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Matchup and Memories: Florida State vs Syracuse

FSU aims for its first victory this season.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State will host the Syracuse Orange this weekend. The Seminoles are desperately searching for that first win while Syracuse is off to a 3-1 start. Let’s jump into the series history.

  • Opponent: Syracuse Orange
  • First matchup: 11/12/1966 (The Orange won 41-14)
  • Series record: FSU with a dominant 11-2 record over ’Cuse.
  • Current streak: FSU owns a 1-game winning streak.
  • Last game: Florida State with the 35-17 victory on 10/26/19

Florida State needs a win in the worst way. Can FSU repeat its recent dominance over Syracuse? Or will the Orange continue their hot start?

NoleThruandThru’s Recruiting Reminiscences

Florida State and Syracuse rarely go toe-to-toe for football recruits (basketball may be another story), but the Orange have plucked several nice prospects out of Florida since joining the ACC. FSU recruitniks may remember two names from the class of 2019, both linebackers.

Lee Kpogba, a speedy whirling dervish out of Winston-Salem, NC, was very high on Florida State early in his recruitment, but the feeling wasn’t mutual for the ‘Noles. FSU slow-played Kpogba, leading him to choose Syracuse. Kpogba was suspended from the team earlier this year and transferred to a junior college over the summer.

A similar situation happened with IMG Academy’s Mikel Jones, who never even got a committable offer from FSU and also ended up in central New York. Unlike Kpogba, however, Jones has flourished for ‘Cuse, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors last year and leading ACC linebackers in INT.

Matt Minnick’s memorable moment

Let’s get one thing straight off the top. My all-time favorite memory of an FSU/Syracuse game, and in fact one of my top 10 Florida State football memories period, is Terrell Buckley’s fake fair-catch punt return in 1989. The audacity it took for the brash freshman to even attempt it, on the road against a top 20 opponent, is compelling. The flawless execution is impressive and the “how do you like me now” pose in the end-zone pushes it over the top. Let’s be honest, any time someone earns a nickname as cool as the “Foola’ from Pascagoula” just off one play, well that’s a pretty dadgum memorable play.

As an aside, dang, how much more fun was football back then? The kids could high-step and celebrate, you could actually decleat guys on punt return who didn’t have their head on a swivel (see the block by No. 10) and there weren’t 10 minute reviews (to see if he really did call fair catch, in this case).

However, as I said last week, I try to use this space to focus on games in which I actually attended live, and while the highlight above demonstrates how well FSU’s fan base has historically traveled for road games, unfortunately I was not in the Carrier Dome that day. But I was in Doak Campbell Stadium two years later for another Seminole stomping of Syracuse.

The 1991 edition of the ‘Noles featured one of the most potent offenses in school history (at least when the OL was healthy—but that’s a story for another time), and combined it with an aggressive and physical defense. When thinking along those lines, it’s easy to see why they were picked by many prognosticators to win the school’s first national title. And for much of the season, the Tribe looked like the nation’s clear-cut top team.

Fresh off a 51-31 thrashing of a top-five Michigan team in The Big House, the Seminoles returned to Tallahassee for another marquee matchup, this time against No. 10 Syracuse. It was a rain-soaked day that, at least early, looked like it might be a back-and-forth affair. Syracuse took the opening possession 80 yards for a quick 7-0 lead, but FSU tied it up late in the first quarter.

That didn’t last long, however, as ‘Cuse’s star wideout, Qadry Ismail—nicknamed “The Missile”—housed the ensuing kickoff, giving Syracuse a 14-7 lead. FSU battled back and led 17-14 at the half, but it certainly didn’t feel comfortable.

Enter Shannon Baker the touchdown-maker.

Despite the drenched field, Baker’s blazing speed was allowing him to get behind the Syracuse secondary consistently. He dropped a long pass in the first half, but opened the second half by quickly making amends. Casey Weldon, one of the best deep-ball passers in FSU history, launched a bomb from near mid-field that Baker snagged via a diving, over the shoulder reception at the 1-yard line, setting up a Seminole touchdown to make it 23-14.

A bit later in the third, Baker did it again, this time earning the touchdown for himself with a memorable catch and slide through the back of the endzone. I don’t know how many times I tried to replicate that sliding catch in the backyard on rainy days, but I’m sure my mom could tell you about needing to replace many pairs of jeans!

That score made it 30-14 and the rout was on. The Seminoles outgained the Orangemen (as they were called back then) 240 yards to 16 in the third quarter and a whopping 642 to 185 on the day. Baker finished with 5 catches for 139 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, while Weldon was 22-35 for 347 yards and 3 TD, with zero turnovers.

After the game, Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said, “We got our butts kicked. We had things pretty much our own way up until today, and it had been fun. Today, it wasn’t fun.”

Nearly 30 years later to the day (the 1991 game took place on October 5), the Seminoles will be looking to have a little fun and get their first win of the 2021 season. I’ll be in Doak hoping to see a play that lives on in memories of a victory thirty years from now, and I hope to see a large number of FSU faithful in the stands with me.

Matt Minnick, the resident Tomahawk Nation historian, is a Tallahassee native and life long Seminoles fan, attending over 225 FSU football games across the country since 1986.

We love hearing your favorite Florida State football moments and memories. Drop a comment below sharing your from favorite memory from this matchup.