64th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1998
#5 Florida State 31 (Final: 12-1, #4)
#9 Ohio State 14 (Final: 10-4, #9)
How Florida State and Ohio State Met in the 1998 Sugar Bowl
“We did not have time.”
Football, of course, is a 60 minute game.
But the 64th Sugar Bowl was really a 30 minutes game. It was over by the half.
Despite an early 3-0 Ohio State lead on a 40-yard field goal by Dan Stultz, Florida State dominated the trenches and the passing lanes while the game was on the line.
In the first half, the Seminoles had a stretch of eight plays in which they did not allow Ohio State to gain a yard. The Buckeyes’ offensive line simply couldn’t stop the charges of FSU defensive end Andre Wadsworth.
Split end E.G. Green caught six passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in the first 30 minutes. “It’s kind of like you hear Michael Jordan say, ‘if you can get in the zone, the basket gets so big you can’t miss,’ “said Green, who was the game’s MVP. “The coaches kept feeding me.”
FSU quarterback Thad Busby completed 18-of-25 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but he also threw two interceptions – one in the end zone with 6:08 left in the first quarter – that prevented the Seminoles from taking command even sooner.
Complete command came just before halftime when, with Florida State ahead 14-3, Seminole defensive back Shevin Smith picked off a Joe Germaine pass and returned it 51 yards to the OSU 23. That set up a two-play drive that lasted 17 seconds, ending when fullback William McCray scored from the 1 with 10 seconds remaining.
The way the Seminoles were manhandling the Buckeye offensive line, no one in the disappointing crowd of 67,289 could have logically believed Ohio State would be able to come back and score three touchdowns.
Florida State allowed Ohio State to move up and down the field in the second half, getting a touchdown before firing back with a touchdown and field goal. “Quick, relentless pressure throughout the ballgame,” marveled OSU coach John Cooper. “Their pass rush was the best I’ve seen in a long time. We did not have time to throw the football.”
Cooper’s assessment was backed up by his team’s quarterback statistics: field generals Stanley Jackson and Germaine combined for six interceptions and were sacked six times.
The big story, as it turned out, from the Sugar Bowl was the continuing saga of Bobby Bowden’s magic carpet ride at Florida State.
Twelve months after losing 52-20 to the Florida Gators in the Superdome, Bowden’s Seminoles returned for a notable bowl victory: his 16th in the postseason, one more than Alabama’s Bear Bryant, two shy of the record held by Penn State’s 71-year-old Joe Paterno.
And the superlatives didn’t end there.
The victory pushed Florida State to a final No. 3 ranking. Since 1987, the Seminoles had finished No. 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 2, 1, 4, 4, 3 and 3.
Coaches and programs have won more mythical titles, but none comes close to matching such a 10-year claim to excellence.
Story excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.