Clemson Holds Off Florida State 24-18 To Win Bowden Bowl

Tuesday, September 4th 2007, 7:23 am
By: News On 6

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) _ Florida State. First start at sold-out Death Valley. National TV. Nervous?

Not Clemson's new quarterback.

``I think I've been more nervous as a backup before,'' Cullen Harper said.

He's probably never smiled like this, either. Harper threw two touchdowns in Clemson's 24-18 victory over the Seminoles on Monday night.

It was coach Tommy Bowden's third straight victory over his father, Bobby, and the Seminoles _ and it took away some bad feelings that lingered all offseason after Clemson opened 7-1 and finished last season losing four of five.

``It's huge,'' Harper said. ``It definitely helps everybody's confidence.''

Harper was a big reason why. He played like a polished veteran rather than a redshirt junior who barely played the past two seasons.

``He had a lot of anxiety built up, but I thought he did a really good job,'' Tommy Bowden said.

Speaking of anxiety, it can't be an easy time for Bobby Bowden or his flashy new offensive staff.

After Bowden's son Jeff resigned as offensive coordinator, Bobby hired Jimbo Fisher from LSU along with three more assistants on offense to retool Florida State's tired attack.

Instead, the Seminoles looked more inept than ever. They had one first down and 62 yards. They were 0-of-9 on third downs and punted eight times on the way to trailing 24-3.

``I've never been around a first half of football like that,'' first-year Seminoles offensive line coach Rick Trickett said.

``The first half was the worst half I've seen us play,'' Bobby Bowden said.

The Seminoles found their rhythm in the second half in drawing within 6 points, but couldn't make the plays when it counted.

Drew Weatherford connected with Richard Goodman on a 15-yard TD pass that made it 24-18 with about 12 minutes to go. In the past, stars like Charlie Ward or Chris Weinke would've cashed in the go-ahead score.

These Seminoles couldn't get it done.

Weatherford drove them to the Clemson 31, but threw three incompletions and was sacked by defensive lineman Philip Merling.

``He wasn't sharp and I was surprised,'' Bobby Bowden said. ``He had a lot of sacks and I don't know if he wasn't reading the right thing or if they just had a guy free and he couldn't get away from him.''

Fisher said Weatherford showed strong leadership in directing the inexperienced offense.

He hoped Florida State had gotten the jitters out of its system.

``It was the one of the most different halves of football I've ever been around,'' Fisher said. ``Maybe it had to come. We'll get it out of the way, put it behind us and go on from there.''

Where Clemson goes is also anyone's guess.

The Tigers started 7-1 a year ago _ including a win over FSU _ and looked like the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The skid at the end turned up the heat on Clemson coach Tommy Bowden's chair.

The Tigers' motto this year is ``Finish the job.''

That's what Nick Watkins says the players are focused on.

``It's not that big a statement,'' Watkins said of the win. ``We beat Florida State for a few years in a row, whatever it is, and we haven't won a championship yet. So beating Florida State doesn't mean anything.''

It meant something to Harper, who sat behind Charlie Whitehurst and Will Proctor the past three years.

It didn't take Harper long to show his skills.

He connected with freshman tight end Brian Linthicum on an 11-yard scoring pass and Aaron Kelly for a 41-yard TD connection as the Tigers took a 21-0 lead less than 17 minutes into the game. In between, tailback James Davis scored on a 29-yard run.

Harper was 14-of-24 for 160 yards and no interceptions. Davis gained 102 yards on 18 carries.

``It was awesome,'' Harper said. ``I couldn't ask for a better first game experience.''

Florida State was ``confused'' most of the first two quarters, defensive lineman Bud Thacker said.

When they woke up, it was too late. ``We didn't outfight them in the first half and it bit us in the butt,'' Thacker said.

The victory closed Tommy within a win of his father after the ninth meeting of college football's best known family feud.

Bobby's Seminoles won the first four games in the series by a combined score of 160-79. Tommy won four of the past five, including the last three at Death Valley.