Gumbel's Machine: The Valley of Death
K Dustin Hopkins (Streeter Lecka/Getty)
K Dustin Hopkins (Streeter Lecka/Getty)
WCTV Anchor/Reporter
Posted Sep 23, 2011


Florida State used to have no issue with Clemson, be it at home or on the road. But after four straight losses at Memorial Stadium, maybe "Death Valley" is only now turning into a house of horrors.

If you’re looking for another reason why FSU’s Week-4 matchup against Clemson is a game of such high magnitude, look no further than the year 1991.

While I know the flashback haunts Seminole Nation with memories of the first “Wide Right” defeat to the eventual NCAA-champion Miami Hurricanes, it was actually a year full of headlines:

The Buffalo Bills lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. The Minnesota Twins outlasted the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Duke dribbled past Kansas for the NCAA basketball championship.

That same year, Arkansas still had a relatively unknown governor named Bill Clinton. Boris Yeltsin had just been elected the president of Russia. The Rodney King beating sparked riots in Los Angeles. Mike Tyson was arrested on rape charges. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer became a household name for disgusting reasons. Super Nintendo was introduced to the world as a rival of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sega. Children’s author Dr. Seuss passed away.

Busy year, right? Not to mention that 1991 was also when basketball great Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive and when the United States began Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.

But an FSU footnote to 1991 is that it was the garnet and gold’s final season before joining the ACC in football.

That’s also the last time the Clemson Tigers won a conference crown.

From 1956-91, the Tigers bathed in conference victories, winning 13 ACC titles during that span. When FSU joined the league officially in 1992, the Tigers were relegated to just trying to keep the games competitive.

FSU beat Clemson 24-20 in its first season in the conference. Then over the next four years, the 'Noles would grab four victories by outscoring Clemson 173-29. FSU’s current record against the Tigers is 17-7, with a majority of those losses coming from the most recent battles in the series.

As Florida State ventures back into Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, it hopes to tap into the old memories of an FSU victory and pump the brakes on a recent losing skid at Death Valley. The Howard’s Rock-rubbing Tigers have dominated recent matchups played in South Carolina. Four consecutive games there have gone the way of the purple and orange.

Last year’s 16-13 Seminole victory at Doak Campbell Stadium was as thrilling as they come. Dustin Hopkins booted a 55-yard field goal as time expired to win it for FSU and gave the Seminoles only their second win against Clemson in their last seven attempts.

The ‘Noles hope last year’s victory kicked their recent losing trend to the Tigers, but understand that this season’s 21st-ranked Clemson squad has several nuances that threaten to hand FSU an ACC-opening loss.

Clemson’s fast-paced offense is led by young quarterback Tajh Boyd, who already has 10 touchdown passes through three games while throwing just one interception. While the 'Noles have yet to meet up with a quarterback this season with the mobility of Boyd, they have played three teams (ULM, CSU and OU) that also implement a quick no-huddle offense. Boyd’s speed and ability to scramble outside the pocket is complemented by freshman standout Sammy Watkins. Watkins already has nearly 300 yards receiving and four touchdowns of his own. Clemson scores more points per game than FSU (38 to 36) and has averaged more rushing yardage than the 'Noles (216 to 96).

While Boyd and Watkins intend to be thorns in FSU’s side, the defensive side of the ball is heavily skewed in the visitor's favor. Former Florida State assistant coach Kevin Steele has a defensive line bolstered by Thomasville native -- and at one-time an FSU recruit -- Brandon Thompson, but the Tigers have not been able to keep their first three opponents under 19 points. Last week’s 38-24 victory over defending national champion Auburn did, however, put CU on the radar.

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That No. 21 ranking just gives 11th-ranked FSU the opportunity to regain some traction after sliding six spots in the AP poll following the near upset of Oklahoma. The Seminole defense is fifth in the nation when it comes to total yards allowed per game (195) and plans to unleash its deep rotation on the defensive front in hopes of rattling Clemson’s young QB.

The old adage is “defense wins championships,” but this week the FSU D will most likely need to win the game and focus on the championship part later. An ailing starting quarterback in E.J. Manuel -- listed as questionable with a sprained shoulder -- and an inexperienced-yet-competent backup in Clint Trickett are the makings for a potentially stagnant offense. With the exception of Greg Reid, who is questionable with a sprained knee, the Seminole defense will be at full strength for Saturday’s kickoff.

Should names like Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner, Everett Dawkins, Lamarcus Joyner, Vince Williams, Nigel Bradham, Terrance Parks and Mike Harris set the tone this week at Memorial Stadium, they could strike up past nightmares for Clemson fans of Derrick Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Terrell Buckley, Marvin Jones, Corey Fuller, Clifton Abraham, Kirk Carruthers and Howard Dinkins -- names that a once-dominant Clemson football program has been trying to forget since FSU came on the ACC scene two decades ago.


Elton Gumbel is a sports anchor and reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, as well as a regular contributor to NoleDigest.com.



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