A perplexing, frustrating season ended Saturday, and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was clearly relieved.
"In all my years, I can never remember a year where our offense just went dry," he lamented after the 30-18 win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl at Jacksonville. "My golly. I still got involved in that thing as much as I always have. It just seemed like we couldn't get anything going offensively."
In the last five regular-season games, the Seminoles failed to score a first-half offensive touchdown. That cost them against Maryland and Florida, losses that eliminated them from the Bowl Championship Series.
Such struggles have fueled rumors of a staff shakeup, including the demotion of offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, and the departures of offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins and quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey.
"When fans look at a football program and they see you lose, they want to blame somebody," the coach said. "(They say), "Let's fire the offensive coordinator.' Or, "Let's fire the defensive coordinator.' Or, "Let's fire the head coach. Let's fire somebody.' We don't look at it (like that). We look at what's wrong, how come this happened, how come that happened. Then we look at it over and over and we see what happened. We can put our finger on that. I see some things we can correct."
Without commenting on whether fixes include staff moves, something he has done rarely, Bowden said there will be a revised offensive philosophy. He said defenses blitz more, and the way to beat that is to use more one-back, three- and four-wide receiver sets.
"When you play two backs, which we did (Saturday), and thank goodness we blocked and ran," he said, "that allows them to come in there and bring everybody, and you can't get those backs out there for passes. If you watch Southern Cal, that's what they're doing. They'll go to a two-back set and just get demolished. Then (they'll) go to the one back, start spreading people out, and start moving that ball around."
FSU has the running backs with junior Leon Washington, the MVP of the Gator Bowl with 195 yards, and sophomore Lorenzo Booker to be successful in a none-back formation.
The Seminoles had a season-high 301 rushing yards Saturday, more than double the combined total (141) in their three losses. And that was with a patchwork line that had freshman David Overmyer starting in place of senior Ray Willis at tackle, and Brian Ross playing for injured center David Castillo.
A preview of 2005?
"We're going to run at you baby, so get ready," Washington said.
But Bowden stressed it's not simply the plays called. For the last few seasons, his team has struggled to find an offensive identity. It went to one extreme or the other with different personnel, essentially making the Seminoles predictable.
"We've got to get a blend," Bowden said, again trumpeting the possibilities that a one-back set affords.
Still, the scheme will need returning wideouts Willie Reid, Chris Davis, De'Cody Fagg, Lorne Sam and redshirt freshman Kenny O'Neal to punish gambling defenses.
Davis, the former St. Petersburg Catholic star, caught three passes totaling 39 yards against the Mountaineers, including a leaping 15-yarder on a critical third-quarter touchdown drive.
"I just wanted to let everybody know I'm ready for next year," he said.
The success of any offensive philosophy, however, depends on the quarterback. FSU hasn't had consistent play, and that, too, will have to change.
Wyatt Sexton, a third-year sophomore who started seven games this season, likely will enter the fall as the No. 1 quarterback. But he lacks mobility and struggled against the blitz. Freshmen Drew Weatherford, the former Land O'Lakes standout, and Xavier Lee are more athletic. Weatherford took one snap before season-ending right ankle and Achilles' tendon injuries. Lee didn't play.
"In high school, I did everything from the option to four-wide," Weatherford said. "I just like to play football."