By the time 1987 had rolled around, Bobby Bowden had the machine at Florida State up and running. Suddenly trading off the hated leg humpers from Athens for the 'Noles on the schedule didn't seem like such a good deal as it did when it was originally done. Clemson really took a backseat to nobody in terms of talent from 1987-1990, especially on defense. Those teams lacked a truly elite quarterback or who knows what might have been achieved, but the other pieces were in place with dynamic guys at running back, a powerful offensive line, and at least one playmaker on the edge. The game in Death Valley in 1988 was a classic that ended with the crushing trick play of all trick plays. The 1989 team had the task of going to Doak Campbell with a new (albeit a senior) quarterback in Chris Morocco. The Noles were a worry because of their advanced passing attack, which was a style of offense that had given Clemson defenses trouble here and there through the 80's. What was more worrisome was they were coming off an upset loss to Southern Mississippi thanks to a quarterback named Brett Farve. FSU was bound to be fired up and ready to roll against the Tigers.
I will never forget watching the events leading up to the game. The entire Clemson team stepped out on the field as FSU did their flaming spear bit. They held those orange helmets high and somehow there was just a feeling they were going to do something special that night. The first half featured some of the most dominant football Clemson has ever played in my lifetime. FSU, like Miami at the time, was full of brash showboating players and represented the new wave of college football. Meanwhile, the Tigers were a throwback to the classic smashmouth teams that dominated things in the 70's and most of the 80s. The returning players from 1988 remembered all too well the antics of Deion Sanders and others in Death Valley. They flat got after FSU on both sides of the ball from the opening play. Quarterback Peter Tom Willis got introduced to the 89 defense early and often as Rob Bodine, Chester McGlockton, Levon Kirkland, Ed McDaniel, John Johnson, and others totally swarmed the FSU offense. Meanwhile, Chris Morocco was operating at a very high level when called upon to pass and the Tiger stable of running backs, led by pre-knee injury Terry Allen, ripped off chunks of yards. The first quarter ended with Clemson up 7-0, but FSU had no first downs and -19 total yards while the Tigers had nearly 150 yards of offense. The second quarter was even more lopsided as Allen busted through for another 1 yard run to make it 14-0. What followed next were two of the most iconic plays in Clemson history.
FSU finally got some offense going, partially due to their first 1st down of the game coming on a terrible pass interference call against the Tigers, and looked like they might get back in the game when freshman linebacker Wayne Simmons jumped a Peter Tom Willis pass in the flat and blazed 73 yards to the house making 21-0. I was watching the game with some typical bandwagon fans of FSU who had trashed talked me incessantly prior to kickoff, so I was having a huge time giving it right back to them at this point as they sat stunned. Check that play out on this CLIP.
FSU managed to scratch out a touchdown drive to make it 21-7, then the second huge play of the game took place on the toss sweep play. Allen had done damage on this play several times already in the game and got a couple of key blocks to spring him to the sideline when he hit the afterburners and raced 73 yards to make it 28-7 and pretty well put the game to bed before halftime. You can check this big play out HERE.
FSU put together a FG and a touchdown while Clemson added two field goals to make it 34-16. Florida State tacked on a touchdown at the very end in garbage time with backup Casey Weldon to make the final margin look a bit better at 34-23, but there was no doubting the domination that took place that day in Tallahassee. Those 'Noles would go on to win out and finish in the top 5, including a victories over powerhouse Miami, at LSU, and a blowout win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. As we all know, Clemson's 89 season featured two WTF losses to Duke and GT that should have never happened, but the team rebounded to demolish the coots 49-0 in Willy Brice and pummeled Major Harris and the West Virginia Mountaineers 27-7 in Ford's final game as Clemson's coach. I'm sure Coach Ford would list the big win against FSU among his top memories during his reign in Clemson and it is certainly one of mine.