This past Saturday, the Clemson Tigers and the Florida State Seminoles faced off in a top-25 matchup that had huge implications not only for the ACC but also on the National scene.
The No. 21 Tigers were out to prove that they could handle prosperity and that their victory over Auburn was no fluke. The No. 11 Seminoles were trying to bounce back from a close loss to Oklahoma the week before and prove that they were worthy of their top-5 preseason billing.
Florida State came into Death Valley missing a few of their playmakers, including quarterback E.J. Manuel. With Manuel absent, it was freshman Clint Trickett who took the snaps for the Seminoles. Trickett and the Seminole offense got the ball first to start the game, and promptly drove down the field behind some running from the wildcat formation and a few passes from Trickett.
The drive was capped off by a 32-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins to put FSU ahead 3-0. Clemson answered on the ensuing possession, moving the ball down the field and getting in the end zone on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins.
The Tigers stalled on their next drive, but a running into the kicker penalty gave Clemson a first down and continued the drive. One play after the penalty, Boyd performed two beautiful play-action fakes and was able to hook up with DeAndre Hopkins on a 50-yard pass that got the ball down to the two yard line. Boyd did the rest of the work from there, scoring on a quarterback sneak that put the Tigers up by a score of 14-3.
The ‘Noles fought back with their next possession and Trickett rolled out and hit Rodney Smith deep down the field for a 57-yard touchdown pass that cut the Tiger advantage to 14-10 to end the first quarter.
Clemson lit up the scoreboard again on their next possession when Boyd hit Dwayne Allen who raced to the corner of the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown pass to take the score to 21-10. On Florida State’s ensuing possession, linebacker Quandon Christian made a spectacular over his head interception that was reminiscent of something you would see on a NCAA or Madden video game.
Clemson took over after the pick and had a chance to put the nail in the coffin of the Seminoles, but the Tigers were unable to move the ball and a missed field goal cause them to go into the half only leading 21-10.
Clemson received the ball to start the second half, and on their third play of their opening drive disaster struck for the Tigers. Boyd spun away from pressure and tried to roll out of the pocket, but he lost his balance and the ball as he was falling to the ground and the ball floated straight into the waiting hands of Bjoern Werner, who trotted to the end zone with the 25-yard fumble return to bring the ‘Noles back to only being down 21-17.
Clemson did not fold after that however, and drove down the field and scored on a one-yard touchdown run from Andre Ellington to stretch the lead back to eleven. Florida State came back on their first drive of the final quarter and scored on another big play, a 30-yard touchdown pass from Trickett to Rashad Greene. The ‘Noles went for two, but did not convert, leaving the score at 28-23 in favor of the Tigers.
On the Tigers ensuing possession, Boyd and Watkins electrified the crowd on a third and six play. Watkins told the coaches to call a slant-and-go route, and Boyd hooked up with the freshman on the route for a 62-yard touchdown pass that ran the Clemson lead to 35-23.
Florida State would not go quietly though, and they answered back with a methodical drive that ended with Trickett hooking up from nine yards out with Kenny Shaw for a touchdown to cut the score to 35-30. Clemson drove down the field on the next possession, taking almost five minutes off of the clock before trying to put the final nail in the ‘Noles coffin.
The Tigers decided to go for it on fourth-and-one from the FSU 23-yard line, but Ellington was stopped on the play and ball was turned over to FSU with a chance to go win the game. Florida State picked up one first down on their final drive before stalling on their next three plays. Then, on fourth-and-nine, the Tiger defense made a huge stop when Rennie Moore sacked Trickett to give the Tigers back the ball with only 1:37 remaining.
A few kneel-downs and a lofted pass out of bounds ran out the clock and the Tigers had knocked off Florida State by a score of 35-30.
Boyd, who was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for the second straight week, completed 23 of 36 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns while also accounting for another score rushing. Ellington ran for 71 yards and 23 carries and a score. Watkins, who was named ACC Receiver of the Week for the second straight week, hauled in seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. The first of those touchdowns for Watkins set the Clemson record for receiving touchdowns by a freshman.
Coach Dabo Swinney had this to say about the win, “This was a great win. I’m so proud of our guys. They continue to show heart. We’re 4-0. That’s where we want to be.”
The Tigers moved up to 13th and 15th in the AP and USA Today polls respectively after their win this past weekend. Clemson’s next game will be this Saturday in a top-15 showdown against No. 10 Virginia Tech on the road in Lane Stadium. The game is scheduled to kick-off at 6:00 pm and to be televised on ESPN2.
For more Clemson sports (and sports in general) updates and thoughts on everyday life as well, follow me on Twitter @K_Mart10.