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January 1, 1980
Fourth-ranked Florida State squared off against fifth-ranked Oklahoma in the 46th annual Orange Bowl. The Seminoles were under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Bobby Bowden. Since taking over in '76, inheriting a group that had been 4-29 the previous three years that included a 20-game losing streak from '72-'74, he had quickly resurrected a once proud program. He posted marks of 5-6, 10-2, with a win over Texas Tech in their first bowl appearance in seven years, and 8-3 in his first three seasons in Tallahassee. In fact, since beginning his tenure just 2-6, the turnaround had been remarkable, as Bowden had posted a stellar 32-5 mark. He brought an undefeated Florida State team riding a 15-game winning streak to Miami for their first-ever Orange Bowl, and first New Year's bowl in 15 years since last playing Oklahoma in the '65 Gator Bowl.
This would be his second match against Switzer, who had beaten Bowden while walking just his third game on the Seminoles' sideline. That was a game that, in an attempt to change the prevailing losing atmosphere, saw him start seven freshmen that gave Florida State a 6-3 lead after the first quarter, and they were within eight points until as late as halfway through the final period, before losing 24-9.
"They didn't think we could win, so we had to turn that around," Bowden said. "After we got whipped two or three times real good (21-12 to Memphis State and 47-0 to Miami), we just said we'll just start a youth movement and get ready for later on. We put those freshmen in there because they didn't know we were supposed to lose yet. We gave them a heck of ballgame out there." Three years later, it was that group of freshmen that put the Seminoles where they are.
Florida State began the season ranked #19 and they were looking to cap the school's first undefeated slate in 29 years, presenting what they believed to be a strong case for a national championship. But their problem was simply three-fold. First, they were an independent with no conference affiliation, and of their 11 opponents, only one had been ranked in the AP poll the week they had played them, South Carolina at #19. Second, of the three teams ranked ahead of them, Big Ten champ Ohio State and SEC champ Alabama both had unblemished records, and PAC-Ten champ Southern California was just a tad behind with only a tie, and each could boast a tougher schedule. And third and most importantly, of the 65 first place votes available, the Seminoles had not received even one, not just in the latest poll, but all year.
However, all of that talk came to an abrupt end earlier in the day. First, undefeated and second-ranked Alabama trounced #6 Arkansas, 24-9, in the Sugar Bowl, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games with one of coach Bear Bryant's finest teams, one that had scored 383 points and gave up a mere 67 on the entire season, shutting out five opponents and only allowing double digit points twice. Next, third-ranked USC marched 83 yards in the closing minutes for the winning touchdown and upset the top-ranked Buckeyes, 17-16, in the Rose Bowl, extending their unbeaten streak to 20 games. It meant that even if Florida State dominated the Sooners and blew them out, the pollsters probably would not send any first place votes their way. So, the Seminoles were playing for the pride of an undefeated season.
Florida State had averaged 39 points per game and operated with a two-quarterback system utilizing a pair of experienced seniors, Jimmy Jordan, the team's leading passer in '78, and Wally Woodham, the leader in '77. Completing roughly the same amount of passes, Jordan again had the better statistics, throwing for 1,173 yards and 13 touchdowns among his 87 connections, but also 14 interceptions, to Woodham's 940 yards and five touchdowns, but only three interceptions. The primary target was senior receiver Jackie Flowers, who led the team with 37 catches for 622 yards and seven touchdowns. It also featured senior fullback Mark Lyles, who had scored eight touchdowns and rushed for 1,011 yards, the second back in school history to go over 1,000, and was one of those key freshmen the last time the Seminoles had played Oklahoma.
On the other side of the ball, consensus All-American junior middle guard Ron Simmons led a swarming defense that had permitted an average of only 12.4 points per game, and had forced 40 fumbles during the season. Simmons finished with 81 tackles, 65 unassisted and got support from junior tackle Mark Macek. Behind them were a pair of junior linebackers, Reggie Herring, the team leader with 144 tackles, and Paul Piurowski, second with 123 tackles, but tied with Simmons for the team lead with six sacks. Manning the secondary were a pair of junior backs, as Bobby Butler had intercepted six passes and Mark Bonasorte had tied a school record with eight.
The Sooners (10-1) came in riding a modest six-game winning streak, their only demerit was a 16-7 loss to Texas early in the season, and were most recently coming off a huge win over rival Nebraska. Barry Switzer's offense ranked second in the country, averaging 34.7 points per game, and they also ranked second in rushing, averaging 351.6 yards per game. The game was to be '78 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims' final game in an Oklahoma uniform, and the consensus All-American was coming off a 22-touchdown, 1,506-yard campaign where he carried the bulk of the load, and finished as the Heisman runner-up behind USC's Charles White. Second on the team in rushing was freshman fullback Stanley Wilson, who contributed 491 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
At the helm was quarterback J.C. Watts, a junior from Eufaula who was in his first year guiding the offense after a two-tear apprenticeship under former great Thomas Lott. Watts rushed for 455 yards and scored ten touchdowns, but he also had also added a new dimension with his arm, passing for 785 yards and four scores.
Meanwhile, the Sooners' defense had permitted a similar 12.5 points per game. It was led by a pair of senior linebackers, Barry Dittman, who was second on the team with 119 tackles, and consensus All-American George Cumby, whose speed helped him account for 151 tackles. Heading into the game, it was a little banged up in the secondary, and some maneuvers had to be made.
After Florida State was held on their first possession in front of 66,714 spectators, they were forced to bring on Rohn Stark to punt. Oklahoma's Basil Banks fielded the ball at the Sooner 31 and faked to the right, split the crease up the middle, and raced 59 yards down to the Seminoles' ten-yard line before Scott Warren ran him down and caused a fumble. The ball went into the end zone, where Florida State's Ed Richardson recovered for the touchback.
The teams traded possessions, and the Seminoles got the ball back on their 26 to start their third series. Jordan directed his team down the field in a dozen plays, using a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Hardis Johnson to move the ball to midfield. Later, junior cornerback Jay Jimerson was flagged for interference in the end zone, giving the Seminoles a first-and-goal at the one. Sophomore back Michael Whiting carried it in from there to cap the 74-yard march. Senior kicker Dave Cappelen, another who had played three years ago and enjoyed a perfect 14-for-14 season, booted the extra point. It put Florida State ahead, 7-0 with just under 3 ½ minutes to go in the first quarter.
A few minutes later, after their defense held Oklahoma, Fred Keeling lined up to punt. But Butler came through to block it, and Keith Jones recovered, giving Florida State the ball on the Sooner 17. They were eagerly looking to looking to push another score across, and after first down, the period ended and the teams changed ends.
But a series of miscues left the Seminoles without a score. On a third down from the seven-yard line, Jordan threw a pass over the middle to Johnson. He caught the ball, but as he lunged for the goal line, fifth-year senior free safety Bud Hebert, starting in only his second game of the year met him with a ferocious hit and knocked the ball loose. Unfortunately, after much discussion by the officials, it was ruled an incomplete pass, and the ball was returned to the seven, bringing up fourth down and leaving Bowden to opt for the field goal try. After a delay of game penalty, thirding quarterback and holder Rick Stockstill fumbled the snap, kicker Dave Cappelen picked up the ball, and Cumby crashed through to bury him at the 19.
Sims followed with a quick 25-yard pickup. Two plays later, including a sack by James Gilbert, presented Oklahoma with a third down-and-15 from the 39. Watts ran the option to the right and found perfect containment, so he kept the ball and rambled 61 yards for a score, quieting the crowd with his longest run of the season, and the fifth longest touchdown run in Orange Bowl history. Keeling's kick tied the game at the 11:35 mark, 7-7.
The menacing Oklahoma defense, which was implementing five defensive backs to combat the Seminoles' aerial attack, took control of the game from this point. Florida State completed only two passes the rest of the game, good for only 24 yards, made only four first downs, and could not score again.
Following the ensuing kickoff, and on State's first play from the 20, Jordan fired a pass down the left sideline for Johnson, who was covered by cornerback Mike Babb. Hebert swooped in to intercept the ball at the 35 and returned it to the Seminole ten. Two plays later, after Florida State helped by jumping off sides, Wilson got the call from the five. Taking the ball from Watts, the frosh butted heads with Seminole tackle Jeremy Mendlin and was knocked backwards to the ten, where he regained his balance, spun out of a tackle and headed around the left end, rambling and leaping inside the end zone's flag for a touchdown. The bruising run, and Keeling's kick, shocked the crowd, as Oklahoma barely took half a minute to increase their lead to 14-7 with 10:59 left in the half.
Again the Sooner defense forced Stark to punt, but a poor 14-yard shank gave Oklahoma's offense the ball at the Seminole 41. Watts optioned the wishbone down field, including his 13-yard run to the four, before the Florida State defense stiffened at the three. Keeling kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it 17-7 with about three minutes remaining. Hebert picked off another pass late to end a faint Seminole drive and keep the lead into the locker room.
The majority of the remainder of the game was defensive standoff. Hebert picked off his third pass of the game early in the third quarter. It was sandwiched by a pair of Oklahoma fumbles, both of which were collected by Seminole defensive tackle Mark Macek. After Florida State was forced to punt the ball away and kill it at the Oklahoma one-yard line, they were running out of time to make up a 10-point deficit with 9:17 remaining.
Commanding the Sooners wishbone perfectly, Watts directed his troops all the way down the field, eating away the clock in the process. Wilson busted up the middle for 11, to move the ball to the Oklahoma 16. Later, Sims broke off a 15-yard run to move out to the 45, and then they crossed midfield, moving down to the Seminole 34 as the clock approached two minutes remaining.
As if the game was even in doubt, Watts started the next option by cutting up the right side, where he was collared in the secondary. But Sims had trailed him the entire time, and Watts magnificently managed to lateral to his back at the last instant, and Sims skipped untouched into the end zone. Television replays actually showed that the pitch traveled forward a couple of yards before Sims snagged it out of the air, but no flags were thrown in contradiction. Officially, Watts was credited with 12 yards and Sims with a 22-yard touchdown, and Keeling added another point to push the final score to 24-7.
Oklahoma had suffocated the Seminoles' perfect season, out-gaining them by a 447-182 margin, rushing for an Orange Bowl record 411, and the only bad mark was an Orange Bowl record tying four lost fumbles. Defensive honors were accorded to Hebert and his heroics, which included three interceptions.
In his final collegiate game, Sims had rushed for 164 yards on 24 carries, and scored a touchdown. He finished his career as the school's all-time rushing leader with 4,118 yards, breaking Joe Washington's mark, and Sims had scored 53 touchdowns for 318 points, trailing only Steve Owens in both categories.
Watts had added 127 yards on 15 carries, his highest output ever and garnering the game's outstanding offensive player. "I think we went into the game knowing that Florida State could beat us if we didn't play well," said Watts. "I think when we went up 17-7, it took some of the sting out of them, but then we started to play sloppy. Our fumbles may have cost us 18-24 points."
For Switzer, it marked the fourth time in his seven years as head coach that his Sooners had won 11 games, boosting his record to 73-7-2. "Our defensive football team played an outstanding game the last three quarters," he said. "We can run well on defense."
Source: Jeff Linkowski