Florida State sent a major statement to the college football world that it’s as close to returning to its incredible form of the 1990s as it has been in a decade in pulling away from Clemson 49-37 in a matchup of top-10 ACC teams.
E.J. Manuel entered the Heisman Trophy race, the Seminoles cemented themselves as legitimate national title contenders, and coach Jimbo Fisher gained some much-needed separation from former FSU coach Bobby Bowden, meaning he will be embraced by more Seminoles fans.
Here are the grades of No. 4 FSU’s fourth win in as many games and No. 10 Clemson’s first loss in four contests this season:
Clemson offense: The Tigers struck for big plays, used trickery for another big score – WR Sammy Watkins hitting TB Andre Ellington for a 52-yard touchdown – and at times sustained drives while keeping their defense off the field. They built a 31-21 third-quarter lead and looked awesome in the process, but Clemson ran out of gas as FSU stepped up its game. The offensive line repeatedly got whipped and the Tigers stalled. They finished with 426 yards, but not sustaining drives in the second half put the defense in a bad position. Grade: B.
FSU offense: E.J. Manuel has to be part of the Heisman discussion after passing for 380 yards and two scores while also running for 102 yards. Manuel was a leader and made big plays when FSU needed it. He guided the Seminoles to 28 straight second-half points after they fell behind 31-21. Chris Thompson ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns and James Wilder Jr. ran for 65. The ‘Noles, who racked up 667 total yards, grew up on offense and also answered questions about having a ground attack. Grade: A+.
Clemson defense: The Tigers were pretty solid the first half, holding FSU to 14 points by forcing a couple of turnovers and getting some stops. But they completely fell apart after the break. Perhaps the defense wore down physically, but FSU’s eruption did even more psychological damage. FSU racked up 667 total yards, including 287 yards on the ground. Grade: D.
FSU defense: Clemson had 426 yards and scored 37 points. Coming into the game, FSU’s first three opponents had combined for 310 and three, respectively, so this may have seemed like a poor performance to those who get emotional about the Seminoles, but it wasn’t. Clemson’s offense is darn good just running a basic spread, and it also has the ability and creativity to throw trickery into the mix. And after the Tigers took a 31-21 lead, FSU’s D stepped up into domination mode for long enough to gain enough separation on the scoreboard. Grade: C+.
Clemson intangibles: The Tigers were ready. Dabo Swinney said he wanted his team to throw the first punch – figuratively, of course – and they did. Clemson eventually built a 31-21 lead by making few mistakes (penalties, turnovers) and by taking advantage of FSU’s. But in the end the Tigers just didn’t have enough for what may the best team in the nation. No shame in that, and while Clemson must get better on defense, it showed it can have a very nice season. Grade: A. FSU intangibles: Recent FSU teams would have struggled overcoming an opponent playing as well as Clemson did in the first two-plus quarters. But these Seminoles are more mature, have leadership and are well-coached. They started to take on the look of the great Seminoles teams from the 1980s and ’90s in pulling away. Penalties (11 for 81 yards) and two turnovers aren’t positives, but the bottom line is Jimbo Fisher’s team overcame them. Grade: B+.