The last time Clemson visited Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida, the Tigers left with what head coach Dabo Swinney called the toughest loss he has ever had to accept.
Clemson had the Seminoles on the ropes all night long. Ranked No. 22 at the time, the Tigers outgained top-ranked Florida State 407 to 317. They held the ‘Noles to just four third downs, 13 rushing yards, had five sacks and won the turnover margin.
For the most part the Tigers did everything right, except win the game.
“We played probably as good as you could play. In fact, we hit every indicator for victory in that game. It was just about every one of them,” Swinney said. “When you read Tim’s (Bourret) notes and it says when 98-percent of the time and win 99-percent of the time, and you always wonder what is that two percent? Well, we found it that night in Tallahassee in ’14.”
Clemson had a similar situation down there in 2010 as FSU’s Dustin Hopkins made a 55-yard field with two seconds left to down the Tigers 13-10. Swinney also felt like his team, despite not being as talented as Florida State, played well and had a chance to win the game in 2012.
“I think we have played well in spurts down there over the last few years, we just have not been able to finish,” Swinney said.
What will it take for the third-ranked Tigers to finish this year, and win at No. 13 Florida State for the first time in 10 years?
“If you are going to win at somebody else’s place, especially against a highly ranked and highly talented football team. You have to finish. You have to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves,” Swinney said.
That means scoring in the red zone, something the Tigers have not done very well this year. Clemson ranks 111th nationally in red zone efficiency (75 percent), and turned the football over three times in the red zone against NC State on Oct. 15 and twice against Louisville on Oct. 1.
“We just have to finish when we get those opportunities,” Swinney said.
Clemson had that opportunity to finish two years ago when safety Jadar Johnson intercepted a Sean Maguire pass and returned it deep into Florida State territory with less than two minutes to play. But two plays later, as the Tigers were trying to set up a game-winning field goal attempt, former running back C.J. Davidson fumbled the ball and the ‘Noles recovered to force overtime.
In overtime, Clemson turned the ball over on downs and then Karlos Williams scored on a 12-yard touchdown to win the game for FSU.
“Man, that hurt,” Johnson said. “We just did not finish it.”