Tigers try to turn the page

CLEMSON – It rang out loud and clear, unmistakable in its message.

Shortly after Florida State began the second half Saturday night the same way it ended the first – with another drive and touchdown – the Seminole War Chant broke out in Memorial Stadium's WestZone.

It was loud, unavoidable, and easy to hear – because the rest of the stadium was dead silent. On a night when Clemson had hoped to make the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest stadium, the Tigers were second-class citizens in their own home.

No. 5 Florida State's 51-14 housing of No. 3 Clemson – the program's worst home defeat since a 37-0 loss to Virginia Tech in September 1998 – silenced any talk of a BCS national title. It silenced any talk of an ACC championship. And it might have put the Tigers in second-class status in the Atlantic Division for the foreseeable future.

The Seminoles were the younger team. The upstarts. The better team. And it wasn't even close.

"As good as we are, we didn't do things to compete on that field," Clemson fifth-year senior quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "We didn't play the type of caliber that we're capable of, and that's not us. We didn't display the type of team we have, and that's the most disappointing part of it. They were good, don't get me wrong, but it's not whatever point difference that it was."

Much of the pregame talk revolved around how Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston would handle Clemson's defensive line and raucous environment.

And how he'd compare with Boyd, the experienced veteran, reigning ACC Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy candidate.

The answer? Spectacularly well. Winston was the best player on the field, and it wasn't close. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 444 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

He was poised. Confident. Talented. And a clear Heisman contender.

Meanwhile, Boyd picked a poor night to have one of the worst games of his career.

He completed 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

His throws were high, low, scattershot. All over the place.

He didn't protect the ball well. Down 10-0, Boyd dug his team a hole it would never get out of, losing a fumble while being sacked on a slot blitz. FSU defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. scooped it up and rolled 37 yards for a touchdown and shocking 17-0 lead.

"A miscommunication of a play," Boyd said. "We called one thing, everyone went the right way. I thought it was something else, went the other way and tried to throw the ball away. It slipped out of my hand."

Clemson broke Florida State's side of the field three times in the second quarter and came away with no points: Boyd called the resulting turn of momentum "West Virginia-esque."

His teammates didn't give him much help, either. Clemson entered the game leading the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, but scarcely touched Winston until a pair of meaningless second-half sacks trailing 34-7.

The Tigers' linebackers and secondary were completely outclassed by Florida State's quartet of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Nick O' Leary and Kelvin Benjamin.

By the fourth quarter, the fans who hung around were reduced to sarcastic cheers for Clemson first downs.

One sequence summed up the destruction: Up 48-7, Florida State stuffed D.J. Howard on a fourth and goal at the 1-yard line.

The Seminoles turned right around and jammed the ball right back down Clemson's collective throat as O'Leary took a tight end screen, racing 94 yards down the left sideline. Only a well-placed stumble kept him from a 99-yard touchdown, but the resulting field goal set Memorial Stadium's all-time record for most points scored by an opponent.

And here's the thing: this might have been Clemson's best opportunity to seize national prominence.

Boyd is a senior. Watkins – the only receiver to show a pulse (eight catches, 68 yards) is a junior and likely to declare for the NFL draft as a potential first-round draft pick.

And while Chad Morris is the nation's highest-paid offensive coordinator at $1.3 million per year (money he didn't earn Saturday night), this offseason and each successive offseason will be spent with a wary eye pointed toward the coaching carousel, wondering which deep-pocketed program with an attractive vacancy will poach him as its next head coach.

Meanwhile, Winston announced himself as the nation's next great quarterback with a virtuoso performance.

The Seminoles and Tigers are the clear class of the ACC: for the foreseeable future, this game is set up to determine the Atlantic Division champion and potentially the league champion.

Clemson fans should have no delusions that toppling the Seminoles will be any easier next fall in Tallahassee while breaking in a new starting quarterback.

Florida State's defense is littered with seniors and NFL draft-eligible juniors, but as they've shown after losing 11 players to the NFL draft last April, they don't rebuild – they reload. It is a bitterly disappointing comedown for a program that spent this week basking in the national spotlight.

"This was a huge missed opportunity for our team," Swinney said.

Following 2012's 11-2 record, the onus was to improve and take the next step towards a BCS national title berth. Sunday morning brings the bitter realization that the Tigers are the second-best team in their own division, and right now, it isn't close.

Instead of dreaming about Pasadena, Clemson must win out and beat South Carolina just to salvage a shot at a BCS at-large berth. Suddenly, a second consecutive Chick-fil-A Bowl trip doesn't seem so inviting.

"We do have a lot to play for," Boyd said. "The national title implications are kind of out the door. We'll see what happens – six top-10 teams lost today? We'll see. It was disappointing for us. We can't do anything about it anymore, but we've got to take it and learn from it."

There was the usual refrain of refocusing for Maryland, that "we can't let one loss beat us twice."

Trouble is, this one loss feels awfully damaging – for this week and beyond.

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