CLEMSON, SC– It was a weekend filled with questions and possibilities throughout college football, with some of those questions being answered and discovered in the matchup between the Florida State Seminoles and the 4th ranked Clemson Tigers. Clemson came into this game one win away from a third consecutive ACC title game berth, while the Noles’ needed to win three of their last four games for a bowl berth of their own. It was a tough battle between both teams, but the Tigers handed this Seminole team another loss, convincingly, by a score of 31-14. Clemson improves to 9-1 (7-1 ACC), while Florida State drops to 3-6 (3-5 ACC).
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was tremendous for the team yet again as the Tigers look to be a legitimate force with him constantly under center. The Clemson defense was dominant the entire game, beginning on their opening possession. They shut down all hopes of Florida State possibly having a postseason as the Tigers look forward to their own. Clemson will now take on the Miami Hurricanes in what should have game of the year potential, in the ACC Championship on December 2nd.
The Clemson offense did what it usually does; pound the ball on the ground and throw short passes until it breaks the defense open. What breaks defenses open for them? A Bryant scramble that happens right before our eyes. As the Tigers’ offense were struggling early on, their defense kept coming up with big stops to get them the ball back. Bryant had a 16 yard run in the first quarter that showed Clemson how to wear down this Noles’ team. From that point on, the game was a breeze for the defending national champions up until the closing minutes, as they held the Seminoles scoreless in the first two quarters.
At the half, Bryant completed 12 of 15 passes for 80 yards and also had 41 rushing yards as he scored the first touchdown of the game on a two yard run. He has been the most efficient player offensively for Clemson and while healthy, he allows Clemson to reach their full potential. He finished with 20 of 30 passes for 151 yards passing and had a fantastic quarterback rating of 108.9. Bryant repeatedly makes the right throws to keep the chains moving and extends drives with his legs to create more opportunities for this team. While not every possession is a score, the consistency in getting Clemson to the red zone each time is what they benefit from the most.
Bryant was second on the team in rushing with 60 yards on 19 carries. First on the team and leading the running back group was Travis Etienne. He finished with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries and scored the second Tiger touchdown of the day on a 28 yard run. That score was set up by a 35 yard punt return from wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud as the Noles’ simply had no answer for the spectacular team play from Clemson. Etienne finished the game with two rushing touchdowns and his second one sealed the game with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. Clemson running back Adam Choice also contributed with a touchdown of his own, along with 40 yards to bring the team rushing total to 227.
While not gaining much yardage in the air, Bryant completed passes to 12 different receivers, allowing the team to move the ball and open up the field. Leading the receiving corps for Clemson was wide receiver Hunter Renfrow who finished four catches for 35 yards. He had a crucial first down conversion as the Tigers were trying to maintain possession after a turnover late in the game. Going 8 for 15 on third down, the majority of those short completions were first down conversions and that was key for the team as they had 24 total first downs. While the Seminoles’ defense proved to be troublesome at times for Bryant in the pocket, this Clemson team did what they needed to do to maintain the lead. Although the offense puts up the points, a big assist came from the other side of the ball.
Offenses can be great at times on their own, but defenses can truly set them up as well. The Tigers needed some time to get things going offensively and with four sacks and a fumble recovery at the half, the defense gave them more than enough chances. Clemson’s defense was unstoppable, totaling 10 tackles for loss by seven different players and five sacks with one interception for the game. The defense was also very successful containing the Noles’ explosive running backs, as Clemson held their rushing attack to an average of 0.9 yards per carry and also forced two fumbles.
Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins spoke about the success against Florida State today. “We stuck to the game plan and stopped the run game. We did a good job keeping them to short gains and made them two-dimensional. Our guys played with great effort and energy.”
The Seminoles went 3 of 13 on third down and it allowed the Tigers’ defense to get a good amount of rest as their offense took control of the clock, out gaining the Noles in time of possession by 13 minutes.
This was championship caliber defense displayed by the Tigers for the majority of the game and it will only guarantee them success through the end stretch of the season when it matters most.
“That was the next goal for us. You can’t play for the conference title if you don’t win the division. I’m so proud of this team. Nobody really picked us to win the league this year, and not many picked us to win the division, so I’m glad my guys didn’t get that memo. They just went to work. We’ve had a lot of guys step up and earn it.” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stated after clinching the ACC Atlantic Division title in the process.
Florida State’s postseason hopes took a bit of a hit after a lackluster performance today. Quarterback James Blackman was under duress the entire game and couldn’t catch a break in the pocket. He must shoulder some of the blame too as a few of his passes were badly overthrown and underthrown to receivers who had space in front of them. Blackman completed 13 of 32 passes for 208 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. He also gave the Noles’ fans some hope as he showed flashes of creating some heroic moments.
With 8:53 left in the fourth quarter, Blackman found tight end Ryan Izzo for a 60 yard touchdown catch and run to cut the deficit to 17-14. Fans around the country have seen this before, as he is purely capable of comeback win in an extremely hectic environment. After an ensuing fumble by Clemson, on the first play of the new drive Blackman threw an interception that sealed the deal. It was a rookie mistake, yet he gave the Tigers’ fans a worrisome five minutes until up until then.
It was a great game all around with some exciting moments, but it was most certainly a dominant effort by the Tigers over the Noles’. The Clemson Tigers will take on Citadel Bulldogs on November 18th at 12:20 PM ET to keep pushing for a playoff spot. The Florida State Seminoles will take on Delaware State on November 18th at 12:00 PM ET as they now have to win each of their last three games for hopes of playing in a postseason game.