The 'Noles of 90s are back
Posted October 23, 2013
I saw former North Carolina star Bucky Brooks at a football game last year, and I took the chance to remind him of what I consider to be his signature moment as a Tar Heel – making a diving catch in the end zone at Kenan Stadium to give his team the lead against Florida State.
OK, it was just a 7-0 lead and FSU went on to win that game easily, 33-7. But for ACC schools in the 90’s, snatching even a brief lead against the powerful Seminoles was a pretty rare thing.
Truth be told, the ‘Noles struggled a little their first season. They beat Clemson 24-20, and they actually trailed Georgia Tech in Atlanta by double digits in the fourth quarter but came back to win.
Still, they defeated their eight ACC opponents by an average of nearly 20 points per game in 1992 and then really turned it on in 1993, their national championship year. Part of what made Bucky Brooks’ touchdown so special was that he was just one of two players to score a touchdown against the ‘Noles in their first four ACC games and only one of six who scored touchdowns against FSU in conference games all year.
Florida State lost Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Charlie Ward following that national championship season. Bobby Bowden replaced him with Danny Kanell, and he decided to push the tempo. Remember the Florida State fast break attack?
ACC teams had never seen anything like it. Going no huddle most of the game, Kanell would pass his opponents dizzy. Kanell once completed 41 throws in a game. Another time he completed 40.
Ten times he passed for more than 300 yards. Kanell threw for 32 touchdown passes in 1995 – that’s one of the top five totals in ACC history. And the ‘Noles of 94-95 weren’t just a passing team. After Kanell would hit Andre Cooper for 17 yards (or 27), he would hand the ball off to Warrick Dunn, who averaged about 7 yards per carry for his career. His 7.5 yards per carry in 1995 is the highest in Florida State history.
The 1994 ‘Noles also had Derrick Brooks, who scored a touchdown every other week it seemed like even though he never played anything but defense. The Florida State team of 1994 averaged 36 points per game. The ’95 team averaged 48 points per game. FORTY-EIGHT POINTS!
That’s still an FSU and ACC record.
After rolling to 29 straight league victories, Florida State suffered a stunning loss late in 1995 at Virginia. Bobby Bowden said later at the ACC Football Awards Banquet that while he hated to lose that game, “It was the best thing for the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
Amen, Brother Bobby. And then the ‘Noles went out and won another 18 straight ACC games.
Kanell departed and gave way to Thad Busby, who in 1996 became the first Florida State quarterback NOT to make first-team All-ACC. No problem.
The ’96 ‘Noles had Peter Boulware, who recorded an ACC record 19 sacks. Oh yeah, they also had Reinard Wilson, who notched 13.5 sacks. Wilson actually has more career sacks than Boulware, and together they rank second and third in ACC history.
Andre Wadsworth was a year behind Wilson and Boulware, but he also ranks among the ACC’s top 30 in career sacks and was definitely part of the defense that terrorized ACC foes in 1996-97.
There is one game against North Carolina during this time period that stands out. No, not the 20-3 FSU romp at Kenan Stadium when both schools were highly ranked. I’m talking about the ’96 game at Tallahassee.
Playing in a steady rain, the Tar Heels held the ‘Noles without an offensive touchdown, although FSU won 13-0. I still remember Bowden’s halftime interview where he wondered how his team was going to get a first down against UNC’s young corners (Dre Bly and Robert Williams).
In 1998, NC State joined Virginia as the only ACC teams to beat Florida State during the 90’s. Torry Holt, who will always be “Touchdown Torry” following his unprecedented five touchdown performance at FSU in 1997, led the Wolfpack to a 24-7 win at Carter-Finley Stadium.
If I remember correctly, the goal posts not only came down that day, but were carried down Hillsborough Street by excited NC State students.
But that was all the losing Florida State would do at the end of the old millenneum. Behind Chris Weinke and Peter Warrick, FSU closed out the 90’s with 23 more consecutive wins and another national championship.
By the standards of Tallahassee, Florida State has struggled since 2001, losing an additional six times to NC State, six times to Clemson and four times to Wake Forest. Not counting new members Pitt and Syracuse, every ACC team has now beaten Florida State in at least one league game except Duke.
There have been no national championships since 2000, and only four ACC Championships.
The current Florida State team reminds me very much of the 'Noles of the 90s. Watching Jimbo Fisher’s squad crush Clemson Saturday night brought back a flood of memories of the players and achievements noted above.
The Seminoles didn’t just defeat the Tigers – they overwhelmed them in every facet of the game.
Famous Jameis Winston is playing better in his first year than any of the other storied Florida State quarterbacks. Did you see the first touchdown pass he threw in the corner of the end zone? It’s no wonder Dabo Swinney challenged the play – it was such a tight window, it didn’t seem humanly possible the ball could be caught in bounds. But it was.
I’ve seen Winston throw at least five other passes for touchdowns in similar tight spaces. So dominant is the FSU passing game now that a tough player like James Wilder can leave the game with an injury and hardly anyone notice he’s gone. Of course, FSU’s other back, Devonta Freeman, can get yards in the Warrick Dunn tradition.
Defensively, there are no pass rushers like Boulware, Wilson, Wadsworth, or even last year’s star Bjoern Werner. But Mario Edwards and the guys up front hold gains to a minimum. And Lamarcus Joyner could be one of the better defensive playmakers Florida State has seen in a while.
His interception and forced fumble helped doom Clemson to a very long night.
Of course, the season is not over yet. Florida State still must play nemesis NC State (with Brandon Mitchell at quarterback), and Miami – could the game come down to a field goal? Wide left, wide right? Probably not.
Florida State has more than talent. They're confident. We all saw the scene in the locker room where young Winston admonished his teammates to “put a smile on your face. We’re Florida State. We’re gonna go do this.”
And while Bowden was correct that in 1995 what the ACC needed most was a Florida State loss to Virginia, it’s clear what the ACC needs now. After years of thumpings by the other major conferences, what the ACC needs most now is a national championship contender.
And Florida State is that team.