Miller Time

Clemson cornerback Justin Miller set an NCAA record for kick-off return yards Saturday, picking up a pair of touchdowns in the process. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said the special teams performance of the Tigers helped neurtalize the game, and shift momentum towards Clemson.

There was no secret to his performance Saturday, according to Clemson cornerback Justin Miller.

He just read his blocks and hit the holes at full speed. A simple approach that resulted in 282 return yards, and a pair of touchdowns, surpassing the former NCAA record for kickoff return yards held by Iowa State's Tyrone Watley against Nebraska in 1997.

"It's a great accomplishment," Miller said of setting the record. "They blocked like their life was on the line and that's all I ask of them."

FSU kicker Xavier Beitia took the blame.

Beitia took the blame.

"The first kickoff - it was me," Beitia said. "We called deep left and I kicked it and brought it right in the middle of the field."

Clemson never asked that much of Miller, but he gave them what they needed. Special teams proved to be a momentum shifter and ultimately brought the Tigers within striking distance in the second half of the game.

Mid-way through the third quarter, Clemson's defense held Florida State within their own five, forcing FSU to punt. Clemson CB C.J. Gaddis eased past the Seminoles line and placed a square block on Chris Hall's punt, sending it through the back of the end zone for a safety.

Moments later, it was Miller time.

Florida State K Xavier Beitia sent a driving kick in Miller's direction. He fielded it at the Clemson 14-yard line and looked up the field. It was a familiar site, and Miller knew it was promising. His blockers had opened a wide lane, so he darted towards the gap and went 86 yards into the end zone, virtually untouched. It brought the Tigers within two points, 24-22, of the Seminoles at the 7:30 mark in the third quarter.

"I think we turned the momentum in special teams," Miller said. "I told them to get in there and get in the way and I'd make something happen."

However, it was the closest Clemson would come to narrowing the Seminoles lead.

The spark that Miller ignited seemed to fade under the pressure of the Seminoles defense. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden wished Miller's supporting cast could have done more to capitalize on the play of their special teams.

"I hate, in speaking to Justin, I hate that we couldn't help him out. It was a great individual performance by a player who just refused to quit," Tommy Bowden said.

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was glad they didn't.

"The biggest problem was kick-off returns, that number nine (Miller) is dangerous. Every time he comes out with a punt or a kick, he comes out of there with the idea of going all the way," Bobby Bowden said.

That was exactly what Miller had in mind from the start of the game. His first return, 96 yards, came early in the game on the heels of Beitia's opening field goal and moved Clemson ahead 7-3, their only lead.

"My mindset was to go out there and score, that's my mindset every time I'm out there," Miller said.

Miller entered Saturday's game as the top player in the ACC for kickoff returns, averaging 27.3 yards per game. In the season opener against Wake Forest, Miller notched a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown on the last play of the first quarter.

Over his career, Miller has retuned two punts and three kick-offs for touchdowns.


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