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Worst kind of firsts for FSU

The Seminoles' slump marks this as arguably their worst ACC season after another loss to an unranked team.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 13, 2005


CLEMSON, S.C. - As he trudged alone off the field, shunning the hugs of solace like a sweater in summer, Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley had to fight back tears.

Tears of pain.

Tears of frustration.

Tears of disappointment.

"It's just a tough loss," said the senior nose guard and former Chamberlain standout of the Clemson Tigers' resounding 35-14 win Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 80,500 at Memorial Stadium. "We have a great program. We have great athletes. Clemson has great athletes, too, and they just came out and executed better than us. It just hurts."

Though they will represent the Atlantic Division in the inaugural ACC championship game Dec. 3 with a shot to earn a prestigious and lucrative spot in the Bowl Championship Series (likely the Orange Bowl), the Seminoles don't physically or psychologically look like the bunch that began 5-0, had finally beaten archnemesis Miami and were in the Top 4.

For the first time since they joined the ACC in 1992, the No. 17 Seminoles (7-3, 5-3) have lost back-to-back league games, North Carolina State winning last week.

For the first time, they have lost three conference games in a season.

For the first time since 1976, coach Bobby Bowden's first in Tallahassee, the Seminoles have lost to three unranked opponents in a season.

And given what's ahead, a date at Florida on Nov. 26, they could be in the uncomfortable situation of carrying their first three-game skid since the end of 1981 into a possible rematch with the Hurricanes in Jacksonville.

"Is "strange' the term? Should it be embarrassment?" Bowden said of those prospects. "The reason I really wanted to win (Saturday) is so we wouldn't be too bad going into that game."

If the Seminoles don't win the ACC title, they could face a bowl choice that's not exactly glamorous, at least by FSU's standards, such as the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte or even the Dec. 27 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

"It's very frustrating, and yet we still have an opportunity to do a lot of things," said junior tailback Lorenzo Booker, whose first 100-yard rushing game of the season did little to help. "That's the main focus. Guys have to understand, yeah, we've lost two straight and it's been a while since we've done that, but we've still got a lot at stake. We can still be in a BCS bowl. We can still finish 10-3.

"It doesn't feel like that to the guys because obviously we're not playing as well as we can. ... Everybody's eyes still have to be on the prize. It puts more pressure on us to win those (next two) games because if we don't, now we're in a bad situation. If we don't win those games, we're in a real bad situation."

That didn't seem possible a month ago.

It does now.

The Seminoles defense has struggled with inexperienced cornerbacks and injuries. It didn't help that senior end Kamerion Wimbley (sprained knee), one of the league's top pass rushers, didn't play.

Without consistent pressure, the corners were exposed by senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who has been hampered by a shoulder injury and missed last week's game against Duke. He was near flawless, throwing for 269 yards and three touchdowns, two to Chansi Stuckey.

The Tigers (6-4, 4-4), who had lost their four games by a total of 14 points but are now bowl eligible entering a regular-season showdown at intrastate rival South Carolina, took a 14-0 lead after their first two series.

But the Seminoles rallied to tie by halftime thanks to a blocked punt by linebacker Lawrence Timmons that linebacker Geno Hayes recovered for a touchdown.

The opening series of the second half, however, looked a lot like last week's showing against North Carolina State.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford, the former Land O'Lakes star who has been harassed and hammered relentlessly behind a patchwork offensive line, didn't see safety Michael Hamlin among the eight defenders in coverage. Hamlin intercepted a pass for receiver Chris Davis to end a drive and set up the first of three third-quarter touchdowns.

"That was probably the biggest play of the game, momentum-wise," said Weatherford, who has thrown 11 interceptions in the past five games after throwing four in the first five.

The usually close, always emotionally taxing "Bowden Bowl," pitting FSU's coach against son Tommy, turned into a rout. The Clemson fans began chanting, "Who's Your Daddy?" and "Over-rated" midway through the fourth quarter.

"I'm not worried about anything. Really. I'm not worried about anything. I'm too old to be worried," said Papa Bowden, who turned 76 Tuesday. "Concerned? Concerned? Oh boy. What this football team needs is exactly what it's fixing to get; that is a week of rest. That's the biggest thing we need, a week of rest, and then let's see what we've got."

He hopes, no more tears.

Unless they're for joy.