TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Clemson got timely running from quarterback Tajh Boyd and a touchdown pass from wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The No. 10 Tigers benefited from two missed field goals by Florida State’s reliable Dustin Hopkins and had a 14-point lead in the third quarter Saturday night.
Then the Orange Bowl nightmare happened to Clemson again and Florida State made its BCS Championship Game case in an argument that will last all season.
The No. 4 Seminoles rolled for 667 yards and rallied for a 49-37 victory before a crowd of 83,231 at Doak Campbell Stadium, avenging a loss at Death Valley last year. And so much more.
It’s a big step toward a league title in the otherwise mediocre ACC and it’s hard to see a serious challenge until the regular-season finale against Florida.
“We prepared all week for a really good opponent,” said Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw for 380 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 102 yards. “We knew their offense was going to score a lot of points. … We knew we had to keep scoring to help our defense.”
The parting gift for the Tigers: An ACC schedule that keeps getting less challenging (Virginia Tech’s loss last week, Georgia Tech this week).
“We’re going to try to get back on track,” said head coach Dabo Swinney of 3-1 Clemson.
“Obviously, this is a tough loss.”
When last seen taking part in a prime-time shootout, Clemson caved in 70-33. Clemson gave up 589 yards in the Orange Bowl.
Tajh Boyd threw for 237 yards and three touchdowns, two going to tight end Brandon Ford (Hanahan High School).
Swinney mentioned that Clemson no longer controls its own ACC title destiny.
“We’re still in the car,” he said, “we just don’t have our hands on the steering wheel anymore.”
It was clear from the first few plays that this wouldn’t be a low-scoring snoozer.
Clemson silenced the crowd on its first possession when Boyd threw a perfect post- pattern pass to DeAndre Hopkins, a 60-yard touchdown play giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Watkins’ 52-yard touchdown pass to running back Andre Ellington — the first college TD pass for Watkins — gave Clemson a 28-14 edge early in the third quarter.
The Seminoles were a two-touchdown favorite. Both teams entered with 3-0 records and gaudy statistics.
But the conquered foes list was led by Auburn (26-19 Clemson win Sept. 1) and Wake Forest (52-0 Florida State last week).
“We tell our guys all the time: the season starts tomorrow,” Swinney said.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff