Tallahassee, FL – Clemson scored 59 points, and Florida State scored ten points with three player ejections.
Florida State was hanging onto a scoreless tie in Doak Campbell Stadium – a place that Clemson has never won back-to-back games before. Near the beginning of the second quarter, the reliable Greg Huegel lined up on the left hash to kick a forty-yard field goal in the beginning of the second quarter. His kick sailed wide right to the cheers of FSU fans, whose upset hopes were still alive – until the referee threw the flag.
Florida State’s raw talent had managed to keep the game scoreless despite being outplayed, that single flag changed everything. Star freshman Asante Samuel Jr. roughed Greg Huegel after the kick to give Clemson a fresh set of downs. In case you are wondering, yes – he is the son of theAsante Samuel: the two-time Super Bowl champion and 2007 all-pro cornerback with a knack for picking off quarterbacks.
The story of the game can be told in two parts: before the penalty and after the penalty. Zero points were scored before the penalty and 69 points were scored afterwards, but 59 of those were scored by Clemson as the Tigers took advantage of the Seminole’s self-destruction in a 59-10 rout.
The play and the outcome of the game summarized the difference between Coach Swinney’s tenth edition of the Clemson Tigers and Coach Taggart’s first edition of the Seminoles. Both programs are amongst the best recruiters in the nation annually, and they play in the same division – but that’s where the similarities end.
Both offenses struggled and both teams made mistakes in a sloppy first quarter of football. Clemson yet again failed to execute on a sky punt from their own 38-yard line, giving FSU the ball while only pushing them back 18 yards to their own twenty-yard line. On the next drive, a combination of a bad snap and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cam Akers pushed the Seminoles back to second-and-43 on their own ten-yard line. Clemson averaged 5.1 yards per play while Florida State averaged less than one yard per play in the first quarter, but the scoreboard read 0-0.
Clemson woke up and they never looked back. With thirteen minutes left in the half three plays later, Trevor Lawrence and Tee Higgins connected for a seven-yard touchdown to earn seven points. Clemson’s defense held strong, and Lawrence led another touchdown drive capped off by a three-yard pass to Tee Higgins just minutes later.
An already penalty heavy and intense game almost boiled over when safety Hamsah Nasirildeen was ejected for targeting and then leaning into Trevor Lawrence on the ground.
Christian Wilkins rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to end that drive, and H-back Garrett Williams finished the next drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown. Adding insult to injury, Garrett Williams lined up in his father’s position at fullback in the I-formation and scored against his father’s own alma mater (FSU) in his home stadium.
As if entering the locker room with a 28-0 deficit at halftime and having to kick to start the second half isn’t bad enough, Trevor Lawrence’s 58-yard slant pass to Amari Rodgers was yet another dagger in the heart of the once-mighty Seminoles. BT Potter kicked a 24-yardd field goal after Florida State muffed a punt, and Lawrence again connected with Amari Rodgers for a 68-yard score to push the lead to 45-0 with 7:50 left in the third quarter.
Florida State’s first sign of life was on the following drive. Deondre Francois completed three passes of over twenty yards, and his last pass survived a Clemson challenge. FSU receiver Nyqwan Murray was ejected for throwing a punch at Mark Fields on third and goal, Ricky Aguayo kicked a 35-yard field goal to put Florida State on the board.
Chase Brice entered the game near the end of the third quarter – and he wasn’t just handing the ball off. His 61-yard strike to Diondre Overton led to his five-yard touchdown strike to TJ Chase which extended Clemson’s lead to 52-3. After a short drive and disastrous FSU punt, Adam Choice took advantage of the short field and finished off Clemson’s drive with a 15-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Deondre Francois trotted out on the field down 59-3, to former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd’s disdain as he tweeted: “Take Francois out; Taggart has completely lost this team and this is beyond repairable for the remainder of the season.”His warning was ignored and the worst case scenario happened as Francois had to leave the game after a Xavier Thomas sack.
A targeting call on Will Swinney (at punt returner) was overturned before another long drive featuring backups and walk-ons from Clemson. Chase Brice’s pass in the end zone was intercepted by AJ Lytton.
AJ Lytton’s play earned him the turnover backpack, and James Blackman completed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Helton to make the score 59-10 near the end of the fourth quarter. Keeping with the theme of the game, the touchdown drive didn’t come without extracurricular activities as Zaquandre White was disqualified for throwing a punch.
Florida State rushed for negative 21 yards (positive 17 yards after sack adjustments) while amassing a staggering 134 yards on 16 penalties. Deondre Francois was a warrior – completing 17 of his 36 passes for 180 yards and a pick before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. Clemson passed for 404 yards and rushed for over 120 yards; and Etienne was the leading rusher with 45 yards on ten attempts. Trevor Lawrence had an excellent day against FSU’s talented defense, completing 20 of his 37 passes for 314 yards and four scores.
While some of Florida State’s starters were in with a 55-point deficit, all 72 of Clemson’s traveling squad played for a third game in a row. Clemson had ten different players record a carry and ten different players catch a pass – including cornerback Trayvon Mullen’s 17-yard catch.
No one disputes that Clemson is the best team in the ACC, but a great argument could be made that Clemson’s backups are the second best team in the ACC. Florida State’s program is in worse shape than anyone could have dreamed – three ejections, a 49-point loss, and barely beating Samford. In a role reversal from decades of the past, Clemson is king of the ACC and the powerhouse team of the decade (along with Alabama).
This isn’t 1998 anymore – its 2018 and the roles have switched.