Garnet and Great/Florida State football archivist
Florida State and Michigan were each among the eight schools to claim national championships in the 1990’s. During that decade however, the teams met just once.
That came on this day 30 years ago. The Seminoles invaded Ann Arbor and made a statement in a match-up of top-3 teams as top-ranked FSU left with a dominating 51-31 victory.
Setting the Stage
The contest had plenty of national implications as the teams arrived at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 28, 1991. FSU was ranked No. 1 in the country, off to a 3-0 start and riding a 9-game winning streak.
Like the Seminoles, Michigan had closed the 1990 season on a 6-game winning streak. Under second-year head coach Gary Moeller, the Wolverines had set a strong tone with double-digit victories over Boston College and No. 7 Notre Dame to open the season.
In a contest where 82 points were scored, it was a defensive play that set the tone. In the game’s opening minute, FSU cornerback and eventual Jim Thorpe Award winner Terrell Buckley made a statement by stepping in front of eventual Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and returning Elvis Grbac’s interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
Through a half however, Michigan seemed to have a counterpunch. The Wolverines never led, but gave the impression that FSU was in for a fight.
Grbac threw three first-half touchdowns, including two to Howard. Michigan tied the game early and then cut what was a 15-point FSU lead to two midway through the second quarter.
For FSU, Amp Lee scored on touchdown runs of 44 and five yards. The Seminoles added a pair of touchdown passes in the first half as Brad Johnson hit fullback William Floyd for their first offensive score before Casey Weldon found Warren Hart on a 20-yard hookup early in the second quarter.
After taking an early 25-10 lead, the Seminoles held a 31-23 advantage at the break. In the second half, the FSU defense would settle in.
The Seminoles pushed their lead to 21 on Weldon touchdown passes to Eric Turral and Lonnie Johnson. With less than five minutes, Grbac’s fourth touchdown pass of the day — a 16-yard strike to Yale Van Dyne — followed by a 2-point conversion cut the lead to 44-31.
The Wolverines recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the drive would end in a second defensive touchdown for FSU. On 4th-and-14 from the Seminoles’ 36-yard-line, Grbac was hit by Reggie Freeman as he threw. The pass landed in the arms of FSU’s Toddrick McIntosh who returned it 49 yards for a score to put the exclamation point on the victory.
Grbac finished with 212 yards and four touchdown tosses, but was also picked four times. Buckley added a second pick for the Seminoles while Howard Dinkins also came down with an interception. Errol McCorvey recovered a fumble on Michigan’s final offensive snap of the day.
For FSU, Weldon passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Lee finished with 122 yards on the ground and 201 yards of total offense in the victory. As a team, the Seminoles put up 460 yards of offense. Ricky Powers led the Wolverines with 97 yards rushing, but as a team, they averaged less than three yards per carry.
The Wolverines dropped to No. 7 with the loss, but they wouldn’t be down for long. Michigan responded by winning its next eight games and the Big Ten outright. It closed the season with a 34-14 loss to co-national champion Washington in the Rose Bowl.
FSU maintained its No. 1 ranking until November when it lost to rivals Miami and Florida in consecutive games by a combined six points. The Seminoles ended the year on a high note with a 10-2 victory over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Throughout the course of the season, FSU took on five top-10 teams. The first and perhaps the most memorable was a trip to Michigan in which the Seminoles scored more points than any visitor ever at the time. It happened on this day three decades ago.