CLEMSON – And Saturday started out so well.
Bill Murray, Charleston’s No. 1 sports fan, became the greatest guest picker in “GameDay” history when he picked Clemson and wrestled Florida State grad Lee Corso to the ground.
Corso was dressed as a corny cartoon Native American. The comic actor wore a teal Piggly Wiggly shirt as he threw Corso’s faux spear off stage.
But in the main act, No. 5 Florida State tossed No. 3 Clemson out of the national championship picture with a major 51-14 statement at Death Valley.
A long day ended late Saturday night with Florida State fans doing the Tomahawk Chop at midfield.
“They’re happy. They’re proud. Their team got a great win,” Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “I don’t blame them.”
The disciplined Tiger team that didn’t allow a point off turnovers in its first six games bobbled the night away.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s classy career passing leader, had his worst game. It didn’t help that receivers couldn’t get very open against a skilled secondary, or that Florida State quarterback Famous Jameis Winston played like a Heisman Trophy winner.
The Tigers’ “nameless, faceless opponent” approach that works well against lesser foes but not so well vs. rivals took a hit.
The build-up, the national attention given college football’s first top 5 matchup of the season …
It feels like a once-a-generation grand opportunity fumbled.
“We still control our own destiny,” running back Roderick McDowell said. “We just have to keep playing Clemson football. We just have to find our swagger back on offense.”
ACC title destiny, however, is in a bank in Tallahassee.
“What I mean by ‘destiny’ is that game is over and I’m focusing on our next game, which is Maryland,” McDowell said. “We can still go 11-1 and go to a BCS bowl. That’s still our goal.”
Not ‘worth a dang’
Florida State looks good enough to give Oregon or Alabama fits. That’s up to voters and computers probably until January.
What’s certain is that Clemson, while improving, is losing ground to the top program in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
2011: 35-30, Clemson at Death Valley.
2012: 49-37, Florida State in Tallahassee.
Saturday night: Nightmare.
Winston will be back next year.
This might sting a while.
“It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “A lot of that was because of them, not necessarily because of us. But in regards to the plan and the execution – all of it - it wasn’t worth a dang.”
Dabo Swinney predicted all week that the first top five matchup in Palmetto State history would come down to three or four plays. The Clemson head coach just didn’t expect them all to come in the first 25 minutes, and all to go Florida State’s way.
“We lost two fumbles right away,” Watkins said. “Had they lost two fumbles like that, it might have gone the other way.”
Much was made of the quarterback contrast. Yet with Clemson receivers having trouble getting open against a skilled secondary it was a bad time for Boyd to struggle like a pitcher without his best stuff.
Not enough Bill Murray
Winston, an actual Florida State pitcher, was poised amid the noise. He played most of the game with a large smudge of orange paint on the rear end of his white pants, but that was a rare sign of Clemson pressure. Hardly rattled with his back to the student section on The Hill, Winston was never better than while igniting a quick 95-yard drive that put Florida State up 24-7 midway through the second quarter.
Too many times, Venables said, “they were the aggressor and we were playing not to give up the big play.”
Now Clemson, as Boyd said,
must guard against “letting this loss beat you twice.”
The first beating commenced soon after Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. ran straight from the locker room to The Hill a few minutes before the kickoff. He flexed his muscles at Clemson students, prompting memories of Deion Sanders waving the Tigers down The Hill before the 1988 “Puntrooskie Game.”
Historical twist: Osceola, the great Seminole chief, is buried (minus his head) on Sullivan’s Island.
Orange twist: Clemson was buried early before one of the loudest crowds in Death Valley history.
Too bad Bill Murray was out of athletic eligibility.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
ollow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff