Florida State, team of the '90s?
The Seminoles were only the team of the 97-yard drive Saturday at the Coliseum.
That was all that separated fifth-ranked Florida State from USC, a team that did its best to announce to the college football world in a 14-7 loss that the Trojans are back--or on their way, anyway.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday September 8, 1997 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 8 Sports Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
College football--USC linebacker Mark Cusano was misidentified in a caption in Sunday's editions. Also, because of a reporter's error, the name of a USC player who had an interception was misstated. The player was sophomore free safety Chad Morton.
Instead of being run off the field by the Seminoles, No. 23 USC gave them a run for their money.
Florida State needed that long fourth-quarter touchdown drive to beat the Trojans in front of 72,783 at the Coliseum. Tailback Dee Feaster scored the go-ahead touchdown on a three-yard run with 10:40 left in the game.
Even that march to victory was almost cut off before it began. USC cornerback Brian Kelly had an interception in his hands as Florida State quarterback Thad Busby threw out of his own end zone, only to drop it.
"It hurts. I take it personally. I should have made the play," Kelly said. "A lot of people are probably impressed with our play. They thought we'd get blown out. But we play for wins."
One game into the season, USC has one loss.
But the Trojans found out they have a poised and able quarterback in sophomore John Fox, a big-play defense--and something they never fully believed they had last season--a chance.
"I liked our team. I liked the look in my team's eyes," said Coach John Robinson, whose Trojans appear to have one major problem--a nonexistent running game, totaling 25 yards on the ground. Tailback Delon Washington ran for 16 yards in 18 carries.
"I think we're a work in progress," Robinson said. "If we stick with the things we believe in, we can become a good football team. How good Florida State is, I don't know. I'm sure they don't know."
It will take a little longer for the Seminoles to figure that out, especially after a game in which they had 78-yard punt return for a touchdown called back because of a penalty, and a 47-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski wiped out for having 12 men on the field.
"I never understood why we were favored by so much," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said. "I saw a different USC today than what we've seen on film."
One thing no one had seen on film was USC quarterback John Fox, a sophomore who had an impressive debut after decisively winning a three-way battle in camp.
Fox completed 18 of 32 passes for 159 yards with one interception that had negligible impact because it came on a fourth-down play.
More impressive, he ran the offense with confidence, and made good decisions--including the fourth-down play at the two-yard line in the second quarter when he looked for one of his two receivers, then tucked the ball in and ran for the touchdown.
That helped the Trojans tie the score, 7-7, with 13:42 left in the half.
Florida State scored in the first quarter on a two-yard sneak by backup quarterback Dan Kendra with 2:10 left in the first quarter.
That score was set up by Roland Seymour's recovery of Washington's fumble at the USC 36. Busby passed for 276 yards, completing 19 of 39 passes, but he didn't look like the most poised quarterback on the field most of the night.
Not until that 97-yard drive, keyed by a 46-yard pass play to E.G. Green that put Florida State on USC's 40-yard line.
USC had two more chances, but they amounted to nothing.
The first ended in five plays, but the Trojans were on the move on the second, reaching the Florida State 26-yard line before turning the ball over on downs when Fox--on fourth and six--completed a pass to Billy Miller that was far short of a first down.
"That's an example of me not thinking," Fox said. "I should have thrown the ball deeper or run with it."
Robinson found little fault with his quarterback.
"We found ourselves a quarterback," Robinson said. "He played really well and made very few mistakes. He did the things we asked him to do.
"I think the issue of the quarterback has been put to rest."
USC was already trailing, 7-0, before Fox completed his first pass with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter--and it was for a five-yard loss.
But then Fox started to show his mettle in the second quarter. USC had taken over on the Florida State 30 after Ryan Tyiska recovered Jason Steen's block of an ill-advised punt by Florida State's Keith Cottrell, who was already being swarmed after bobbling the snap but tried to get the kick away.
On second and 15, after almost being sacked, Fox scrambled and found Miller on a pass play that put the Trojans on the two-yard line.
Miller caught a career-high eight passes for 56 yards.
Fox was the question mark, but the biggest plays of the night were made by the defense. Kelly had the game-saving interception in his hands, but he held on to another one that thwarted a drive. Daylon McCutcheon also had a big play, a diving interception of a pass deflected by Ennis Davis.
Sophomore linebacker Chris Claiborne had eight tackles, including two sacks.
"It was an excellent football game that was dominated by their defense and our defense," Robinson said. "It was a struggle all the way."
Florida State linebacker Sam Cowart agreed.
"USC played us tough to the end tonight," he said.
MORE ON UCLA
* BILL PLASCHKE
It's the same old story for Bruins--no victory, moral or otherwise. C10
Peyton Manning ran hot (first half) and cold (second). C10
MORE ON USC
* RANDY HARVEY
USC-Florida State game capped a big day of sports in L.A. C2
Don't look now, but the Trojans might be turning a corner. C8
TOP 25 AT A GLANCE: C4
ROSE BOWL RACE: C6
SCORES, SUMMARIES: C11-12