By: Vaughan Sheffey (@vizzle311)
Even the most optimistic of FSU backers would most likely not have predicted the result of Saturday’s tilt in Death Valley. The undefeated Seminoles had not won at Clemson since the Chris Rix led squad of 2001 made a visit and came away with a 41-27 victory. The subsequent “Bowden Bowls” showcasing Bobby vs. son Tommy were not kind to those Florida State squads and that thought was in the back of many FSU fans’ minds going into this game (including mine). The raucous 80,000+ fans in Death Valley were primed and ready from College Gameday all the way through kickoff and it was obvious that their confidence was high.
However, it became clear very early on that FSU wanted to make a statement when they stripped the ball on the first play from scrimmage and recovered in Clemson territory. This gave Jameis Winston his first of many, many opportunities to have his way with the Tigers defense and he did not disappoint in this game to say the least. His 22 yard TD pass to the emerging Kelvin Benjamin was almost unfair as the 6 5’ monster receiver leaped to snag the pass and put FSU up 7-0. After notching a FG to go up 10-0, the Noles continued the relentless pressure and forced a fumble that was returned for a TD by Mario Edwards Jr. who continues to show immense promise. Just like that, it was 17-0 in the first quarter and the Death Valley crowd had fallen back to earth. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd did manage to get his offense down the field and hit Sammy Watkins for a TD to pull within 10. But that was the closest this Tigers team got to a lead that quickly became insurmountable.
The story of this win for the Seminoles of course begins and ends with the poise and leadership of phenom QB Jameis Winston. He cruised to a final stat line of 22/34 for 444 yds with 3 TDs and 1 INT. This year’s FSU team is beginning to buy into his cool and collected style of play and leadership as this is the game in which it really showed. It was also arguably the biggest win in coach Jimbo Fisher’s tenure thus far and addressed the “Can’t Win in Death Valley” elephant in the room for this program. Jameis shows a real grasp of the entire offense already and has built a great chemistry with the speedy Rashad Greene (8 rec-146 yds) and the versatile Nick O’Leary (5 rec-161 yds). Greene had 2 TDs and O’Leary had the highlight of the night when he trucked Clemson’s Travis Blanks on a reception. The scary part is that this offense may just be hitting their stride and *knock on wood* have been relatively injury free in the skill position ranks.
On the flip side was Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who just did not seem to have any answers for the attacking and aggressive style of FSU’s defense. Anyone who has watched the veteran QB over the last couple years knows he is capable of much more than what he showed on Saturday but the turnovers especially seemed to rattle him and in turn, the rest of the Tigers offense. He was sacked 4 times and hurried more often than not when they tried to dial up anything downfield. Boyd ended up with 2 picks and only 156 yards passing to go along with his lone TD to Watkins. There is little doubt (in my mind at least) that Boyd will bounce back and put in more of his typical high level performances before the season is out. But this one will stay with him for a while, that much was obvious seeing his face in the postgame presser. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went on to say postgame that, “they might be the best team in the country” and his team did not go out and do a whole lot to make anyone argue otherwise. At the very least, this game showed that the gap between FSU and the rest of the ACC may be larger than it has been since the Noles joined the conference in 1991.
Next up for Florida State is a NC State squad coming to town this Saturday 10/23. This year’s Wolfpack has been underwhelming thus far this season but this is a classic “trap game” scenario that makes some among the FSU faithful a LITTLE BIT nervous (myself included). However, this year feels a little bit different between the thus far brilliant play of Jameis and a defense that has the confidence to match its on-paper talent. After that, FSU will receive a visit from an old foe in Miami, a team that is also playing with confidence. That being said, Florida State can’t afford to look ahead as this is definitely “one game at a time” territory for the newly #2 BCS ranked Florida State Seminoles.
But for the time being, color me optimistic.
PREDICTION FOR SATURDAY:
FLORIDA STATE 38 – NC STATE 10