns of the game. Moreover, Florida State not only stopped the Wolverines on those two key fourth-down plays in the final quarter but also allowed Michigan to convert only four of 16 third-down plays all day. In the meeting of speed versus strength, speed killed. More important, it was joined by force.

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