MIAMI -- Bobby Bowden, a man who delights in creating all kinds of havoc with his Florida State offense, was reluctant to take the next step.
Reluctant to turn the offense over totally to quarterback Charlie Ward, reluctant to put his precocious junior in the shotgun formation and let him wing it all the way down field.
Yet, when the third-ranked Seminoles (10-1) meet 11th-ranked Nebraska (9-2) in tonight's 59th annual Orange Bowl, the pressing question of the evening will be whether the Cornhuskers can stand up to that high-powered shotgun offense.
"It's something I've never done," Bowden said. "I never built an offense around one guy. I never did it with my quarterback, never made my tailback the whole offense. But right now we are built around one guy.
"As long as Charlie Ward is at Florida State, we will use the Charlie Ward offense."
If necessity is the mother of invention, Bowden found the need to experiment in Atlanta on Oct. 17. Trailing Georgia Tech 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Bowden went to a no-huddle, shotgun attack. The results were staggering.
Ward accounted for 206 of Florida State's 207 yards on three ensuing touchdown drives, and pulled out a 29-24 victory.
But it wasn't until Nov. 7 against Maryland that the Seminoles went exclusively to the new offense. Ward threw for 395 yards and four touchdowns in a 69-21 rout, and Bowden was hooked.
The Seminoles used the no-huddle shotgun in the next two games as well, beating Tulane, 70-7, and Florida, 45-24. In the final three regular-season games, Ward averaged 315.3 yards and three touchdowns passing, and 61.3 points.
"If Florida State had played the shotgun offense for 11 games with the efficiency it did [in those] four games, there might have been a different Heisman Trophy winner this season," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said.
And if the Orange Bowl becomes a matchup of Florida State's speed against Nebraska's power, it might also become another red-faced rout for the Big Eight Conference. But the Cornhuskers aren't ready to concede the issue of speed just yet.
"A lot of people assume we're big, slow farm boys who can't
run," said Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts. "Florida State has really good speed. But we had one of our best games against a finesse team in Colorado [a 52-7 win]."
Whether real or perceived, the image of a "slow" Nebraska team is a function of its style. "When you run the ball," Osborne said, "you seem ponderous and not very exciting."
With the rise of Colorado and Kansas in the Big Eight, Nebraska has had to change with the times.
"The Big Eight has been run-oriented in the past, but every year it's gone more to passing," said Tyrone Hughes, a split end who also doubles as a cornerback because of his speed. "All we've been doing is playing against the pass. So we should match up with them pretty well."
On offense, the Cornhuskers still run the ball, of course. Their 328.2 average led the NCAA in rushing, and I-backs Calvin Jones and Derek Brown (1,015) ranked 1-2 in the Big Eight. Nebraska actually scored more points (427, 38.8 average) than Florida State (419, 38.1) this season.
The Cornhuskers have a quarterbacking prodigy of their own, too. He is Tommie Frazier of Bradenton, Fla., who became the first freshman in modern history to start at quarterback for Nebraska when he engineered a 34-24 victory over Missouri on Oct. 25.
Frazier has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one interception since replacing senior Mike Grant. Osborne said Frazier runs the option better than Grant, but that Grant is a better passer. In six games, five of them wins, Frazier completed only 44 percent of his throws.
"Frazier is a very dangerous quarterback," Bowden said. "Like Charlie, he can be totally unpredictable . . . he can do things with the ball that can't be drawn on the board."
Bowden has spent the week trying to sell his team -- and anyone else who will listen -- on the idea that this will not be an easy game. Because Florida State is a 10-point favorite -- and &L; because the Cornhuskers were upset by lowly Iowa State this season, 19-10 -- it is a hard sell.
"I think we're taking them seriously," said Bowden, who has the longest unbeaten streak in the bowls at 9-0-1.
Osborne, meanwhile, labors under a bowl record of 8-11. He lost here last year, 22-0, to Miami.
"They always remember your last game," he said. "Last year I thought we had a good season. But in some minds, we were a bunch of losers after we got beat by Miami in Miami. I feel bad about that for the players."
Tonight, the Cornhuskers get another chance to set the record straight.
Teams: No. 11 Nebraska (9-2) vs. No. 3 Florida State (10-1)
When: Today, 8 p.m.
Where: Orange Bowl, Miami
TV: Channels 2, 4
Coaches: Nebraska, Tom Osborne; Florida State, Bobby Bowden
Nebraska's key players: RBs Calvin Jones (1,210 yards on 168 carries, 15 TDs) and Derek Brown (1,015 yards on 170 carries) are the top two rushers in the Big Eight. Freshman QB Tommie Frazier has thrown for 10 TDs and just one interception since replacing senior Mike Grant in the sixth game of the season. SE Corey Dixon (13 receptions for 279 yards) is the top receiver. The Cornhuskers lead the NCAA in punting with a net average of 41.7, and Mike Stigge has 53 punts for a 43.21 average.
Florida State's key players:
QB Charlie Ward (204 of 365 for 2,647 yards, 22 TDs) has three receivers with 34 or more catches. Tamarick Vanover (42 receptions for 581 yards, four TDs) leads the trio, followed by Kevin Knox (35 receptions for 396 yards, three TDs) and Kez McCorvey (34 receptions for 521 yards, six TDs). TB Tiger McMillon (634 yards on 123 carries) helps balance the attack. CB Corey Sawyer ranks fourth in the NCAA with a 14.79 punt-return average. On defense, LB Marvin Jones won the Lombardi Award as the best collegiate lineman and the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker.
@Nebraska's season 49 Utah 22 48 Middle Tenn. St. 7 14 at Washington 29 45 Arizona St. 24 55 Oklahoma St. 0 34 at Missouri 24 52 Colorado 7 49 Kansas 7 10 at Iowa St. 19 33 at Oklahoma 9 38 at Kansas St. 24
Florida State's season 48 Duke 21 24 at Clemson 20 34 at N. Carolina St. 13 35 Wake Forest 7 16 at Miami 19 36 N. Carolina 13 29 at Georgia Tech 24 13 at Virginia 3 69 Maryland 21 70 Tulane 7 45 Florida 24