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 reliable Dustin Hopkins and had a happy 14-point lead in the third quarter Saturday night.
Then the Orange Bowl nightmare happened to Clemson again and focused Florida State made its BCS Championship Game case in an argument that will last all season.
The No. 4 Seminoles 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.
The parting gift for the Tigers: an ACC schedule that keeps getting less challenging (Virginia Tech’s loss last week, Georgia Tech this week).
Also, Clemson execution was so poor, talented high school tacklers might be lining up to commit.
When last seen taking part in a prime-time shootout, Clemson caved in 70-33.
The Orange Bowl stamp of shame applied by West Virginia encouraged head coach Dabo Swinney to fire Kevin Steele and hire Brent Venables as defensive coordinator. Venables helped then-No. 1 Oklahoma defeat Florida State, 23-13, last year in Tallahasse.
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).
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff