Fourth-ranked Clemson defeated Florida State, 31-14, on Saturday in Death Valley to clinch its third straight ACC Atlantic Division title. The Tigers improved to 9-1 (7-1 ACC), while Florida State fell to 3-6 (3-5).
Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:
Following a forced fumble and recovery by linebacker Tre Lamar, the Tigers took over at Florida State’s 20-yard line and took a 7-0 lead six plays later on a 2-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Kelly Bryant at the 2:51 mark of the first quarter.
Another forced fumble by Clemson’s defense — and a long punt return by Ray-Ray McCloud — set up the Tigers’ second score of the game. A sack-fumble by Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell was recovered by FSU, though the Seminoles had to punt from their own 4-yard line. McCloud returned the punt 38 yards to FSU’s 28-yard line, and one play later, freshman running back Travis Etienne took a handoff to the house for a 14-0 lead with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter. Alex Spence added a 26-yard field goal before halftime to give the Tigers a 17-0 advantage at the break.
FSU started the second half with an eight-play, 50-yard drive but was unable to come away with points after failing to convert a fourth-and-2 at Clemson’s 25-yard line. The Tigers and Seminoles traded punts until FSU finally scratched the scoreboard with 1:13 to play in the third quarter. A 39-yard pass from James Blackman to Nyqwan Murray set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Jacques Patrick on the next play, which trimmed the Seminoles’ deficit to 17-7.
The Seminoles then made things interesting down the stretch. Following a 60-yard touchdown pass from Blackman to tight end Ryan Izzo that made it a three-point game with 8:53 left in the fourth quarter, FSU forced Bryant to fumble on Clemson’s ensuing drive. The Seminoles took over at Clemson’s 40-yard line and had a chance to take the lead, but Clemson safety Van Smith intercepted a Blackman pass and returned it into FSU territory. The Tigers proceeded to drive 44 yards in six plays for a touchdown courtesy of Etienne that put Clemson up 24-14 with 3:05 remaining. Adam Choice tacked on a 10-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to provide the final margin.
What went right?
Though it gave up a couple of costly big plays in the second half, Clemson’s defense was dominant for the most part. The Tigers limited FSU to 229 total yards, including just 46 in the first half. FSU rushed 24 times for 21 yards while going 3-of-13 on third down and 0-of-2 on fourth down. Clemson’s defense forced two turnovers and recorded five sacks along with 10 tackles for loss.
Offensively, Clemson posted 378 yards, including 227 on the ground. The Tigers had 24 first downs and went 8-of-15 on third down. Etienne carried the ball 14 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
What went wrong?
Clemson fumbled three times and lost two of them. Bryant’s lost fumble in his own territory with 6:46 left in the game gave FSU a chance to take the lead, but Bryant was bailed out by Smith’s interception. Earlier in the game, Tavien Feaster cost Clemson points when he fumbled at FSU’s 1-yard line.
Tiger fans had to sweat this one out, in part because of big plays allowed by Clemson’s defnese. Murray’s 39-yard reception set up FSU’s first touchdown of the game in the third quarter. In the fourth, a coverage bust by Clemson’s defense left Izzo wide open for a 60-yard touchdown reception that cut FSU’s deficit to 17-14 with 8:53 left.
FSU had all of the momentum when it gained possession at Clemson’s 40-yard line with 6:36 remaining in the game. The Seminoles had scored 14 unanswered points, were down by just three and had a chance to take their first lead of the game after recovering a fumble by Bryant.
However, Clemson quickly snatched the momentum back. On the first play of FSU’s possession, Smith intercepted a pass from Blackman and returned it 38 yards to the FSU 44. Six plays later, Etienne scored his second touchdown of the game to push Clemson’s lead back to 10 points with 3:05 left in the game.