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Saturday, December 27, 2008
FSU romps over Wisconsin


Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

North Carolina, even in its losing effort, set the entertainment bar high with an instant classic in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and the ACC's second game of the day paled in comparison.

Even the officials got caught sleeping in this one.

Florida State's speed beat Wisconsin's power repeatedly, and the Seminoles earned their first nine-win season since 2004. Considering how poorly the Badgers played, though, it wasn't exactly the kind of win that will have everyone proclaiming the program is back. It was a convincing postseason win nonetheless, and Bobby Bowden will take it -- especially considering it didn't happen last year.

The two major factors in this game were Florida State's defense and kicker/punter/Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano. Gano pinned Wisconsin deep in its own territory, as three of his punts dropped inside the 3-yard line in the first half, and once inside the 10. It gave the defense momentum and energy early.

The Seminoles' defense was the difference in the game, as they snagged three turnovers and kept Wisconsin's bruising, powerful backs off the field. Two of those fumbles were returned for touchdowns, and Florida State actually wound up controlling the clock by about 10 minutes. If defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews wanted to retire, he couldn't have asked for a better sendoff from his players, but all indications from within the program are that he'll be back for another season.

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder spent much of the first half on his bad back, but had enough playmakers around him -- namely receiver Greg Carr -- to take advantage of Wisconsin's mistakes on defense.

Ponder struggled with his accuracy in the first half because there was so much pressure on him, but improved in the second half when the offensive line gave him some time to throw. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has played it safe most of the season with his play calling, keeping Ponder to shorter throws. Ponder's at his best with the play action, when he uses his feet and rolls out of the pocket. Overall, he managed the offense without turning it over and will only get better.

Florida State does have a balanced offense, but the running game has been the backbone, and Wisconsin took that away and forced Ponder to beat them. Antone Smith ran it when it counted, though, and was more effective later in the game. He also got some help from Ty Jones, who will be part of the future of FSU's running game along with Jermaine Thomas.

Even without injured playmaker Preston Parker, one of the team's top receivers, FSU's depth, height and athleticism at the position were too much for Wisconsin to handle.