Volunteers Defense Rises To The Occasion
SportsLine wire reports
Jan. 5, 1999
|Tennessee defense swarmed Florida State QB Marcus Outzen for a sack, as Vols Darwin Walker  brings him down, and LB Raynoch Thompson  and LB Al Wilson  in hot pursuit. [Photo by AP]|
(TEMPE, Ariz.) -- -- They said they had to stop the run.
Florida State got 108 yards on the ground, with a long of 23.
They said they had to stop the big play.
Florida State's longest gain was 39 yards, and it came late in the game. Peter Warrick, the Seminoles' game-breaking threat, caught one pass for 7 yards.
Tennessee's defensive players spent a week in Tempe nodding in agreement that, yes, Florida State's No. 1-ranked defense was good. They added quietly that the Vols play a little defense, too, and left it at that.
Monday night, they took home the national championship trophy.
"You can't take anything way from Florida State's defense. They were the No. 1 defense in the country," middle linebacker Al Wilson said after the Volunteers' 23-16 victory in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title. "We wanted to show we had a pretty good defense as well. I think we did that."
The Vols held Florida State to 253 total yards to capture their first national championship since 1951.
"This is the greatest feeling in the world," said cornerback Steve Johnson. "I really can't describe it. It ain't sunk in yet. I'm just happy, man. I'm happy for me, for the coaching staff, for the fans, for the whole state of Tennessee."
The Vol defensive backs were expecting a challenge from Warrick and the other Seminole receivers. The front four and linebackers put enough pressure on FSU quarterback Marcus Outzen that the Seminoles couldn't go deep, and he finished with just 9 completions in 22 attempts for 145 yards.
The Vols picked off a pair of passes, returning one for a score. They did so despite an excellent plan by Florida State that negated Wilson's blitzes.
"They forced me in a lot of directions I didn't want to go," Wilson said. "When I came in, they had somebody there waiting for me."
While the Seminoles were keeping a close eye on Wilson, linebackers Eric Westmoreland and Raynoch Thompson each had sacks, as did tackles Darwin Walker and Billy Ratliff. Outzen had 54 yards in losses and rarely threw without somebody in his face.
"Our front seven just played a great game," Johnson said. ``That was the key. First, we shut down the run, and once we got them in third-and-long, the defensive front pinned their ears back and chased Outzen the whole game."
Perhaps the biggest defensive play of the night for Tennessee was Dwayne
Goodrich's 54-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Vols a
Goodrich said he knew he had help from safety Deon Grant behind him, so when
Warrick broke off a short route in the right flat, Goodrich could gamble.
"The ball kind of floated out there," Goodrich said. ``I had to try to
make a play. To make an interception for a touchdown in a national championship
game, that's every defensive back's dream."
Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the plan worked like it was supposed
"That's what we said all week. If we could eliminate the big plays, we'd
have a chance to win," he said. "The kids made it happen. They just did a
And they've got the hardware to prove it.
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