FSU run offense vs. UT run defense
This is where the Seminoles have to establish some early success if they want to give quarterback Marcus Outzen any chance to find his receivers. Florida State (149.8 yards per game) was led by sophomore Travis Minor, who overcame an early-season ankle injury to finish strong with 359 yards and three TDs in his last three games. Outzen also will be a factor, but he won't be as big a surprise to the Volunteers as he was against Florida in the regular-season finale, when he rushed 17 times for 61 yards. Tennessee's defense against the run was ranked sixth nationally, holding eight of its opponents to fewer than 100 yards. The defensive line is a little banged up, but deep and experienced. The Volunteers love to blitz.
FSU pass offense vs. UT pass defense
The Volunteers gave up big yardage throughout the season, starting with Syracuse (300) and Florida (409) in the first two games as well as to Arkansas (274) and Kentucky (337) later on. Outzen doesn't have the gun to scare anybody, but given some time and a few trick plays, he could do a passable imitation of Charlie Ward. Seminoles wide-out Peter Warrick is another story, and CB Dwayne Goodrich will have his hands full. Warrick accounted for 11 of his team's 21 passing touchdowns, but the Volunteers need to pay attention to junior Ron Dugans as well. Tennessee had 16 interceptions this season, including five by sophomore Deon Grant and three by Goodrich.
UT run offense vs. FSU run defense
This could be the most critical area of the game for both teams. Despite losing tailback Jamal Lewis to a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game, the Volunteers led the SEC and finished 17th nationally in rushing with 211.3 yards a game. It took Travis Henry and Travis Stephens to replace Lewis, but Henry rushed for more than 100 yards five times and Stephens once. But they haven't faced a defense such as Florida State, which was second in the country in surrendering just 79.8 yards a game.
Edge Florida State
UT pass offense vs. FSU pass defense
The combination of quarterback Tee Martin and a group of receivers that includes Peerless Price and Jermaine Copeland could be the best the Seminoles have seen. As susceptible as Florida State was in its lone defeat at North Carolina State, the Seminoles shut down good passing teams as the season went on by forcing more third-and-long situations and covering with eight players rather than six. But Price and Copeland in tandem are explosive, as witnessed by their late touchdown catches against Mississippi State in Tennessee's come-from-behind win in the SEC championship game.
Edge Florida State
Considering the stinginess of the respective defenses, it could come down to the kickers, two of the country's best. Florida State's Sebastian Janikowski made 27 of 32 field-goal attempts and all but one of his 43 PATs. Tennessee's Jeff Hall made 19 of 24 field-goal tries and all 47 of his PATs. Two of Hall's field goals were game-winners, coming in the first two games against Syracuse and Florida in overtime. Neither team excels in its punting game.
Edge Florida State
The most apparent one will be between Warrick and Goodrich. But more important are the matchups on the interior line, especially the one between Tennessee offensive guard Cosey Coleman and Florida State's Corey Simon. One overlooked matchup is the way the respective fullbacks, Shawn Bryson for Tennessee and Lamarr Glenn, block for their tailbacks and protect their quarterbacks in the face of on-rushing linebackers such as Tommy Polley (Dunbar) for the Seminoles and Al Wilson for the Volunteers.
Tennessee has had a season filled with miracle finishes. Maybe the Vols are just destined. The Seminoles are prone to mental mistakes, such as taking too many penalties, but rarely make physical ones. Most of Tennessee's opponents wilted down the stretch, but that shouldn't happen to the Seminoles. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer might be a little hungrier to prove he deserves mention among the game's best.
Tennessee 20, Florida State 17.
Pub Date: 1/04/99