A season high four turnovers translated to a season low for Clemson football as the No. 3 Tigers self-destructed in a 51-14 loss to No. 5 Florida State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Then again, Jimbo Fisher’s crew did the home team no favors by showing an appetite for destruction themselves, scoring the most points the Tigers have ever allowed in Death Valley.
Boyd: Tigers' on to next one
The Seminoles won every battle at every turn, grabbing an early 17-0 lead and never allowing Dabo Swinney’s charges to make any real headway.
The winners’ first two touchdowns were due to Clemson fumbles and things unraveled from there.
Already ahead 27-7 at halftime, Florida State took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and swiftly moved the markers.
The drive ended with Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston hitting Kelvin Benjamin on a 17-yard scoring strike at 13:33 of the quarter.
The kick made it 34-7, erasing any and all doubt about the outcome of this game. By then many of the 83,428 fans had scurried to the exits.
The ‘Noles added one more score in the third and a TD and field goal in the fourth to turn a rout into a merciless beating.
“This was very disappointing,” Swinney said. “When you’re going against a team as good as Florida State, you don’t have very much room for error. We fumbled in the beginning, we had a busted play, fumbled again and before you know it it’s 17-0.”
Backup QB Cole Stoudt got a consolation score for the Tigers with 13 seconds remaining in the game when he pushed across the stripe from two yards out.
Florida State’s defense handled Clemson’s offensive line and a solid Tiger “D” simply had no answer for Winston and his receiving corps.
“We just have to get better,” Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We know we’re better than that. We just can’t let that happen.”
Winston finished 22-34-1 for 444 yards and three touchdowns while Rashad Greene caught eight balls for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Nick O’Leary had five receptions for 161 yards.
State had 564 yards of total offense, more than making up for its 12 penalties totaling 104 yards.
The win moves Florida State to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the ACC. More importantly, the ‘Noles are now the clear frontrunners in the ACC Atlantic Division and join the BCS National Championship Game conversation.
Clemson falls to 6-1 and 4-1 – its hopes of a berth in the league title game now a longshot and its dreams of a business trip to Pasadena all but crushed.
“I hurt for everybody,” Swinney said. “But we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got five games to go and we have to do everything we can to beat Maryland (next Saturday).”
The showdown between Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd and Winston never really materialized.
Boyd struggled throughout the night and wound up 17-37-2 through the air for just 156 yards.
“Obviously it was a disappointing loss and we did some uncharacteristic things which you can’t do against a team like that,” Boyd said. “We couldn’t bounce back and rebound like we thought we could.”
The game couldn’t have started much worse for Clemson as Boyd completed a pass to Stanton Seckinger on the first play from scrimmage, only to see the tight end fumble at the Clemson 34 after being hit by Telvin Smith. Terrence Brooks recovered, and FSU was in business deep in Tiger territory.
Three snaps later Benjamin snared a 22-yard touchdown pass from Winston, and Florida State was on the board just 82 seconds in.
The lead grew to 10-0 at 4:18 when Roberto Aguayo kicked a 28-yard field goal –the first field goal of the season made against Clemson.
Then came another deadly miscue.
After Clemson moved the ball all the way to the FSU 45, Boyd was sacked for an 18-yard loss by Lamarcus Joyner, who forced a fumble on the play.
Mario Edwards scooped up the loose cargo at the Tiger 37 and rumbled into the end zone for a TD at the first frame’s 3:07 mark.
Morris: Loss wasn't on one player
The PAT made it 17-0.
Clemson finally answered the bell on the next series, driving 65 yards in 11 plays to cut into the Seminoles’ advantage.
The capper came when Boyd hit Sammy Watkins in a 3-yard TD toss with 51 to go in the first.
But it was a four play, 95-yard march by the Seminoles that likely sealed the deal on this one.
After the game had settled into a defensive mode Florida State took over at its own 5 following a punt.
On a 1st-and-10 call from his 28, Winston found Greene on a play action pass and the wideout took it the distance, shaking off one tackler and motoring to the end zone with 7:08 still to go before intermission.
The kick increased the advantage to 24-7 and another field goal with three ticks left on the first half had the visitors comfortably in front at 27-7.
Once FSU cashed in the first drive of the second half, it was no longer a question of whom but by how much.
“Florida State is a heck of a football team,” Swinney said. “I wish we had played better and that’s no one’s fault but mine. We’re going to find out what we’re made of going forward. We have to put this behind us and move on.
“When Monday morning rolls around, Maryland is going to be the biggest game of the year.”