I'm struggling to write anything that will do justice to one of the best moments in recent Clemson football history. This isn't an instant reaction because my instant reaction would have involved me dancing with my laptop, giving high fives to strangers, and lots of incoherent yelling sounds.
I do want to start by thanking the fans. Clemson's fanbase and Death Valley made a huge impact on this game. The fans were a big part of this win, causing at least 5 different delay of game and false start penalties. In fact, we helped the defense by putting FSU in obvious passing situations because they were not able to stay on track with down and distance. Some have criticized Jimbo Fisher for not feeding Dalvin Cook the ball more in the second half, but the crowd impacted that play calling (along with his hammy acting up a bit in the 2nd half). Kudos Clemson fans--we wanted this and we collectively impacted the game.
That field and drainage system also deserves a medal.
On the second play of the game Cook busts a 75 yard run. It felt like 2013 all over again.
We didn't turn the ball over. No interceptions. No fumbles in the rain. No ridiculous pick six to Werner or Seckinger fumble. We won the turnover margin.
Deshaun Watson was rattled in the first half of the game. He missed some throws and some hot routes (Peake overthrow and probable touchdowns/huge gains to Leggett and Gallman), but give a lot of credit to FSU's defense. They looked much different. Aldo credit to Watson for flushing all of that and being mentally tough, especially after the third down spike. We all love that Watson is a really good person and we love his humble demeanor off the field, but Deshaun Watson is also the guy who runs for the game clinching first down and gets up and does a brazen first down pointing gesture. Watson will bow for the camera and give you a Superman--he exudes that moxie and confident swag that the team feeds off of (just like Mack on the other side of the ball). We saw that confident, dangerous Watson in the second half and we needed it.
An underrated part of our offense today was Watson's elusiveness and ability to run out of the pocket. He picked up key yardage against a fast FSU defense. Every week he seems to gain an added burst and showed elite speed to get crucial first downs tonight.
I warned in my recruiting article that a maturing Derwin James and a healthy Terrance Smith would make the defense much faster and able to defend sideline to sideline. The LB position wasn't the liability it has been all season. I thought we would struggle to run the ball against a very stout defensive interior for Florida State and that proved to be very true. The loss of Crowder was absolutely huge. Crowder hurt his foot and had a bag of ice on it after the second play in the first drive (we got push on our first running play with Crowder). The injury was not the ankle and towards the top of the foot. Don't know how severe the injury is and I hate to speculate, but it was bad enough that he didn't even attempt to go back in, which usually means it is a broken foot--won't know until tomorrow or Monday (RayRay McCloud also went down with a knee injury and will have an MRI to know the severity--lets all hope it is a sprain, we had some plays dialed up for McCloud that we obviously couldn't use but were saving).
We really didn't get much push up front without Crowder and the offensive line, especially Joe Gore had lots of trouble in pass protection in the first half. Maverick Morris didn't do a bad job, but there is a reason Crowder is the clear starter. FSU was dialing up a lot of exotic looks though, using Pugh, Ramsey and Smith in some great blitz packages and dropping guys into coverage. We had to get creative in the second half with more outside running and using Watson because the interior was getting stuffed. Despite all of those troubles, I was really proud of the offensive line for icing the game late and the coaches for sticking with the run.
Renfrow had a tough night and appeared human for the first time all season (also had the muffed punt).
Deon Cain continues his progression. Missed a couple balls but his touchdown run was a thing of beauty. Should continue to follow Scott's progression from last year and keep getting better. Cain also set the tone with a wicked block of Ramsey. He wasn't going to let Ramsey intimidate him and he played with confidence and poise. Peake also had a nice game and had some key yards after the catch on screen passes of 21 and 7 yards (both third down conversions).
Leggett missed some blocks early, but came up huge over the middle of the defense (why did I see Seckinger getting pushed off the ball and abused any time he was in the game? McCullough came in at the end of the game and was much more physical and Garrett Williams should be getting those snaps in the next three games). Leggett ended up with over a hundred yards receiving--a third of Watson's 297 total yards passing (404 total yards for the game--Heisman invite anyone?? Too soon, I know, but with Boykin's 4 interceptions and Fournette getting stoned by a good defense the door is ajar).
Got to give a huge amount of credit to Adrian 'Primetime' Baker (his high school nickname) for his first career interception. That interception completely changed the early complexion of the game, preventing us from being down 10-0 or 14-0.
Christian 'War Daddy' Wilkins played like a man possessed. His flip of Dalvin Cook was a thing of beauty, not only because he flipped Dalvin Cook, but because there was a huge gaping hole straight to the endzone if Wilkins doesn't make that tackle. Great leverage and pad level. I also think his late hard hit set the tone for the defense (borderline targeting but I maintain he got mostly shoulder with only incidental helmet contact).
Shaq Lawson deserves a ton of credit for gutting out a key performance with a bad shoulder that needed to be popped back into place. Also thought Austin Bryant came up big late in his opportunities.
Our LBs were having all kinds of trouble filling run gaps against counter and zone plays. Ben Boulware had another awful game in that regard, but when we needed him late he came up with the 4th and 1 stop he delivered. He also was the one who stripped Travis Rudolph of the ball to seal the victory. Savvy, gutsy performance. Make no mistake though, a large part of FSU's strategy was to attack the LB's over the middle in the pass game and to use their aggressiveness against them in the run game. It needs to get cleaned up moving forward to be an elite defense. Good coverage of Cook and RB's out of the backfield, however. Safeties also continue to struggle. Green gave up the early TD and Kearse had a couple of times where he was completely out of position. Blanks missed an easy interception early that would have swung momentum.
That said, the defense was given a short field on a kickoff return and a 28 yard punt and didn't give up a touchdown. When FSU was putting together its final drive, we got the strip.
We had huge short yardage stops in the red-zone that held FSU to those two FG's, especially a 3rd and 1 stop. If you take away the second play from scrimmage the defense only gives up those two FG's for the entire game, which completely changes your perception of how they played. Dabo said it well in his press conference that they didn't score a touchdown for 59 minutes after letting them score in the first 60 seconds. FSU was 2-12 on third downs, which was the difference in the game. We ultimately had answers.
Kickoff coverage?!? Once again we gave up a potentially momentum changing kickoff return (one of the main reasons we lost the 2012 game at Florida State and 2010 in my mind). I didn't see the personnel changes that were made, but they didn't help very much. Lakip needs to be able to kick the ball deep every single time. Still not sure how you line up incorrectly on the fake punt. We obviously practiced that a ton, what a waste.
Greg Huegel deserves a ton of credit. He is 13 for 14 in ACC play. Last year we missed a chip shot gimme field goal that would have ultimately won the game. Also Seth Ryan handled a high snap yesterday and has done an excellent job as the holder. Andy Teasdall had another up and down performance. He had a couple long kicks and got some good hang-time, but also had a 28 yard punt that put the defense in a horrible position.
How many University Presidents are in the locker-room dancing with the head coach after the game? President Clements is an awesome addition to Clemson. Amazing leadership in place.
Why do we let FSU bring their band? Hearing the FSU warchant, chop music just seems wrong.
Overall, what a special moment to be a Clemson Tiger. We are ranked number one, come out completely flat, but battle through adversity and beat a very good Florida State team. This team was not like teams in the past that came unraveled and let a spiked third down get to them (leading to endless what if scenarios running through our collective minds for another year). No, we caused the fumbles and got the stops. We ran the ball late and punched in a touchdown. We won the game. Those Orange Britches mean something. This team means something and I couldn't be happier to be completely invested. Go Tigers!
Lastly, remember next week is Syracuse. How do you like that DABO award now, huh? Looks to me like you will be trying to hire a DABO (like pretty much every other school in the country, including our fine, feathered rivals) pretty soon. Domes are pretty hot and hard to play in though, so I have heard. Let the hate commence...