After a statement-making game against N.C. State last week in Death Valley, Clemson hit the road to take on Florida State in Tallahassee against the team that is usually the big conference challenge for the Tigers. The last couple of years, however, have been tough for the Seminole faithful, with disappointing seasons despite having some of the best football talent in the nation. Coming into the game at 4-3, the Seminoles were in a prime position to be the spoiler for Clemson’s so far perfect season. Would the talent and home field advantage be enough for FSU to pull off the upset?
Clemson won the toss and deferred. Good coverage and a block in the back put FSU at their 7. The Tiger defense played like what they are, one of the best defenses in the nation, and forced a 3-and-out. Amari Rodgers took the fair catch on the punt at midfield. Travis Etienne got 4 tough yards on first down and Trevor Lawrence hit Hunter Renfrow on 2nd down to move the chains. On 2nd down, Lawrence had Tee Higgins open on a deep route but overthrew him bringing up 3rd and 9. Lawrence overthrew Justyn Ross and the Tigers had to punt. The Tiger receivers were winning their battles, a good sign for what could come when Lawrence settled down a bit.
WIll Spiers couldn’t pin the Noles deep as it bounced into the end zone despite good coverage by the Tigers. Running quads formation, the Noles converted a 3rd down with a wide screen. On second down, the Tigers got a good rush but FSU QB Deondre Francois scrambled and hit his receiver for a 1st down. On the next play the snap went over Francois’ head and they lost 23 yards, but they added an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to it and ended up at the 10 for 2nd & 43. Needless to say, they didn’t convert and had to punt. FSU had good coverage and tackled Rodgers at the Tiger 34. Clemson doesn’t rush the punter and yet has poor blocking for the return. What gives?
A short run, a false start and a short gain on 2nd put the Tigers at 3rd & 9. Coverage was good on the Tiger receivers and the rush eventually put pressure on Lawrence and he had to throw it away. Spiers shanked the punt and FSU got the ball at the Tiger 49. Poor special teams play is usually one ingredient in big upsets. Hopefully the Tiger special teams would clean it up. On FSU’s possession Clemson forced a 3rd and 9 and Clelin Ferrell got to Francois and forced a fumble that FSU recovered. After the punt, Clemson started at their 18.
A 1st down throw to Renfrow netted 4 yards and Tavien Feaster was stuffed on 2nd. Lawrence hit Tee Higgins to convert 3rd and 6. FSU’s defense held the Tigers, swarming a 3rd down screen to Feaster and they had to punt. Spiers got a good bounce and FSU ended up on their 15. Francois challenged Trayvon Mullen on 1st down and got nothing. On 3rd down, he tried again and his receiver dropped a well-thrown pass, forcing a punt. Once again, the opposing punter was pushing the Tigers way back. Clemson started at their 31.
Etienne got 5 on first down. Lawrence then hit Ross on a beautifully executed play action pass for 41 yards down to the Nole 23 as the 1st quarter ended. FSU’s defense stiffened and Lawrence couldn’t hit Ross in the end zone on 3rd and 10. Greg Huegel missed the FG attempt but FSU committed a roughing the kicker penalty to give the Tigers 1st and 10 at the 12. Etienne got a couple of yards on 1st down and Renfrow scooped a low throw on 2nd to get 3 more. Higgins pulled in the 3rd down throw to score. B.T. Potter came in and kicked the extra point. At this point, nothing had been said about any injury status for Huegel. The Tigers were up 7-0.
The kickoff resulted in a touchback. At least Potter was doing his job. FSU tried a couple of runs into the heart of the Tiger defense but had an illegal formation to make it 2nd and 11. Francois hit his receiver to move the chains. Clemson then forced a 3rd and 9. Francois then floated a pass that K’Von Wallace nearly picked off but the FSU receiver did a good job to knock it loose. The FSU punter got another good one off, but Rodgers worked his way through the coverage to gain 28 yards on the return and put the Tiger offense at their 42. Feaster dropped a poor pass on a wheel route and Adam Choice got 2 on 2nd down to bring up 3rd and 8. Higgins pulled in a pass that was about an inch off the grass to convert. After Lawrence missed an open Renfrow, Etienne got through the line to move the chains. On the next play, he got 15 more down to the FSU 20. Higgins took a 1st down screen down to the 13. Rodgers took a quick screen down to the 3 with good running and a great block by Renfrow. Lawrence then hit Higgins for the TD. Huegel was back in to kick the extra point and give Clemson a 14-0 lead.
FSU had a nice catch and run on first down. On the next play, the Tigers almost got to Francois, but he scrambled for good yardage. FSU moved into Tiger territory and the Tiger defense got them to a 3rd & 8. The Tigers blitzed and Wallace got called for a low hit on the QB even though he hit him at the hips (see below), putting FSU at the 30. I don’t get that call. You can’t hit a QB high and you can’t hit him low. FSU then self-destructed with dropped passes and penalties. On 3rd and 20, Francois was hit (legally!) as he threw and the ball floated into Tre Lamar’s hands and he ran it back to the FSU 30. Lawrence ran the ball on 1st down and an FSU defender unloaded on him with the crown of his helmet and was ejected for targeting. The Tigers had 1st & 10 at the 13. Lawrence then tried to hit Higgins in the end zone but the FSU defender was called for pass interference. The Tigers were at the 2 with 1st & goal. And incomplete pass on 1st and a 1-yard run by Feaster moved it to the 1. Christian Wilkins did his best Fridge impersonation to run it in for the TD. Huegel’s extra point made it 21-0 Clemson.
After Potter forced a touchback, FSU started at the 25. The Tiger defense dominated the Nole offense and forced a punt. After a roll, Clemson got the ball at the Tiger 27. On first down, Lawrence had good protection and hit Trevion Thompson to move the chains to the 44. Rodgers and Renfrow made catches to move it to the Nole 32. Higgins had a good run after catch to go down to the 11. Feaster became Beaster and had a nice tough run down to the 2. Garrett Williams got the handoff from the fullback position and ran it in. The Tigers were up 28-0 with 1:07 left in the first half. FSU couldn’t do anything and Rodgers had another good return down to the FSU 36. Mitch Hyatt was having a good game but got called for holding as FSU’s premier rusher, Brian Burns, got to Lawrence as he threw. The ball floated for what seemed like an eternity, but eventually fell to the ground. Lawrence floated one to Higgins in the end zone and the FSU defender had time to recover and knock it down. Lawrence hit Diondre Overton for 15 yards to get the Tigers back into FG range. But RT Tremaine Anchrum started early and pushed the Tigers back 5 yards. On 4th &11 freshman TE Braden Galloway couldn’t hang onto a laser beam throw to his back shoulder. FSU took over and downed the ball to end the half with Clemson up 28-0.
Derion Kendrick opened the 2nd half with a good kickoff return out to the Tiger 39. Etienne bulled ahead for 3 yards on 1st down. On 2nd down, Lawrence hit Rodgers on a slant and a broken tackle and speed put Rodgers in the end zone 58 yards later. The score was 35-0 and I was thinking back to 2013 when FSU came to Death Valley and deflated Tiger Nation with a 51-14 win. My how things have changed in 5 years.
FSU started at the 25 but the Tiger defense was feasting on the run game. On 3rd & 8, a false start dug the hole even deeper and they couldn’t convert. The Tigers took over at their 37 after a 34-yard punt. The Tigers couldn’t do much with their series and punted it back. The FSU return man made an ill-uniformed decision to try to field the ball and muffed it. Clemson recovered at the Nole 10, 1st & goal. Etienne moved it down to the 6. Diondre Overton couldn’t hang onto it in the end with good coverage by the FSU defender. Throwing across the field in the end zone to Kendrick, Lawrence threw it a little high and it fell incomplete. B.T. Potter kicked the FG to make it 38-0.
FSU returned the kickoff but had a block in the back and started at their own 6. The Tiger defense (with lots of 2nd team players) was doing pretty well, but Mullen got called for pass interference and FSU moved out to the 21. Francois had time to throw on the next down and hit his receiver for a 1st down. Francois had another nice deep throw, but it was covered nicely by Mullen. On 3rd down, Albert Huggins got to Francois to end the series. FSU fans were loudly booing at this point. Rodgers made the fair catch at the Tiger 32. Lawrence then hit Rodgers a 68-yard TD. It was getting really ugly. Clemson was up 45-0. Chase Brice started warming up on the sideline.
FSU got the ball after a touchback and moved down the field against the Tiger reserves, eventually getting to 1st & goal from the 5. And illegal formation was called, but the Tigers declined it as the FSU runner was dropped for a loss. They pushed it down to the 2 but and FSU player was called for throwing a punch and ejected. The Noles settled for a 35-yard FG to get their first points of the game with under 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Clemson led 45-3. Brice came in at QB for Clemson and Choice picked up 3 yards. Brice then hit Overton for 63 yards down to the FSU 11. Lyn-J Dixon gained 3 yards and then Brice stumbled down to the 5 on an option. On 3rd & 4, Brice hit a wide open T.J. Chase in the end zone to make it 52-3 Tigers. The Tiger reserves were beating the Noles starters. After suffering through FSU’s dominance after the Danny Ford era when I was at Clemson, this one was feeling really good.
A ferocious Tiger defense and FSU penalties put the Noles at 3rd & 12. Francois was sacked and it was 4th & 19 at the FSU 5. The punt was short and it rolled back to the Nole 25. FSU looked as deflated as I have ever seen a team. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Tigers led 52-3. Brice led the Tiger offense again and the result was a 15-yard TD to make the score 59-3. Clemson was beating FSU as badly as they had beaten Wake Forest. That’s a phrase that I didn’t think I’d ever write.
After the punt and a holding penalty, FSU started at their 9. FSU was moving, but X-Man got to Francois with a full-speed hit, and I think the Nole QB had just had enough as he stayed on the turf. I have to say that he has to be one of the toughest guys in college football. I have watched him get pounded into the turf for years behind sub-par offensive lines and he just keeps getting up, over and over, as he did today. But at some point, it has to wear you down. And with the score 59-3 Clemson, I have to question why the FSU coaching staff had him in the game at this point.
Clemson took over after a punt where the FSU defender was called for targeting as he tackled returner Will Swinney. Dixon had some good runs to move the ball into FSU territory. Darion Rencher had a strong 15-yard run down to the Nole 30, but the drive stalled and on 4th down Brice tried to hit Swinney in the end zone and it was close, but it was ruled an interception. On their drive, another FSU player was ejected for throwing a punch. The Tiger reserves almost got to backup QB James Blackman, but he scrambled and hit an open receiver who took it to the end zone. Clemson led 59-10.
Ben Batson came it at QB for the Tigers. A couple of Dixon runs and a Batson run couldn’t move the chains and Clemson punted with under 3 minutes left. Xavier Kelly got a sack on Blackman. Not much happened after that and the game ended with a 59-10 Tiger win.
The Tigers seem to have hit their stride and have made a clear statement to the playoff committee ahead of next week’s inaugural poll. Check back with us at STS for coverage of today’s game and next week’s game against a hapless Louisville team in Death Valley. Let us know your thoughts on today’s beatdown of the Noles in the comments section below.