It wasn’t until just before kickoff Saturday when J.D. Davis found out he was going to get his first career start.
The Tigers’ second leading tackler, Kendall Joseph, was still suffering from a knee injury he sustained in the win over NC State the week before.
“Kendall was going to try and go today, he was feeling it out during pregame and we could see that he probably wasn’t going to be able to go. So, that was when I officially knew that I would be starting,” Davis said.
Davis made the most of his opportunity. The junior led the Tigers with seven tackles in his first start, including 1.5 tackles for loss as No. 4 Clemson clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title with a 31-14 victory over Florida State.
Davis was one of several players who stepped up and filled in for some injured Tigers in the win. Clemson was also without defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, cornerbacks Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond, and during the game lost cornerback Ryan Carter after he was targeted by Florida State linebacker Emmett Rice, who was ejected from the game.
“Everybody prepares like they’re starters,” Davis said. “We have the next man up mentality. There shouldn’t be any drop off. That’s our mentality and we just stuck to it.”
The Tigers (9-1, 7-1 ACC) stuck to it by limiting the Seminoles to 229 total yards, including 21 on the ground. FSU had minus-2 yards rushing in the second half.
Clemson finished the game with five sacks, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and one interception.
They also produced 10 tackles for losses.
“The defense is incredible,” Davis said. “It is such an honor to play with those guys. They’re so good. Just being able to play behind these guys is such a blessing.”
It was only fitting the defense saved the game, too. After quarterback Kelly Bryant lost a fumble late in the game at his own 40-yard line, safety Van Smith saved the Tigers with an interception that set up Travis Etienne’s game-clinching touchdown.
“We had just lost the momentum with the turnover and just to be able to get it right back and to help our offense, who had been struggling, it was a huge play in the game.” Davis said.