Five Turnovers Cost Tigers in 41-22 Loss to FSU

by - Correspondent -
Miller returned six kickoffs for an NCAA record 282 yards and two touchdowns. (Rex Brown)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - There's no getting around it. Something's wrong with Charlie Whitehurst.

Clemson's junior quarterback committed five turnovers Saturday - three interceptions and two fumbles - helping set the table for No. 8 Florida State in a 41-22 Seminoles' victory over the Tigers. The loss was Clemson's third straight, the first time that's happened in head coach Tommy Bowden's tenure since the Tigers dropped the final three games of the 2001 season (FSU, Maryland and South Carolina).

No Bowden team has lost four straight.

Lost in the defeat was a record-setting day by Clemson cornerback and kick returner Justin Miller.

Miller returned six kickoffs for 282 yards and two touchdowns - on 97 yards that gave Clemson (1-3 a short-lived 7-3 lead in the first quarter, and another 86 yards following a safety in the third quarter - a punt blocked through the end zone by C.J. Gaddis - that pulled the Tigers within 24-22.

The 282 yards is both an NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference record for a single game.

"I hate that we couldn't help him out," Bowden said of Miller's performance. "I hate that we couldn't have done anything where that could have shone out and been magnified a little more. It was a great individual performance by a player who just refused to quit."

For Whitehurst, 2004 has been a nightmare.

Trumpeted by some as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate in the preseason, Whitehurst has committed nine turnovers in the last two games (three fumbles, six interceptions). His season touchdown-to-interception ratio now stands at 5-10.

And while struggles by his offensive line have been part of the problem, Whitehurst (10-of-24, 88 yards) has also been plagued by bad decision-making and poor care of the football.

Florida State (2-1) scored 14 points off two of his turnovers Saturday.

The first came on a fumble deep in Clemson territory which, aided by a personal foul penalty on the play, gave the Seminoles possession at the Clemson nine. Three plays later B.J. Dean scored from two yards out to give FSU a 10-7 lead with 3:48 left in the first quarter.

On the Tigers' next offensive play following the kickoff, Leroy Smith intercepted Whitehurst on the right sideline and returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown. Whitehurst stopped the bleeding momentarily with a 12-yard TD strike to Curtis Baham to cut the lead to 17-14 by halftime.

"We really moved the ball in the first half," Bowden said. "We shot ourselves in the foot in the second half...we didn't move it at all. (FSU) is good...but we should be more productive than that regardless of how good they are."

As the game wore on Clemson's defense, which played much better in the first half than in previous weeks, spent too much time on the field and was worn down by the big, experience offensive line of the Seminoles.

After holding FSU to just 41 rushing yards in the first half, the Seminoles rolled up 145 over the final two quarters, including a 35-yard touchdown run by Leon Washington in the third period.

Clemson rushed for 125 yards on the afternoon, but converted just 3-of-12 third down conversion opportunities and gave up 22 yards in losses on four sacks.

"I think toward the end we put them back on the field time after time - three and out, three and out," Bowden said. "We're just not strong enough to take that kind of beating."

Also lost in the Whitehurst/Miller story lines was a possible quarterback controversy for Florida State.

Senior starter Chris Rix left the game with a sprained ankle in the first quarter, and freshman Wyatt Sexton led the Seminoles to 31 of their 34 offensive points on the day. Sexton finished the afternoon 17-of-26 for 162 yards and a touchdown - a 47-yarder to Stovall early in the third quarter.

Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden said he wasn't looking for a quarterback controversy, but might have one anyway.

"I want to see somebody win," he said. "If it happens to be Wyatt, that's good. If it's the other guy, that's good too. We'll have it squared away by Monday."

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