By Kevin Vandervort (Photo).
By William Qualkinbush
The responses were familiar and predictable.
“It was a little bit of everything,” said Grady Jarrett.
“I knew they would have a gameplan for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as tough as it was,” Vic Beasley admitted.
“They just executed better than we did,” Corey Crawford opined.
Few words were needed to describe what happened to the Clemson defense against Florida State on Saturday night.
In fact, the scoreboard said it all: 51-14.
The score on the left represented the highest point total ever allowed by a Clemson defense at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers have been much maligned defensively in recent memory, but as much criticism as fans have directed in that direction, it never got this bad on the scoreboard.
Coordinator Brent Venables was hired to correct habitual mistakes and provide an improved product. For the most part, results have indeed improved.
Tonight, however, Venables watched as his Clemson defense put forth a performance that was historic for all the wrong reasons.
“We didn’t play or coach very well tonight,” he said. “They’re a good football team. They took advantage of any mistake we made and made us pay for it.”
The Tigers were at the mercy of a Florida State offense that came in riding a wave of hype and turned it into a force that dictated the flow of the game from the first snap it took.
The first snap was supposed to be about setting a new stadium sound record. The Clemson crowd was in a frenzy, and a Guinness representative was on hand to monitor the quest.
But the effort fell short, almost symbolic of the way the Tigers attempted to slow Florida State throughout the contest. Instead, it was the Seminoles’ third play that spoke the loudest—a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Kelvin Benjamin that gave Florida State a lead it would never relinquish.
The Seminoles consistently took advantage of the Tigers’ mistakes, racking up double digits in scoring in all four quarters. They piled up 565 yards of offense, including a 444-yard passing performance by the freshman phenom Winston that was third all-time among Clemson opponents in Death Valley.
“He was good,” Venables said. “We helped him be good at times.”
The help came courtesy of an inconsistent pass rush that had been uncontainable through the first half of the season. Clemson came into the game leading the nation with four sacks per game, and the Tigers still brought Winston down on three occasions, but the freshman was also able to slip away a number of times and make plays that extended drives.
“We didn’t put the Clemson brand out there tonight,” Venables said.
In the most successful periods of Clemson’s history, that brand was epitomized by defense. Until this season, under Dabo Swinney, it was mostly about offense.
But Venables’ defense had begun to change minds with a stretch of play reminiscent of some of the best teams in Tiger history. Saturday felt like some of the worst ones for the 83,428 fans who packed into Memorial Stadium expecting something different than what they ended up getting.