Gut check: Tigers earn ACC Atlantic title with win over FSU

by - Senior Writer -
Ben Boulware hits FSU quarterback Sean Maguire
Ben Boulware hits FSU quarterback Sean Maguire

CLEMSON – Clemson’s win over Notre Dame in early October was a bring your own guts game, but Saturday’s win over Florida St. was gut-check time.

Top-ranked Clemson overcame an early 7-0 deficit and countless first half mistakes in outscoring 16th-ranked Florida St. 17-3 in the second half, clinching the ACC Atlantic Division title with a 23-13 win over Florida St. in front of 83,099 raucous fans in Death Valley. Clemson is 9-0 for the first time since the 1981 season.

The Seminoles hung tough behind the running of Dalvin Cook, who took a pitch 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s second play. Cook finished with 21 carries for 194 yards, but Clemson’s defense allowed just field goals after that second play in holding the Seminoles to 362 total yards. FSU was just 2-of-12 on third down.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson was 28-of-42 for 297 yards and a touchdown and set a career-high with 16 rushes for 107 yards. Wayne Gallman added 22 carries for 103 yards and the second half touchdown that was a dagger.

The Tigers improve to 9-0 on the season, 6-0 in the ACC. Florida St. falls to 7-2 overall, 5-2 in the ACC. Clemson has two ACC games remaining (at Syracuse next week, at home against Wake the week after) but clinched the Atlantic because FSU lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago and the Tigers own the tiebreaker.

The Tigers won the toss and elected to defer and it took Dalvin Cook just two plays to score. Cook took the second pitch of the game and went 75 yards for the touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage this season against the Tigers. Forty-five seconds into the game it was 7-0 Florida St.

The teams traded possessions and Clemson finally got on the board after its third drive. The Tigers used a 25-yard throw to Jordan Leggett to penetrate the redzone, but settled for a 31-yard Greg Huegel field goal that made it 7-3 with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter.

The Seminoles used a pass interference penalty on Mackensie Alexander to keep the ensuing drive alive, and Florida St. completed the 10-play drive with a short Robert Aguayo field goal for a 10-3 lead.

The teams traded punts, and needing momentum the Tigers marched into FSU territory. Facing a 4th-and-2 inside the FSU 45, the Tigers opted to go for the first down instead of punting. However, the Tigers ran an option play to the short side of the field and the play was stuffed for a loss and turnover on downs.

Clemson forced a Florida St. punt, however, and took over at its own 18-yard line with 1:24 remaining in the half. The Tigers drove down the field and inside the Florida St. 10, but another inexplicable decision by a Tiger cost Clemson a touchdown. Facing a 3rd-and-3 at the FSU seven, Watson spiked the ball to stop the clock. That forced the Tigers to settle for a Huegel field goal that made it 10-6 Florida St. at intermission.

The teams traded punts to begin the second half, but the Tigers got the Death Valley crowd back into the game on their second possession. Clemson took over on its twenty, and Watson hit Deon Cain for a quick 15-yard gain. A 15-yard Watson run and two more passes to Artavis Scott set up the Tigers at the Florida St. 38 with a 3rd-and-2. Watson threw a quick screen to Cain in the flat and a wall of blockers escorted Cain into the endzone for a 13-10 Clemson lead, its first of the game.

The Seminoles looked rattled to begin the next drive, but Maguire launched two pretty third-down throws that set up a 41-yard field goal by Aguayo, tying the score at 13-13.

It then turned into a game of attrition and missed third down conversions for both teams, and the Tigers faced a long field following a Florida St. punt four minutes into the fourth quarter. The punt pinned the Tigers at their own eight, but Clemson ran off 11 plays, setting up a 34-yard Huegel field goal that made it 16-13 Clemson with 7:23 to play.

It was at that point that Clemson’s nemesis – shoddy kickoff coverage – reared its ugly head. The Tigers elected to kick short and Kermit Whitfield returned it 44 yards to the Clemson 49. The ‘Noles picked up nine yards on the first three downs, but elected to go for it on 4th-and-short at the Clemson 40. Cook took the pitch and rolled left, but Shaq Lawson and Ben Boulware stopped him short for a turnover on downs with 6:17 to play.

Two big third-down conversions to Charone Peake set up Clemson at the FSU 25-yard line, and it was at that point that Wayne Gallman made his presence known. Gallman split the middle, juked out one defender and took a shot from another as he neared the endzone, but he landed on pay dirt to complete the 25-yard scoring run and Clemson led 23-13 with 2:34 remaining.

The Seminoles completed a 26-yard pass to Travis Rudolph on the second play of the ensuing drive, but Boulware jarred the ball loose and Goodson recovered the fumble at the FSU 48 with just over two minutes to play. The Tigers ran out the clock to seal the win.

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