Wildcats hold off short-handed 'Noles
by JEFFREY McMURRAY
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson had just handed Bobby Bowden his first December bowl loss, but that didn't stop the cordial Florida State coach from making proper introductions. "Where are you from, son?" Bowden asked as Woodson prepared to enter the interview room Monday following Kentucky's 35-28 victory in the Music City Bowl. Bowden may finally have a blemish on his December postseason record, but Woodson is still perfect. In fact, he improved to 2-0 against members of the Bowden family. The senior quarterback threw four TDs against a depleted Seminoles defense to win MVP honors for the second straight Music City Bowl.
The Wildcats hadn't ended consecutive seasons with bowl wins since 1951-52 under Bear Bryant, but they pulled off the feat in Nashville one year after surprising Clemson, coached by Bowden's son, Tommy. "It's been a long, long journey," said Woodson, who came to probation-saddled Kentucky as a freshman and was among a core group that helped turn the program's fortunes. "We've obviously left our mark here." As for the elder Bowden, who has led the Seminoles to 26 straight bowls and two national titles, his December bowl record dropped to 7-1-1. Bowden is major college football's winningest coach with 373 victories, one ahead of Penn State's Joe Paterno.
Florida State was playing three dozen players short due to injuries and suspensions stemming from an academic cheating scandal, and Bowden acknowledged the lack of depth had an impact. "I was worried about getting worn out," Bowden said. "We've always played a lot of people, and we simply couldn't play a lot of people in this ballgame." Woodson capitalized on the missing players with 358 yards passing and finished the season with 40 touchdown throws, breaking Tim Couch's school-record 37 set in 1998. It was the 19th consecutive game with at least 200 yards passing and a scoring touchdown for Woodson, a senior who figures to be among the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft. "He's got an NFL body, an NFL arm and he clearly has an NFL mind," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. The Wildcats took the lead for good midway through the third quarter on Woodson's 2-yard slant to Rafael Little, who ran for a season-high 152 yards on 28 carries. It was the 13th 100-yard rushing game for the senior running back, tying him for second on Kentucky's career list.
Antone Smith had a career-high 156 yards rushing for the Seminoles. Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford pulled the Seminoles to 28-21 with 8 minutes left on a 1-yard bootleg run _ his first career game with two rushing TDs. Weatherford completed 22 of 48 passes for 276 yards, a TD and two interceptions. Woodson immediately answered, dumping off a short pass that Steve Johnson took for 38 yards for his second TD reception. Johnson led all receivers with 126 yards. Weatherford would add a TD pass to Greg Carr with just over 2 minutes remaining, and Florida State got the ball back at the 1-minute mark behind by one score. "I've never questioned the character on this team and the integrity of these guys," Weatherford said. "We worked extremely hard in the ball game and we fought, but moral victories can only take you so far." Linebacker Micah Johnson appeared to come up with a clinching interception, but a fumble gave the Seminoles another chance. Weatherford's last-second pass fell incomplete in the end zone. "That's one of the biggest things that has changed about Kentucky football," Wildcats tight end Jacob Tamme said. "Guys, no matter what the situation, no matter what the score, no matter what the down, believe we're going to win the game."
Kentucky improved to 4-1-1 against the Seminoles in their first matchup since 1965. It was the first meeting ever between Bowden and Brooks, friends for nearly three decades. The score was 14-all after a first half in which Bowden and others on the Florida State sideline gave the officials an earful after two close calls. The Seminoles disputed an offensive pass interference call on Carr that negated a touchdown. Gary Cismesia wound up missing a field goal _ he didn't make any in the game and finished the season with 27, tied with Sebastian Janikowski for the Atlantic Coast Conference record. Florida State got the ball right back after Carr's penalty, recovering a second fumble by Little. Kentucky ended that possession with a goal-line stand, but the Seminoles' Tony Carter picked off Woodson's next pass and returned it 24 yards to tie the game. "He did a good job of nickel and diming us down the field, and that wears out the defense," Carter said of Woodson.
Kentucky appeared to pull ahead at the end of the half on a field goal by Lones Seiber, but Florida State was called for personal foul on the play. Brooks decided to try for the TD rather than keep the points, and Seiber eventually missed from 39 yards. Kentucky scored first, taking advantage of a blocked punt. Woodson soon connected with a wide-open Tamme from 14 yards out. The next time Kentucky had the ball, Little fumbled just short of the goal line. Carter grabbed the loose ball and ran 51 yards, stopped only after colliding with teammate Andre Fluellen. Weatherford, not known for dashing speed, scampered 27 yards on Florida State's first play of the next drive and later ran it in from 6 yards out to make it 7-all.