When you consider that Seminoles' starting quarterback Chris Rix knocked out of the game early in the first quarter, and couple that with a record setting day by Justin Miller, Clemson seemed to be in perfect position to get back on the winning track.
It didn't happen.
The Tigers committed five turnovers, all by the hands of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, to help lift Florida State to a 41-22 victory in front of 83,538 Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Whitehurst threw three interceptions and fumbled twice to doom the Tigers, who now drop to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the ACC. On the season, Whitehurst now has nine turnovers in his last two games and 13 of the team's 14.
Moreover, the junior quarterback finished the day just 10-of-24 passing with three interceptions and 88 yards.
"I definitely have to start playing better," Whitehurst said. "We're not going to win with me playing like this."
The Tigers amassed 150 yards of total offense in the first half, but only managed a horrid 23 yards in the second half.
"We've got to perform better offensively in the second half than what we did tonight, regardless of how good the team is," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "We moved it pretty good the first half, kept them balance, and executed it pretty good.
"The second half we didn't move it at all. They're good and that's what a good team does. But, then again, they are not good enough where we shouldn't be more productive than that, regardless of how good they are."
On the other side of the ball for the Tigers, their rush defense, which entered the game with major concerns, was solid, especially in the first half as they held the ground attack of Florida State in check. The Noles tallied just 41 yards rushing on 21 attempts.
But in the second half, Clemson was worn down and the Seminoles wound up controlling the game by running the ball at will. FSU finished the day with 186 yards on the ground.
|Justin Miller single handily kept the Tigers in the game Saturday in Tallahassee.|
Earlier in the quarter, Florida State pushed their lead 38-22 after fullback James Coleman crossed the goal line from one yard out with 8:45 to play. On that drive, the Seminoles rushed the ball nine straight times to get the score.
With the Clemson offense struggling to gain any sort of yardage, the defense was forced to spend a large amount of time on the field. In fact, Clemson's defense spent an incredible 21:08 on the field in the second half, and it showed.
"I think toward the end, we put them back on the field, back on the field, back on the field," Bowden said. "We are just not strong enough to take that kind of a beating. The missed tackles in the fourth quarter were fatigued."
The Seminoles started the second half by sustaining up to that point their longest drive of the game when they marched 80 yards on 10 plays to take a 24-14 lead after Chauncey Stovall caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Wyatt Sexton with 11:14 left in the third quarter.
On Clemson's ensuing possession, Whitehurst threw his second interception of the game.
Oddly enough, the pick turned into a positive for the Tigers. After holding the Seminoles deep in their own territory, Clemson's C.J. Gaddis blocked a punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Then on Florida State's kickoff, Miller worked his magic once again and bolted 86 yards for another kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 24-22 with 7:30 left in the quarter. It was his second of the game, which was a first in school history.
Following the touchdown, Bowden opted to go for the two-point conversion. A run by Whitehurst failed and the score remained at 24-22.
The Seminoles widened their lead after tailback Leon Washington broke several tackles and dashed his way for a 35-yard touchdown run with 3:20 left in the third to make it 31-22.
Clemson managed just 20 yards of total offense in the quarter.
"We turned the ball over and that continues to be a problem," Bowden said. "That needs to be looked at pretty seriously. Now it's getting to a stage where it's really, really hurting us."
The Tigers had every opportunity to stake themselves to a massive lead in the first half. In fact, had they not committed crucial miscues, they could have possibly found themselves leading 31-3 at halftime.
The problem, though, was that mistakes were committed, and Florida State found itself with a 17-14 lead at the half, despite the fact that the Seminoles generated just 96 yards of total offense.
The problems for Clemson started midway through the first quarter when it appeared the Tigers would, at the very least, get a field goal. But Whitehurst fumbled the snap from center at the Florida State 23 and the Seminoles recovered it.
The bright spot for the Tigers in the opening quarter came immediately following a Florida State 29-yard field goal when Miller returned the kickoff 97 yards straight up the gut for a touchdown with 10:48 remaining to give them a 7-3 lead.
The two touchdowns for Miller were a school record and his total kickoff return yardage of 282 yards set an NCAA record.
On the Tigers' first series in the second quarter, they squandered a sure touchdown when wide receiver Kelvin Grant dropped a perfectly thrown 48-yard touchdown pass on third down.
The turnover struggles for Whitehurst continued as he fumbled for the second time after being hit by Seminoles defensive end Eric Moore. Florida State recovered the ball at the Clemson 18. But a personal foul against the Tigers moved it to their 9.
Three plays later, Florida State fullback B.J. Dean scored on a two-yard run to give the Seminoles a 10-7 lead with 4:06 remaining.
The ensuing kickoff to Miller looked as though lightning was going to strike twice as he bolted up the middle and had nothing but green grass between him and the end zone, but he tripped over his own feet and fell at the Clemson 34.
The very next play, Whitehurst was picked off by cornerback Leroy Smith, who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to give the Seminoles a 17-7 lead with 3:48 left until halftime.
To Whitehurst's credit, he responded and led the Tigers to a touchdown scoring drive when he hit wide receiver Curtis Baham on a quick post route for 12 yards to cut Florida State's lead to 17-14 with 1:47 until intermission.
"We kind of gave it to them in the first half," Whitehurst said. "They ended up winning the game in the second half, but we could have had a big lead. That makes it hard."
It doesn't get any easier for Clemson, which has next weekend off before heading to Virginia (4-0, 1-0 ACC) the following Thursday.
"I never thought about anything like this," Tigers senior linebacker Leroy Hill said. "I thought we'd be undefeated entering the bye week. It hurts, man."