Seminoles will provide another test

After impressive dismantling of the nation's longest winning streak, Clemson faces another stiff challenge Saturday against No. 11 Florida State.

Clemson fans finally got a good look at what Clemson's new up-tempo offense is supposed to be capable of in the Tigers' 38-24 victory over No. 19 Auburn on Sept. 17.

In short, Clemson's offense hit on all cylinders against Auburn, snapping Auburn's 17-game winning streak by racking up 624 yards of total offense, the third-highest figure in school history. Now the Tigers face another big challenge another test for their offense -- a showdown with defending ACC Atlantic Division champion Florida State on Sept. 24.

"Let's not anoint this team just yet," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Offensively we did a lot of good things, but we still have to improve the knowledge of some of our players. We have yet to play our best game."

The effort versus Auburn couldn't have been too far off.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd was the catalyst. Making just his third career start, Boyd continued to show dramatic improvement, passing for 386 yards and four touchdowns.


Dwayne Allen helped pace a passing attack that torched No. 19 Auburn to the tune of 376 yards. (Getty Images)
"He has really taken ownership of this team," Swinney said. "Our guys believe in him."

They also believe in freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, who continued to be an electrifying rookie, catching 10 passes for 155 yards and two scores. He has scored at least one touchdown in each of the Tigers' first three games.

Under the guidance of first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Tulsa's prolific offense last season, Clemson appears to be perfecting the new system. Morris has repeatedly said that he wants the Tigers to run around 80 plays per game; against Auburn the Tigers ran 92 plays -- the fifth-most in school history -- and converted 14-of-18 third-down opportunities.

Now Swinney is hoping they carry that confidence over to their matchup with the Seminoles, who will be the second of three consecutive Top 20 opponents for Clemson.

"It's not hard (to remain focused) when you've got Florida State up next," Swinney said. "They're a huge rival, it's a big game for our players and fans and they're the division champs. They beat us last year at their place (16-13). Whoever wins this will have a good start in the league race, so it won't be hard to get these guys ready to go."

MONDAY NOTES: Clemson and Auburn combined for 1,059 yards of offense, which ranks second all-time in Clemson history for two teams in the same game. They fell 49 yards shy of eclipsing the record 1,107 yards set in 1981 when Clemson blitzed Wake Forest 82-24.

* Clemson, which had converted on just 12 of 31 third-down opportunities in its first two games against Troy and Wofford, was successful on 14 of 18 on third-down conversions against Auburn, including 10 in a row during one stretch in the second and third periods. It was the most third-down conversions in a game for Clemson since 1986.

* For a third straight game, Clemson's defense did not allow a second-half touchdown. The Tigers have held Troy, Wofford and Auburn to a total of just 12 points -- four field goals – in the second half.

KEEP AN EYE ON: RB D.J. Howard -- Howard, a redshirt freshman, replaced starter Andre Ellington -- who pulled a hamstring -- late in the Auburn game and came up big. Howard, an Alabama native who originally committed to Auburn, burned Auburn for 86 yards on just nine carries, an average of 9.7 yards per attempt.

"I don't think D.J. Howard woke up this morning thinking he was going to be the leading rusher in the ballgame," coach Dabo Swinney said.

LOOKING GOOD: The offensive line, beleaguered for its less-than-stellar play in Clemson's first two games, mustered a strong effort against Auburn. With starting guard David Smith sidelined after surgery and his replacement, Mason Cloy, also on the bench after injuring a shoulder early in the game, redshirt sophomore Brandon Thomas played extensively and impressed the coaches.

"He really stepped up – I hope he gets a lot of confidence from that performance," Swinney said.

The line paved the way for 238 rushing yards and was particularly effective late, dominating Auburn's line during a game-ending 18-play drive. Their protection was good, too – after allowing seven sacks in the first two games, the line did not allow a sack against Auburn.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Although it finished strong against Auburn, Clemson continued to be slow out of the gate, falling behind 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game. The Tigers also trailed early in wins over Troy and Wofford and have not led at halftime of any of their first three games. "We played good second-half defense; we've just got to start playing the first half the same way," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Shoot! This guy? He's from another planet." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, who set school rookie records for catches, yards and touchdowns in a game against Auburn.

LOOKING AHEAD: They left battered, but not broken. They were deflated, but insisted they were not devastated.

Florida State lost on the scoreboard and in the physical toll department from a 23-13 loss to Oklahoma. The game was billed as the biggest home game in more than a decade, arguably the biggest against an out-of-state opponent in school history.


FSU QB E.J. Manuel was knocked out of Saturday night's game against No. 1 Oklahoma. (Getty Images)
A record crowd watched. At times, the crowd noise was deafening. The emotions on both sidelines swung back and forth. But when it ended, Oklahoma again proved superior and the Seminoles proved they are still several positions and an effective running game away from declaring a complete return to elite.

"It just shows potential," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "Those guys played great but you want to win games like this. It shows that there's potential and that this program is rolling in the direction that Coach Fisher wants it to."

But all of that talk becomes moot, of course, unless FSU can find a way to get enough healthy receivers and a quarterback ready to play Saturday at Clemson -- a place they have not won in a decade. The ACC opener for both teams looms even larger, after Clemson knocked off Auburn at home and FSU is coming off this physically-taxing loss to the Sooners.

"I'm disappointed we lost because we had chances to win that football game, but I'm also very encouraged that our kids can compete at the highest level. I truly believe that," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think our kids see it. They were hurting in that locker room and they should because they see it. Because there were some things that they could have controlled. I'm not disappointed as far as where we're going, we need a little more execution to get where we need to go."

"We've got to find a way to run the football. We've got to be more physical up front."

The anemic rushing attack, an issue since the season started, became more pronounced against Oklahoma when FSU generated just 27 yards on 26 attempts. It led to a gameplan calling for more sprint draws and designed runs for quarterback E.J. Manuel. And that strategy blew up when Manuel was rocked by an Oklahoma defender on a running play in the third quarter. His left shoulder was injured bad enough that Manuel never returned and FSU was forced to insert redshirt freshman Clint Trickett.

He was one of at least five players, who either were forced out of the game for a series or the entire game. Receiver Kenny Shaw, who was given a bigger role in Bert Reed's absence, was knocked unconscious while trying to corral a pass from Manuel in the first half. He was taken out of the stadium in an ambulance, but later returned without his pads to watch the final quarter.

While Trickett performed well, as well as FSU may have expected, he showed his youth after Oklahoma regained a lead with 7:00 left in the fourth quarter and Trickett threw an interception on the ensuing series.

The Seminoles are faced with trying to recover emotionally and physically for another emotional game on Saturday. This one in a hostile setting against a very confident team. It will be a defining moment of the season and could make-or-break FSU's hopes of returning to the ACC championship game.

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