CLEMSON — Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons offered Florida State a dose of reality late in the second quarter Saturday. The Seminoles were bouncing on the Death Valley field, celebrating a fourth-down stop. Simmons got in the face of a Seminoles player and pointed to the scoreboard.
At that point, the No. 2 Tigers held a 28-point lead in what would turn into an 45-14 win over Florida State, in effect silencing claims from the outside that Clemson had lost a step since its national championship win last season.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Saturday's matchup between the ACC foes would've been billed as a heavyweight bout. But the Seminoles have taken a turn in the wrong direction since 2014, when they last won a conference title. The Tigers have filled the void as the ACC's preeminent program, and that was laid bare in Saturday's blowout.
Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) didn't allow Florida State (3-3, 2-2) to score until there was 2:02 left in the third quarter, when wide receiver Tamorrion Terry took a pass from quarterback Alex Hornibrook 64 yards for a score.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, facing criticism entering the contest for what many believed to be a subpar start to the season, and amid injury rumblings, turned in one of the best performance of his sophomore season, completing 17 of 25 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Clemson has now won 21 games in a row, dating back to the start of the 2018 campaign. It's the longest streak in program history and the second-longest in conference history.
"Today was our best day," coach Dabo Swinney said. "The playmakers really stepped up for us."
What went right
Fans started trickling out of Death Valley in the fourth quarter, not because of disappointment but because the game was all but decided. The Tigers dominated the Seminoles in all facets of the game, outgaining their opponents, 552 to 253 yards.
The defense turned in a memorable performance, recording four turnovers (three interceptions and one fumble recovery).
Cornerback Derion Kendrick, a converted wide receiver, returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, extending his arms to both sides as he crossed the goal line.
What went wrong
The end of the first half was a low point for the Tigers. First, kicker B.T. Potter missed a 24-yard field goal. Swinney then berated Potter as he returned to the sideline, shouting "Are you kidding me?" at the sophomore and then following him down the sideline, barking.
Some fans on social media denounced Swinney's actions. Potter was benched for the second half, with senior Steve Sawicki nailing two extra-point attempts and a 26-yard field goal.
"Sometimes you just got stay on the sideline a little bit, and compete," Swinney said.
The first play of the game. Really. Any delusions Florida State had of upsetting the Tigers vanished when Lawrence stepped into a 40-yard completion to Tee Higgins down the right sideline. In one throw, Lawrence proved that he was fine, that chatter about his health leading into the game was overblown.
Lawrence echoed Swinney's remarks from earlier in the week, when Swinney ranted about the news that the signal caller had undergone an MRI earlier in the week.
"I definitely agree with him. The drama stuff is a little much, as far as trying to turn nothing into something," Lawrence said.
The Tigers kept the Seminoles on their toes on the next play, when Lawrence tossed the ball to running back Travis Etienne, who heaved a pass to wide receiver Justyn Ross down the other sideline. Four players later, Etienne was in the end zone, having taken a shuffle pass from Lawrence three yards for a score. The game's opening drive took just 2 minutes, 51 seconds, and by its end, it was clear Clemson would have little issue with Florida State.
"I went in Tuesday and said 'we're going to open up with a deep ball, and second play's going to be a halfback pass,'" Swinney said. "I just felt like I needed to set the mindset, and really challenge these guys on how we were going to play, and how we were going to attack."
The Tigers are back on the road next week to play ACC Atlantic Division rival Louisville, which entered its Saturday night matchup against No. 19 Wake Forest with a 3-2 record.