Today’s game at Clemson is very much out of the norm. FSU opens as a decided underdog at -16. I am sure all odds are them leaving Death Valley with a 3-6 record. The Noles will need to do something that they haven’t been able to do all year, and that is limiting turnovers, as well as mental mistakes.
Although the games have been close the past several years this is the 1st time that Florida State has come into the game with a losing record as a member of the ACC.
What occurred today has been the story of this season. Although FSU could not muster any offense in the 1st half, the defense played their hearts out. A look at the halftime stats shows a score of 17-0 in favor of the Tigers. What they don’t show is how this was accomplished. At the half, Clemson had run 42 plays for a total of 183 yards. The Noles had a pathetic 46 yards on 26 plays. The defense was on the field far too much, but what the picture does not show are the scoring drives. On the Tigers 1st score, FSU QB James Blackman was sacked and fumbled the ball away on the Noles 20. It took Clemson 6 plays to cover the 20 yards for a 7-0 lead. (Mistake #1-fumble)
In the 2nd quarter, Clemson was on a long drive, but the Noles forced a fumble to stop the drive. On the ensuing drive, Blackman once again fumbled, but FSU center Alec Eberle recovered in the end zone and moved the ball out to the 4. Logan Tyler then hit a punt of 59 yards. The only problem was Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud returned the punt from his own 37 to the Seminole 28. On the 1st play from scrimmage, the Tiger line opened a hole in the middle, and Travis Etienne ran virtually untouched for the TD putting Clemson up 14-0. (Mistake #2-Special teams) At this point, Clemson is up 14-0 with a 20-yard drive and a 28-yard drive.
After FSU went 3 and out Clemson once again drove the field, but a sack of QB Kelly Bryant and a forced fumble by the Noles Brian Burns looked like the D made another critical stop. The problem was linebacker Matthew Thomas tried to scoop the ball up and fumbled it himself. In the scrum, Clemson ended up maintaining possession and after an incomplete pass the Tigers Alex Spence kicked a 26 yard FG, which led to the 17-0 halftime score. (Mistake #3-fall on the fumble) That proved to be Clemson’s longest scoring drive of the game. 9 plays and 62 yards.
** In a postgame interview with Thomas he said “I saw the open field in front of me and wanted to pick up the ball and score. I wanted to provide a spark. The only problem was I took my eye off the ball. My bad!”**
The 2nd half was a completely different story as the Seminole defense held the Tigers to two drives totaling 41 yards in 12 plays, before starting a comeback of their own. With FSU taking over on their own 10, Blackman marched them down the field on a 7 play 90-yard drive with RB Jacques Patrick running it in from the 3.
The Seminole defense remained stout and kept Clemson off the board in the 3rdquarter. When the Noles took the ball with 10:22 left in the game and the score at 17-7, QB James Blackman hit 3 straight passes with the 3rd being a 60 yard TD to tight end Ryan Izzo. At that point, it was a game at 17-14, and suddenly the crowd was very quiet. On the next drive, Clemson QB Kelly Bryant fumbled on his own 39 and was recovered by the Seminoles Brian Burns, at the Clemson 40.
At that point, you could have heard a pin drop in the stadium as the Clemson faithful were stunned. They didn’t have to worry though as on the very 1st play Blackman ruined all the momentum that FSU had going by throwing an interception. The ball was picked by Van Smith at the Clemson 18 and returned to the FSU 44. (Mistake #4)
It took Clemson 6 plays to cover the 44 yards to pad their lead to 24-14. Also, with taking 3:36 off the clock FSU got the ball back with 3 minutes left. Being forced to go for it on 4th down at their own 28 and 2:13 left, the Noles failed to convert, and Clemson once again had a short field. They covered the final 28 yards in 3 plays for the final score of 31-14.
Clemson is a very good team, but when you give them touchdown drives of 20, 28, 44 and 28, you aren’t going to win this game.
In the postgame, someone made a statement that FSU’s streak of winning seasons (dating back to their last season with a losing record 5-6 in 1976 in Bobby Bowden’s 1styear) had come to an end. After thinking about that statement, it came to me that this still might not be the case. With 3 wins to close out the regular season and a bowl win, they can still finish at 7-6. This is not near what was anticipated when the season started, but it would still be a confidence builder going into 2018.
We will just have to see how it plays out!
All photos by: Jim Lacey
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