Bobby Bowden faced some tough questions Sunday after a 20-17 loss to Auburn that undoubtedly will go down as one of the most bitter in his career. With a 32-4 record in the past three seasons, the Florida State coach rarely has had his decisions second-guessed. But Bowden made two moves Saturday night at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium that left him _ and FSU fans _ wondering.
One came with FSU (4-2) holding a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Less than seven minutes were left, and FSU faced third-and-17 at Auburn's 41. A 10-yard pass play would put FSU in field-goal range. An incompletion would set up a punt that might have pinned the Tigers back at the goal line with the length of the field to go for the tying touchdown.
But Bowden called for a "fumblerooskie," a trick play that _ had it worked _ might have resulted in a touchdown and made Bowden look like a genius.
Instead, when quarterback Casey Weldon set the ball on the ground behind center Robbie Baker for guard Hayward Haynes to pick up and run away from the flow, Auburn nose guard Walter Tate fell on the ball.
Auburn then got the tying touchdown.
"We ran it in practice and it looked real good," Bowden said Sunday. "I thought like we needed a big play. We had some opportunities to wrap it up and hadn't done it. I thought that play would score. I just had a good feeling it would. That one backfired."
Haynes said the only reason the play didn't work was Tate didn't do his job.
"I guess he was tired," Haynes said. "He was too tired to rush. He just laid on the ball."
Said offensive coordinator Brad Scott: "That's part of Florida State's offense. We didn't just draw that play up in the dirt. That was a time when we thought they would least expect it."
Weldon wasn't second-guessing the head coach. "That's coach Bowden," he said. "That's the reason I came to Florida State. He's willing to take the risks."
Later, Bowden again took a risk that contributed to the loss. Tied at 17, the Seminoles drove down the field looking for the winning points. On fourth-and-5 at the Auburn 37, Bowden went for it and watched as Weldon, almost comically, staggered away from Auburn linebacker Reggie Sutton before finally being sacked for a 22-yard loss. The Tigers then drove for Jim Von Wyl's winning field goal.
"If I could have been positive that (Auburn coach) Pat (Dye) would have gone for it (the victory), I would have been better off punting," Bowden said. "If he (Dye) wants to throw down there, now you're setting up for us to make an interception."
Penalties: FSU was penalized 14 times for 134 yards, including several crucial personal-foul penalties. The most costly might have been the one by safety Leon Fowler, who hit Dale Overton out of bounds after quarterback Stan White's pass had sailed over his head. The incompletion would have meant third-and-10 for Auburn at FSU's 45. Instead, the Tigers got the ball first-and-10 at FSU's 30. Five plays later, Stacy Danley scored the game-tying touchdown.
So that touchdown was set up by an FSU turnover (the "fumblerooskie") and a personal-foul penalty. Auburn's first touchdown also was set up by a turnover (Terrell Buckley fumbled a punt) and a personal foul on cornerback Errol McCorvey.
"Most young kids don't have discipline, and you have to learn it," Bowden said. "It could have been that they were hustling. Or it could have been poor judgment."
Redemption: Tampa's John Wimberly seemingly had lost his punting job because of poor performance, but got another chance Saturday and made the most of it, averaging 44.7 yards on six kicks, including a 55-yarder.