CLEMSON – A humbling 37-point loss fortified Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s view of Florida State, which he said before and after Saturday’s 51-14 loss could possibly be the best team in college football.
Who: No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: College Park, Md.
Line: Clemson by 14
It also did nothing to change his opinion of his own squad, which dropped from No. 3 to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll.
“I thought they were a great football team. I think they’re a team if we play them 10 times, we’d probably win five, they’d probably win five,” Swinney said at his weekly Tuesday press conference. “That’s probably about where it is.
“That’s not taking anything away from them; they played a heck of a game, and we certainly didn’t give ourselves a chance. We didn’t give our fans a chance.”
The Tigers fumbled on the first snap from scrimmage, setting the tone for a blunder-filled evening with four turnovers, aiding the Seminoles to finish with a 565-326 advantage in total yards.
“You can’t make those mistakes and even really assess it as far as where you are competitively,” Swinney said. “(FSU’s) got a couple of areas where they’re a little bit ahead of us that I think we’re going to catch up. But I think we’re pretty evenly matched football teams.”
From the outside, Swinney’s credence seems preposterous; FSU’s victory was its most one-sided in the Clemson series since a 54-7 victory in 2000, and it nearly matched the Tigers’ worst defeat ever in Death Valley to any opponent.
But Swinney pointed out his team remains in the top 10, and ranks in the top 20 of the BCS standings for the 17th consecutive week dating back to the inaugural 2011 standings.
“This team has been pretty consistent, and the reason is, they get it,” Swinney said. “They’ve handled the success good, and when we’ve had some setbacks, we’ve handled those things good.
“We didn’t play well, it didn’t go our way. But they’re not that much better than us, and we certainly ain’t that bad of a football team. There’s no doubt about that.”
Five Florida State players earned ACC player of the week honors for their performances against Clemson: QB Jameis Winston, LT Cameron Erving, WR Rashad Greene, LB Telvin Smith and DB Lamarcus Joyner.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Swinney said. “They’re good up front, both sides. So are we.
“They’re good at (line)backer. So are we.
“They’re good at receiver. So are we.
“They’re good at quarterback. So are we.
“They’ve got a little more depth at running back than maybe we have right now. A little more depth in the secondary than we have right now. I think we’re coming, we’re going to get there, we’re going to be really good in the secondary the next few years. Both good at kicker, both good at punter.
“So we’re similar programs. But it wasn’t our night the other night. Gotta give them all the credit for that.”
The difference in the game, according to several Tiger players, is Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) made costly mistakes, and Florida State (6-0, 4-0 didn’t.
“We didn’t move the ball. I mean, they stopped us, but not as much as we stopped ourselves,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “You look at a conversion here and a conversion there, the whole game changes. It’s just little things.”
Added wide receiver Sammy Watkins: “I still think we’re an elite team; we just played a bad game, and they capitalized. I think if it was vice versa, if they would have fumbled two times, we would have done the same thing. But they were the better team, they won and they played the complete game.”
Since Boyd became their starting quarterback, the Tigers have gone 4-1 in games immediately following a loss.
“I have no reason to think they won’t respond, because they always do,” Swinney said. “This is a hurting football team, and I love that. We’re going to be OK because they care. Nobody cares more than these players who put all the work in.
“We still have a chance to be a great team. I think we’re a great team. But we’ve got to go finish that way.”
The road to recovery begins in College Park, Md., on Saturday afternoon, when Clemson faces another team trying to find itself. Maryland (5-2, 1-2) has lost two straight after a 5-0 start, hindered by injuries to its wide receiver and defensive back corps.
But The Terrapins do boast a top-25 rated defense, and are 4-0 at home. On the flip side, Boyd-led teams are 5-0 on artificial turf.
“We’ll hopefully come out and have 500-600 yards of offense, and show the country that we can come off a big loss and still perform,” Watkins said. “Hopefully it’ll get everybody’s attention in the national rankings.”