Thursday, January 2, 2003
Sugar: Georgia 26, Florida State 13
By Paul Newberry
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS - Georgia wasn't satisfied just making it to the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs wanted to finish their memorable season in style.
Consider it done.
Bruce Thornton returned an interception for a touchdown, backup quarterback D.J. Shockley tossed a scoring pass and No. 4 Georgia stymied a shorthanded Florida State team for a 26-13 victory Wednesday night.
Billy Bennett kicked four field goals and MVP Musa Smith rushed for 145 yards as the Bulldogs went conservative, throwing a season-low 15 passes. All they had to do was let Fabian Walker, making his first start at quarterback for the 16th-ranked Seminoles, beat himself.
Walker obliged, throwing two interceptions and also losing a fumble. The Seminoles had only one turnover in their last four regular-season games.
The Bulldogs (13-1) became the first team in school history to win 13 games, capping a breakthrough season in which sophomore coach Mark Richt steered the program back to national prominence.
Richt even got the satisfaction of beating his former boss. He served 14 years on Bobby Bowden's staff at Florida State before moving to Georgia in 2001.
"I'm thankful for the victory," Richt said. "I'm just thankful to Bobby Bowden still. He's still the teacher. I love him dearly, but I love Georgia and I'm real proud of these guys."
Plenty of Georgia fans were on hand to savor the moment. Red and black dominated the Superdome as the Bulldogs made their first Sugar Bowl appearance since the 1982 season - also the year of their last Southeastern Conference championship.
Florida State (9-5), playing in the Sugar Bowl for the sixth time in 15 years, was viewed as the most unworthy team in the Bowl Championship Series. Their performance did little to change that perception, handing Bowden his first five-loss season since 1981.
"Our offense was not very structured," Bowden said. "The split-second timing definitely wasn't there. We were just kind of hoping someone could make some plays."
In all fairness, the Seminoles might have given a better showing at full strength. But they lost their top two quarterbacks and had to go with third choice Walker, who had thrown only eight passes in his career.
Why was Walker playing? Adrian McPherson was kicked off the team in late November for allegedly stealing a check, while Chris Rix was suspended from the bowl after he overslept and missed a final exam.
Walker, a Georgia native, threw both interceptions when trying to force passes to well-covered receivers. Thornton took his interception 71 yards for a touchdown, putting the Bulldogs ahead for good with 61/2 minutes left in the first half.
On Florida State's first offensive play of the second half, Walker was stripped of the ball by Will Thompson and Ken Veal recovered for the Bulldogs, setting up Bennett's third field goal of the night and a comfortable 23-7 lead.
The Seminoles gave star receiver Anquan Boldin a shot at quarterback, hoping he could spark the offense. It might have worked, too, if Talman Gardner had not dropped a perfectly thrown deep pass near the goal line.
Boldin hopped up and down in dismay after the ball slipped through Gardner's hands. On the next play, Boldin bruised his left hand when dragged down behind the line, knocking him out for the rest of the first half.
After getting his hand checked out, Boldin came back to throw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Craphonso Thorpe on the final play of the third quarter. It wasn't enough.
Boldin also caught a touchdown pass, hauling down a 5-yarder from Walker early in the second quarter to give the Seminoles a short-lived 7-3 lead.
Georgia's offense didn't do much, managing just one touchdown on its own - and even that score was set up by Damian Gary's 26-yard punt return.
Shockley, who played four series in relief of starter David Greene, took advantage of Gary's long return right away, lofting a 37-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Edwards on his only throw of the night.
On his way down the field to celebrate, Shockley jawed with a couple of Florida State players, undoubtedly a holdover from a fumble on his first possession.
That was Georgia's only turnover. The Bulldogs went conservative, relying on one of the nation's top-ranked defenses to shut down the Seminoles.
Smith had 18 of his 23 carries in the second half, rushing for 108 yards over the final two quarters.
"We started to pound the ball down their throat," he said. "At halftime, coach Richt said he was going to run it in the third and fourth quarters."
With Richt at the helm, the Bulldogs are certainly a program on the rise.
"The greatest thing he did, he brought us the blueprint of working hard," Smith said. "All of us came together as a team. I'm looking forward to great things next year."
Bennett connected on field goals of 23, 42, 25 and 35 yards to give him 130 points for the season, breaking Garrison Heart's school record of 126 in 1992.
Florida State, which earned an automatic BCS bid by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference, was the only team playing in a major bowl with more than two losses.
For the second year in a row, the Seminoles failed to win 10 games - a standard that used to be automatic in Tallahassee.
In fact, Florida State has lost nine games the last two years - equaling its total number of defeats from 1992-99.
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Capital One: Auburn 13, Penn St. 9
Cotton: Texas 35, LSU 20
Gator: North Carolina St. 28, Notre Dame 6
Outback: Michigan 38, Florida 30
Rose: Oklahoma 34, Washington St. 14
Sugar: Georgia 26, Florida State 13
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No. 25 Texas Tech 62, Houston 48
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