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Bill Plaschke

Bruins let the chances slip away

December 28, 2006|Bill Plaschke

SAN FRANCISCO — The old coach went for it. The young coach didn't.

When Bobby Bowden had a chance to stick a December dagger through the heart of UCLA on Wednesday night, he went for it.

When Karl Dorrell had a chance to do the same against Florida State, he didn't.

This is why the old coach has won more games than anyone in major-college football history.

This is also why the young coach has lost more tough games than anyone can remember.

Late Wednesday, the results were as plain as that constant light in Bowden's eyes and consistent furrow in Dorrell's brow.

Florida State 44, UCLA 27, Bruins buzz back to zero.

Said Bowden: "Man, that was a fun game."

Said Dorrell: "It kind of got a little bit unraveled."

Unraveled? Kind of? A little bit?

With all due apologies to the giant dancing almond that lumbered lazily around AT&T Park like Barry Bonds during a day game, this Emerald Bowl was just plain nuts.

UCLA entered the game with the momentum of a three-game winning streak, a victory over USC, and the cheers of thousands of Bruins fans.

Florida State entered the game with four losses in its last six games, an offensive coordinator named Bowden who had already quit and only a relative handful of tomahawk-chopping fans.

The Bruins had a chance to make a statement that would have resounded for the next eight months.

The Seminoles didn't much care either way.

Yet when it came down to sticking out their necks and extending their fingertips and stretching their nerve in hopes of grabbing the victory, the Bruins backed off, and the Seminoles didn't.

Dorrell played it safe. Bowden played it for everything it was worth.

The Bruins followed their young guy and stumbled. The Seminoles followed their old guy and soared.

The Bruins staggered off the soggy field shaking their heads into empty seats that were once filled with blue and gold.

The Seminoles danced around the field until they were thrown off.

Said UCLA's Chris Markey: "We gave them the game."

Said Florida State linebacker Buster Davis: "We took the game."

The story of the night has been the story of not only this season, but of Dorrell's entire four-year UCLA career.

When the opportunity for greatness knocks, often nobody seems home.

The exception was last month's legendary USC victory, which -- after giving up 430 yards to the nation's 73rd-ranked offense -- the Bruins will now have to defend as being something other than a fluke.

"Hey, nobody can say we didn't beat USC, we beat one of the best teams in the country, nobody can take that away from us," Markey said.

If only that Southland-rattling right jab could have been followed Wednesday with a 2006 knockout punch.

It was there for them too. The Seminoles and the season were frozen and wide-eyed and staring at a Bruins roundhouse.

And then Dorrell decided, instead, to kick a field goal.

It was late in the second quarter, the Bruins were leading, 17-10, and had driven to the Florida State two-yard line. It was fourth down. A field goal would give them a 10-point lead, but a touchdown might have given them enough juice for a victory.

Markey had averaged nearly five yards per carry on the drive. The Bruins offense had scored all 17 points on its previous three possessions.

"We didn't know what to do," Florida State cornerback Tony Carter said.

Then Dorrell helped them by sending out Justin Medlock to kick a 19-yard field goal.

"It was too many yards ... we needed the points," Dorrell said.

Florida State was so devastated, it drove 76 yards on the ensuing possession and ended up with a field goal to make it a 20-13 halftime score.

"And everyone at Florida State knows that football is about more than one half," Davis said. "We're a fourth-quarter team. We're a finishing team."

And so that is exactly what the Seminoles did in the game's final 10 minutes, when they trailed, 27-23, and were faced with a fourth-and-four from the UCLA 25-yard line.

A field goal here would have been perfectly acceptable. They would have had plenty of time to hold the Bruins and kick another field goal to win.

But Bowden had other ideas. He sent out the regular offense to go for it.

"I was saying, 'Field goal, field goal, field goal' ... but my coaches said go for it," he said later with a laugh. "But don't print that!"

In going for it, it looked as if they blew it when they were penalized for delay of game. But then, facing fourth and nine, they went for it again.

"We figured there wasn't much else to do there but go for the red zone," said Bowden.

And so they did, with quarterback Drew Weatherford heaving up a ball that receiver Greg Carr caught over a prone Rodney Van, who had just slipped.

Touchdown, Florida State leads, another victory for the old coach.

The victory required one more bit of Bowden magic, after officials blew a call on the ensuing kickoff.

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