House of Horrors: Seminoles run wild, and Tigers have no answers

Bill Oliver: 'There's nothing worse than when the other team lines up, runs the ball straight at you, and you can't do a thing about it'

Florida State running back Chris Thompson runs past Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson in the first quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Florida State running back Chris Thompson runs past Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson in the first quarter.

'Brother' Bill Oliver - a well-traveled veteran of southeastern football wars and one-time defensive coordinator at Clemson - once described his worst nightmare:

"There's nothing worse," he said, "than when the other team lines up, runs the ball straight at you, and you can't do a thing about it."

For Clemson's Tigers, Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night fit Oliver's definition of a House of Horrors.

Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel threw for a career-best 380 yards, but he probably could have gotten by with half that number.

Speedy running back Chris Thompson gashed the Tigers for 103 yards, power-back James Wilder ripped off 65 more, and fullback Lonnie Pryor consistently picked up the tough yardage that the Seminoles needed. And the kicker? Manuel galloped for 102 yards of his own.

We might have seen this coming.

On the three preceding Saturdays, Auburn, Ball State and Furman piled up 539 yards rushing and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

After the Ball State game, defensive coordinator Brent Venables cut to the heart of the matter: "We can't continue to let people run the ball at five or six yards a clip and think that we're going to be any good," he said. "It doesn't work that way."

Saturday night, Florida State averaged 7.2 yards per carry, rushed for nearly 300 yards, and scored five rushing touchdowns. They did it the old-fashioned way, by blocking the first and second levels, opening gaps in the front four and then cutting down linebackers.

Three of Clemson's top four tacklers were defensive backs. That's never a good sign.

Venables, his coaches and his players will go back to work this week, watching film, studying mistakes, and striving to get better.

But at this point, with the fifth game of the season approaching, there looks to be no magical 'back to the drawing board' solution. The Tigers simply have to keep doing what they do and get better at it, especially in getting off blocks, filling gaps, and then tackling securely and consistently.

Having gone up against, and fallen short against, a Florida State team that looks like the real deal, the Tigers know a lot more about themselves than they did at this time last week.

We've now seen, first hand, the level of play that the Tigers aspire to.

Clemson's next test will come on the road, and the Tigers' next task is to make sure a deeply disappointing loss doesn't end up beating them twice.

"The bottom line is that Florida State blocked us," said Dabo Swinney. "They did a good job of hatting us up - they blocked us. And once they got in a rhythm, they got us off balance, mixing the pass and the run.

"This is disappointing because were in position to knock off a top-five team...but it's just game-four...and we can't let this game beat us twice. I told our team that we have to honest with each other and study the film and see where we can improve.

"We win as a team and we lose as a team. We have to go to Boston, a place that we've won only one time, and see if we can find a way to get another win this week, get to 4-1 and get back to the Valley and put a little run together.

"We're not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but we don't control our destiny any more. That's the difficult thing about losing a game like this early. Look at Florida State last year - I think that was one of their issues. They lost to us, and then they go up to Wake Forest and get beat again, right after that.

"We can't allow that to happen. We have to re-focus. Our season starts tomorrow. That has to be our mentality. We have to take care of the things we can control and continue to grow this team up. I truly believe that we still have a chance to be a very good football team.

"But tonight we were not the better team."

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