Archives: No. 2 Notre Dame makes power count in 1993 win over No. 1 Florida State

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Darn that Lou Holtz. He knew it all along.

All week leading up to Notre Dame's ballyhooed bout against Florida State, Holtz’s sly smile said he knew something the rest of the world didn't.

Saturday, while the world looked on, the No. 2 Irish bullied the Seminoles out of their No. 1 ranking with a 31-24 victory that wasn't decided until Shawn Wooden broke up a pass headed for the end zone as time ran out.

What did Holtz know? It's simple: Speed is scary, but power wins.

The flashy 9-1 Seminoles didn't swagger out of Notre Dame Stadium the way they came in. Instead, they limped out with respect for a 10-0 Irish team that turned discipline and power into a path to the top.

“Notre Dame wins the game and ya’ll ask me questions,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “I don't mean any of them as excuses or alibis. They won the game because they were the better team today.”

What Holtz knew was how his team would respond to its biggest challenge.

“We played awfully, awfully well,” Holtz said. “I thought we would play well. Today, we were the best football team in the stadium.”

But, where did his confidence come from?

“Late last week, late at night on the Art (& Entertainment) channel, they had a special on Dwight Eisenhower,” Holtz said. “The one thing Dwight Eisenhower said was, ‘If you don't have a positive attitude with the commander, victory is impossible.’”

Victory Saturday became possible when Holtz and the awesome Irish offensive line ran the ball down the throat of Florida State's defense.

Tailback Lee Becton was the recipient of most of the glory handed to him by the offensive line. Becton followed his blocks to rush for 122 yards on 26 carries, including a 26-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

With Becton in the lead, tying a school record with five straight rushing efforts over 100 yards, Notre Dame compiled 239 yards on the ground against the vaunted Seminole defense.

“That was tremendous running of the football,” Bowden said. “Position for position, there is no one better at running the football.”

But the Seminoles had the Notre Dame defense on the run until the final gun.

In the final three minutes of the game, the Seminoles turned a 31-17 Irish walkaway into a nailbiter that came close to adding another chapter to the legend of quarterback Charlie Ward.

Ward engineered one 45-yard touchdown drive, climaxed by a 20-yard scoring pass to Kez McCorvey, to cut the difference to 31-24 with 2:26 left in the game.

Wooden recovered Scott Bentley's onside kick at the Florida State 48. Three unsuccessful running plays later, Adrian Jarrell shanked a 5-yard punt and gave Florida State one last shot with 51 seconds and one timeout left.

Ward hit four straight passes, the two big ones a 19-yarder and an 18-yarder to the Irish 14 with 10 seconds to play. An incomplete pass set the stage for one last chance.

After the shotgun snap, Ward looked long and hard. He rolled left and chose Warrick Dunn as his target in the end zone, even though Matt Frier was open at the 5. Before the ball was within three yards of Dunn, Wooden came up and the Seminoles were done.

“My job was to read Charlie,” said Wooden, who was the sixth defensive back in the Irish alignment. “When he scrambled to my side, I said over and over, ‘just stay home.’ We knew if everybody stayed in their zone and did their job it would turn out fine.”

Wooden batted the ball away and ignited a ferocious celebration that may still be going on.

The Irish defense was faced with the gimmicks and no-huddle ‘fast-break offense’ that is a trademark of the Seminoles. Notre Dame's primary objective of stopping the run was accomplished, yielding just 96 net yards. Ward threw for 297 yards, but never cashed in on a big play for more than 20 yards.

Ward put the ball in the air 50 times, completed 31 and was intercepted once, breaking a string of 159 consecutive passes without a theft. Besides his late TD pass to McCorvey, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate hit Kevin Knox (12 yards) and Dunn (six).

The Irish, though, were ready for the challenge Ward presented. They took away his outside scrambling routes and forced him to operate within the pocket most of the day. He ran 11 times for a net 38 yards. Those numbers include two sacks (both by Bryant Young) for 22 yards.

“The pressure we put on Ward kept him in the pocket,” Irish defensive tackle Jim Flanigan said. “We didn't want him to go anywhere.”

Taking away that aspect of the Florida State offense, as well as limiting the running game, cut down the Seminoles’ options.

At one point in the second quarter, Ward misfired on six straight passes. That frustration allowed Notre Dame to make strides on offense.

Ward was masterful on Florida State's first possession. He navigated his offense 89 yards on 10 plays as FSU went up 7-0 on the pass to Knox.

The Irish answered with a bit of deception. Jarrell got the call on an end around that traveled 32 yards and evened the score.

The Irish went ahead for good in the second quarter when Becton ran 26 yards for a TD. The advantage went to 21-7 when John Covington picked off a poorly thrown Ward pass and gave the Irish the ball on the Seminole 23. Jeff Burris scored the first of his two touchdowns from six yards out.

Kevin Pendergast made the score 24-7 when he connected on a field goal, with a 20-mile per hour wind behind him, from a career-long 47 yards.

Ward marched Florida State 80 yards in 11 plays, ending with a 6-yard pass to Dunn, for a 24-14 tally heading into the fourth quarter. Bentley drilled a 14-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and things were interesting at 24-17.

The Irish answered Bentley's boot by going 80 yards. This time, Burris scored from 11 yards for a 34-17 Notre Dame lead. Receiver Lake Dawson, who had dropped a wide-open opportunity early in the game, came up with a crucial 14-yard reception to keep that drive alive and set the stage for the last-minute thrills.

Notre Dame running back Ray Zellers runs the ball against Florida State in 1993’s “Game of the Century” at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
Notre Dame quarterback Kevin McDougal barks out signals against Florida State in 1993. The second-ranked Irish defeated the No. 1 Seminoles, 31-24, in what at the time was dubbed the, “Game of the Century.”
Notre Dame fans stormed the field after the Irish upset No. 1 Florida State at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 13, 1993.

Notre Dame will stream Saturday the 1993 NBC broadcast of No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Notre Dame on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The stream can be found on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish YouTube channel or directly at this link:

The Tribune's Eric Hansen and Tom Noie will be part of a live chat during the YouTube stream.

Notre Dame has scheduled YouTube re-broadcasts of other old games for the remaining Saturdays in April.

April 11: 1992 vs. Penn State

April 18: 2006 vs. UCLA

April 25: 2019 vs. Virginia Tech

Editor's Note: This is a reprint of the No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Notre Dame game story written by Al Lesar from the Nov. 14, 1993 edition of the South Bend Tribune.

By Eric Hansen

Twenty-seven seasons ago, I benevolently had my game assignment switched the week of Nov. 13 to be a part of the South Bend Tribune’s coverage of “The Game of the Century.”

That wasn’t us hyping the epic matchup between No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 1 Florida State at Notre Dame Stadium. That was the consensus of the college football world, and the actual game more than lived up to it.

I was the paper’s Big Ten beat writer at the time, and so my assignment was more ancillary than front and center.

My job was to provide the Florida State perspective, so that included refamiliarizing myself with eventual 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who had earlier crossed my path as a basketball player in a 1992 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana University in Albuquerque that I had covered.

I also had to take a deep dive into what the word “bumfuzzled” meant, because I was told I’d quite possibly be hearing that come out of Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden’s mouth at some point. So I watched the game through a Florida State prism.

On Saturday night, I get to rewatch the game — for the first time, I might add — and this time from an ND perspective. It’s part of a watch party Notre Dame football is hosting on its YouTube channel.

Former Irish cornerback Shawn Wooden, one of ND’s many heroes on that unseasonably warm (high of 64 degrees) afternoon in South Bend, will join me, as will Tribune columnist Tom Noie and some other guests in commenting on the game as we watch.

You can chime in too. Here’s the link:

Below you’ll find Al Lesar’s game story from the 31-24 Irish triumph that vaulted Notre Dame to the top of the polls, albeit a short-lived run there.

For the record, the game I originally had been assigned to was Indiana at Ohio State. The Hoosiers had started the season 7-1 and were ranked 19th when they fell just short, 23-17, to the No. 5 Buckeyes.

That season didn’t end well for either Indiana or me. The Hoosiers lost three of their last four games to finish 8-4, and we all ended up in Shreveport, La., together for the holidays for a bowl game.