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Seminoles Show Detmer Why They Are No. 1, 44-28

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Florida State’s No. 1 ranking rests easy today, but the shrinking legend of Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer and his Heisman Trophy does not.

The top-ranked Seminoles defeated the 19th-ranked Cougars, 44-28, Thursday evening at Anaheim Stadium, but who counted after a while? On a night when Florida State might have been able to beat the Rams, to say nothing of overmatched BYU, the Seminoles left little doubt why they began the season No. 1 and will stay there until further notice.

Not so convincing was Detmer, who couldn’t repeat the magic of a year ago, when his underdog Cougars provided 1990 with its most impressive upset, a shocking victory over then-No. 1 Miami. The victory helped propel Detmer to the Heisman and talk of a second statuette in 1991.

Good luck. Detmer finished with 19 completions in 32 attempts, 229 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, three sacks and one fumble. Not bad, but no one was penning a sonnet about the performance.

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Instead, Detmer was listed as Reason No. 1 for BYU’s struggles. Any more criticism and Detmer will need his stiff-arming Heisman as a weapon to fend off the mounting doubts.

Actually, Detmer did what he could, which wasn’t much against a Florida State defense bent on reversing a disturbing rankings trend. In 1990, the aforementioned Hurricanes blew their top ranking. The year before, it was Michigan that tumbled from atop the polls after its opener. And in 1988, it was none other than the Seminoles whose reign as No. 1 lasted about a week.

This time there would be no upset. With 38,363 in attendance, Florida State scored early and often and could have probably done more damage had its first teams stayed on the field for the duration. Instead, Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden showed mercy.

“We really had great experience on (BYU),” Bowden said.

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They had more than that. They had a balanced attack--275 yards rushing, 268 yards passing. They had a defense that pestered Detmer and amazed BYU Coach LaVell Edwards at every turn. “I’ve never seen a faster defensive team,” Edwards said. And they had a quarterback--Casey Weldon--who did everything that Detmer didn’t.

“I wanted to come out and show there was another guy on the other side of the field, too,” said Weldon, who completed 21 of 28 passes for those 268 yards and two touchdowns.

He did. The Cougar defense, at times playing with three freshmen on the line, was virtually helpless on several textbook Florida State scoring drives. And before Detmer is completely buried, remember that BYU began the season with a young offensive line and virtually a new set of receivers.

Still, it is hard to ignore the facts. In Detmer’s last three games, the Cougars have been outscored, 168-70. BYU is 0-3 in that span.

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Of course, don’t tell Bowden any of this. He said he was scared stiff of the Detmer mystique.

“This guy did it all tonight,” he said of Detmer. “He’s unbelievable.”

The same could be said of Florida State.

If the Seminoles were nervous about their No. 1 ranking, they didn’t show it in the first half. After all, how tense can you be with Bowden, who never met a gimmick he didn’t like, approving the plays from the sideline?

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First FSU play: a 19-yard flanker reverse.

Second FSU play: a 30-yard pass from Weldon to flanker Eric Turral.

Third FSU play: a 10-yard run by Weldon.

You get the idea. Six plays later, the Seminoles had a 7-0 lead, thanks to a four-yard scoring pass from Weldon to fullback Edgar Bennett. There wasn’t a BYU defender within two body-lengths.

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This is the way it went for Florida State in the first quarter. Three drives, two scores, the second on a three-yard run by Bennett.

As Florida State cruised to a 13-0 lead (the Seminoles missed the second extra-point attempt), BYU and Detmer struggled. A lot.

Detmer was one for four on the Cougars’ initial drive, fumbled the ball away on the second possession and threw an interception to cornerback Terrell Buckley, sort of a quieter version of former Seminole defensive back Deion Sanders, on the third BYU possession. Detmer’s finest moments, they weren’t.

Things improved for Detmer in the second quarter.

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Continuing a drive that began late in the first period, he took BYU from its 11-yard line to, ta-da, a touchdown. A 13-yard pass kept the drive alive on third and 11 at the Cougar 10, and a 33-yard completion to flanker Micah Matsuzaki on third and two at its 46 put BYU deep in Seminole territory.

Softened at last by Detmer’s passes, the Florida State defense decided to try a new tactic. It blitzed. The Cougars thanked FSU by running a draw play, which caught the Seminoles naked in the middle, which is exactly where fullback Peter Tuipulotu dashed virtually untouched for a 21-yard scoring run. The extra point cut the FSU lead to 13-7.

BYU followers would like to forget what happened during the next 10 minutes. One moment, the Cougars trailed by a scant six points. Two Florida State drives later, they found themselves down, 28-7. You could almost hear the television sets clicking off around the country.

Whatever the Seminoles tried, worked. The run? Success galore. Bennett and halfback Amp Lee rarely gained less than a handful of yards. The pass? It was a shocker when a Weldon attempt didn’t land gently in the hands of a wide-open FSU receiver. Third-down tries? The Seminoles were four for four during the two scoring drives.

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With 8:56 remaining in the second quarter, Weldon found Turral for a six-yard touchdown pass and a 21-7 lead. About four minutes later, it was Lee’s turn to score, this time on a five-yard run.

The Cougars did what they could. Again relying on two favorites--Detmer and, later, the draw play--BYU cut the deficit to 14 points. Detmer moved the Cougars from their eight to the FSU 22, all on the strength of his right arm. Then, on first and 10, Detmer dropped back, handed the ball to Tuipulotu and watched him score on the same play used earlier in the quarter.

“Toward the end of the season, we’re going to be a great football team,” Detmer said.

Until then, the young season belongs to Florida State. Thursday night, the Seminoles earned it.

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