When you score more than 35 points, the expectation is you've done enough to win. Unfortuantely, that wasn't the case Saturday night. The Tigers were bold with their play calling, physical at the point of attack for three quarters, but couldn't convert in critical situations with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Credit Florida State's defense for making plays when the Seminoles needed it. Sammy Watkins was surprisingly held in check, recording six catches for 24 yards, but he also threw for a score and ran it five times for 37. Tajh Boyd had a gutty performance, completing 20-of-36 passes for three scores, but a costly interception prevented any hopes of a miracle comeback. In all, the Tigers rang up 426 yards against the nation's top defenses in one of the most hostile environments the ACC has seen.
What else can you say? The bend-but-don't break philosophy worked for two quarters as FSU scored just 14 points at halftime. However, the Tigers were overmatched starting late in the third quarter and never recovered. Missed tackles, blown assignments and a general sense that nothing was going right for this unit was the dominant theme. By the end of the game, the Seminoles rolled up 667 yards of total offense on 75 plays, including 287 on the ground and a mind-boggling 380 through the air. The Seminoles also averaged just over nine yards per play. Considering the youth with this unit, you hope for improvement, otherwise Clemson may have to win higher-scoring games this year to achieve its goals. Still, the missed tackles made Chris Thompson look like Warrick Dunn, and at bare minimum, this needs to be corrected.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D+
Chandler Catanzaro continued a sensational run by drilling a 50-yard field goal and has now made 15 consecutive attempts - a new school record. However, one of the key turning points in the game was Lamarcus Joyner's 90-yard kick return with FSU trailing by 10 in the third quarter. Bradley Pinion hit the kick high, but short, allowing for the return, and the Seminoles never relinquished momentum. That turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game.
It's obvious Chad Morris knows how to call the right plays in a big game. It's also obvious Dabo Swinney knows how to motivate his team to start fast. While it's easy to point to the defense and question its performance, how much can you pin on first-year coordinator Brent Venables? Clemson's ultra-young up front and simply wore down Saturday evening. Overall, the game plan was good enough to win, FSU just proved to have too much firepower to go down as it did last year.
A loss like this never feels good. Clemson came in as a two-touchdown underdog, but this game proved to be winnable after the Tigers went up 28-14 early in the third quarter. Credit Florida State for making plays when it had to - especially on defense - before E.J. Manuel simply broke the Tigers' back time after time with the short passing game. Clemson now has to regroup, going from one of the best environments in college football in Tallahassee... to Boston College. The race for the Atlantic Division championship isn't over, but the Tigers can ill-afford any more slip ups - including next weekend in Chestnut Hill. In addition, Clemson has to hope FSU falls twice in conference play - with the best chances coming on the road at N.C. State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
GRADES: Tigers run out of gas
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