8 Things We Learned at FSU

There are a whole range of different aspects that can be taken away from Thursday night's loss to Florida State. Obviously, the Tigers' special teams are still a work in progress, and we all know that the talent gap between the FSU and Clemson isn't nearly what it once was, but what else can we say with certainity?

1) The talent gap between these two teams is small.
Anybody watching Thursday night's slugfest could tell you that Clemson had the weapons on both sides of the ball to win the game. At one point in the first half, the Tigers actually had three times as many yards on offense as did Florida State. You hate to say it, but the classic "wait 'til next year" line sure seems to already be on a lot of people's mind with the Seminoles and the Bulldogs having to come to Death Valley in 2003.

One thing is for sure, if Tommy Bowden is able to continue his recruiting success in the coming years, the Clemson-Florida State game has the potential to develop into one of the most talked about rivalries in the country. Judging by the scene in Doak-Campbell Stadium Thursday night, it sure seemed like the fans of both schools already dispise each other as much as Auburn-Alabama or Texas-Texas A&M.

2) Special teams still need some work.
While the special teams as a whole showed steady improvement since the season opening loss at Georgia, it has now become obvious that this is the one glaring weakness on this football team. Wynn Kopp botched a punt, Jackie Robinson fumbled a kickoff, and Derrick Hamilton also fumbled a punt after Travis Pugh accidentally touched the football while blocking a Seminole defender. Unfortunately, those were just the turnovers.

The Tigers also gave up a 97-yard kickoff return to Leon Washington, and another huge kickoff return which gave the Seminoles great field position late in the first half. In all, the Seminoles tallied almost 200 return yards. "Last week against Louisville, we definitely lost the special teams battle," said Washington. "This week, we wanted to come out and win it right away. I love doing special teams and I have a lot of fun doing it, and it's the most important part of the game."

Tiger cornerback Brian Mance agreed. "The special teams did it to us again," said Mance. "I think we need to put some of the starters out there, other teams do it, so should we." The senior cornerback hit the nail on the head with that comment, and that just might be the first step in solving the special teams dilemma.

3) The top playmaker on the team is...
Talk about your no-brainer- Derrick Hamilton. Hamilton made several eye-catching plays, including an incredible catch in which he stole the ball from Florida State safety Claudius Osei in mid-air. The end result was a 42-yard reception that was the key play in the Tigers' final scoring drive of the evening. He also added 23 rushing yards on just 3 carries and returned two kickoffs for 42 and 39 yards and a punt for 46 yards. Simply put, there isn't much this athlete can't do.

4) The sophomore slump is officially over.
End the discussion right now- the so called "sophomore slump" that so many people have been talking about recently with Airese Currie is now over. Airese Currie scored the first touchdown of the night, and the second of his career for the Tigers when he brought in a 28-yard scoring strike from Willie Simmons. The Columbia native also caught one more pass for 21 yards.

5) The Tigers must go back to the basics when it comes to tackling.
After Clemson took a 24-21 lead right before halftime, Florida State running back Greg Jones took the handoff and raced down the left sideline for 64 back breaking yards. During his amazing run, it appeared as though the Tigers would tackle him on 5 separate occasions, but they just couldn't bring him down.

Jones would go on to rush for 171 yards and a career high 3 touchdowns. More importantly, it seemed like any time the Seminoles needed a big play- he provided it by breaking tackles for first down yardage. It happened all evening long, but it was magnified in the 4th quarter when the defense was simply too worn down to keep up.

Instead of taking a 3-point lead into halftime, Chris Rix would hit Talman Gardner with a 5-yard touchdown pass to essentially destroy any momentum the Tigers had mustered by reclaiming the lead only seconds before. You can boil it down to one simple statement: the Tiger defense has to wrap up after making the big hit.

6) Big things are still possible this season.
Looking at the remaining teams on the schedule, it appears to be very likely that the Tigers will be favored in every single game, even the Thursday night contest against N.C. State. The Wolfpack have lost 2 in a row to Clemson, and in the meeting last year in Raleigh, the game wasn't hardly as close as 45-37 score indicated. Sure, tough road games still remain at Virginia and North Carolina, but barring a major upset, Clemson should be in a position to put together at least a 9 win regular season. But don't start making New Year's Eve plans in Atlanta or Jacksonville just yet- anything is still possible.

7) The invincibility of playing in Tallahassee is gone.
Sure, the Seminoles picked up the big win Thursday night, but the ACC is no longer a stomping ground for our southern neighbors. That's not to say that the Noles are lacking in talent- because they aren't, but there are several teams in the conference catching up fast in all phases of the game. You have to begin to wonder if the power has finally shifted out of Tallahassee to some of the other teams in the ACC. We'll understand the validity of that statement as the year continues.

8) The Tigers have a good one at quarterback.
Willie Simmons showcased his rifle arm on several occasions Thursday evening, gunning the football into extremely tight coverage for several crucial 3rd down conversions. He also showed nice touch on the deep ball and he consistently beat the Noles downfield whenever he saw the blitz headed his way.

Even though he had two interceptions, one of those came on a tipped pass, and the other likely saved another special teams disaster when he threw the ball up for grabs on 3rd and long from inside the Tigers' 10-yard line. The Quincy, Florida native finished the night by completing 17-of-27 passes for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns to go along with 13 rushes for 50 yards.

In all, he directed two scoring drives in the first quarter and gave Clemson the lead for the first time in Tallahassee since 1989. Those 14 1st quarter points were also 4 more than the Tigers had scored in their last 5 trips to FSU combined. Make no mistake about it, Willie Simmons will be a special football player before he leaves Clemson University.

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