Date: October 17, 1992
Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field; Atlanta, Georgia
Opponent: No. 16 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The 1992 Florida State football season was the best of times and the worst of times, it was a new era of conference play, it was an old nemesis triumphant again on a kick wide right, it was a championship won, it was a championship just out of reach, it was a quarterback with dazzling promise, it was a quarterback with a jersey number matching his interception tosses, but most of all it was a season featuring a methodical offense, and it was a season showing off its newly created “fast break.”
Coming off the heartbreak of a 1991 season that witnessed arguably the highest peak performance by a Florida State team, only to have national title dreams dashed as the team was ravaged by injuries down the stretch, the 1992 season had plenty of unknowns. Sure there was hype, a pre-season top 5 ranking attests to that. But talk is cheap. Who would replace Heisman Trophy runner-up, Casey Weldon? Who would replace Jim Thorpe award winner, Terrell Buckley? Who would replace the dynamic backfield duo of Amp Lee and Edgar Bennett?
The season began simple enough. Playing for the first time as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, FSU jumped out to a 31-7 lead against Duke in the opener, on their way to an easy 48-21 win. Yes, Seminole point guard turned starting QB Charlie Ward threw four interceptions, but so what? It was probably just jitters, a first-time starter trying to make too much happen.
However, the next week saw much of the same as Clemson picked off four more interceptions. Now, Ward did win the game on a touchdown pass to Kevin Knox with 2:08 remaining, but eight interceptions in two games? Hey, a win is a win, right? (Speaking of Kevin Knox, check out this phenomenal catch he made on the game winning drive to move the chains. And while you’re there, might as well stick around for the rest of the drive...):
The next couple weeks looked better with back to back 20+ point wins over NC State and Wake Forest, and while Ward was only a combined 36-65 in the two games, at least he only threw one INT.
Then came Miami. Wide Right II. In a physical, defensive struggle, Ward completed just 50% of his passes (20-40) and threw two more interceptions. FSU settled for 6 field goal attempts—5 of them from less than 40 yards out—and in the end the Seminoles fell three points shy.
After five games, Ward had thrown 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. It was obvious he was immensely talented, but something just wasn’t clicking. No matter if it was the one-back set, or the classic FSU I-formation, Ward didn’t look comfortable under center. UNC came to Doak Campbell the following week and things seemed to be getting worse. For the game, Ward was 14-28 with zero passing TDs, two INTs, and just 170 yards in the air. After being spoiled with Peter Tom Willis, Brad Johnson, and Casey Weldon the previous three years, ‘Nole fans were getting restless.
Up next were the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The 1990 co-national champions, the Yellow Jackets came into the game 4-1, ranked 16th in the country, and looking to provide a rude conference welcome to the visiting Seminoles. They were led by senior quarterback Shawn Jones, Citrus Bowl MVP during their national title season and high school rival of Ward.
The Seminoles clung to a 7-6 lead at the half, but after more Ward miscues found themselves down 21-7 early in the 4th. William Floyd scored on a one-yard run to make it 21-14, however Georgia Tech pushed it back to a 10 point lead with 5:20 remaining. The Seminole season was on the brink.
Needing to score and score quickly, Bobby Bowden moved Ward to the shotgun and decided to run the offense with no huddle. This style of offense is common place today, but back then a hurry-up, spread attack was a radical change of pace. The basketball star looked immediately in his element, guiding the Seminoles 80 yards in two minutes, culminating with a five-yard touchdown scramble. After a missed two-point conversion, the deficit was down to four.
Ever the gambler, Bowden elected to go with an onside kick, which Corey Sawyer recovered. Ward led FSU down to the 17 yard line, where the ‘Noles faced a 4th and 5 with 1:56 left in the game. Enter Kez McCorvey.
After going no huddle and out of the shotgun for most of the 4th quarter, a timeout allowed Bowden to catch GT by surprise and go back to the “I.” Ward executed a simple three-step drop and hit Kez on a crisp “4” route. The sure-handed sophomore from Gautier, Mississippi made the catch, put on the brakes, and dove into the endzone right over the defender’s fallen jock strap.
When the dust cleared, FSU won 29-24 in what was considered by some at the time to be the best comeback in Seminole history. Ward accounted for 206 of FSU’s 207 yards in the 4th quarter.
The next week, Charlie returned under center and FSU slogged their way to a 13-3 win on a stormy, Halloween night in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ward was miserable, going 11-29 for just 128 yards and no touchdowns. Back in Tallahassee, the ‘Noles decided to adopt the newly minted “Fast Break” offense full time, unveiling it in full that weekend against Maryland. The unwitting Terrapins never knew what hit them, as FSU rolled up a school record 858 yards of total offense. Ward was spectacular, rushing and passing for 506 yards and six total touchdowns in less than 2.5 quarters of play.
The final three games of the season, FSU dominated Tulane, #6 Florida, and #11 Nebraska, outscoring those three by a combined score of 135 to 31 in the first 3 quarters of play, before backups finished out each game (those totals climb to 197-45 if you include the Maryland game). An offensive revolution was underway and college football had officially been put on notice.