Jameis Winston and Florida State didn’t take long to hush Death Valley, making a statement that that could be heard from Alabama to Oregon.
The Seminoles’ remarkable redshirt freshman threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns and No. 5 Florida State crushed No. 3 Clemson 51-14 Saturday night. When the first BCS standings of the season come out Sunday, Florida State should be right there with the top-ranked Crimson Tide and second-ranked Ducks, fighting for the top spots.
"Do we deserve to be in the top two? We deserve to be No. 1," Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith said.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s game of the year, billed as maybe the league’s biggest game ever, quickly became a Seminoles’ seminar on how to take apart a top-five opponent on its hostile home turf in front of 83,428.
"We don’t play against noise. We’re playing against the Clemson Tigers," Winston said. "It was amazing, when we were out on the field that first snap. It was loud and we started smiling because we don’t play against noise."
The game started with two Heisman Trophy contender quarterbacks. It ended with one.
Playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the country, Winston was unfazed, going 22 for 34 for Florida State (6-0, 4-0). His first throw was a 22-yard touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin, and he scrambled for a 4-yard touchdown that made it 41-7 with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
"They took advantage of our mistakes," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "They might be the best team in the country."
Tajh Boyd threw two interceptions for Clemson, and his first-quarter fumble was returned 37 yards for touchdown by Mario Edwards. Clemson (6-1, 4-1) turned it over a season-high four times, the first one on the first play from scrimmage.
"We know we’re better than how we played, but nobody cares about that," Swinney said.
Rashad Greene caught eight passes for 146 yards and two scores, including a 72-yard sprint that made it 24-7 Florida State in the second quarter.
The Seminoles broke a five-game losing streak at Memorial Stadium, scored more points than any opponent ever has in Death Valley and gave fourth-year coach Jimbo Fisher his biggest victory since taking over for Bobby Bowden.
Florida State is also perfect through six games for the first time since 1999, the last time Bowden’s `Noles won the national championship.
Maybe after all these years, the Seminoles are finally back to that level?
"They’re mature, they’re growing, they’re older, they understand the moments," Fisher said of his team.
As for Clemson, the Tigers can’t be accused of `Clemsoning’ this one away. They were simply outclassed.
Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary punctuated the beatdown in the third quarter, running over Clemson’s Travis Blanks as he tried to make a tackle. Seminoles by a knockout. O’Leary finished with five catches for 161
The game marked only the fourth time that the conference better known for basketball has matched two top-five football teams, and the first time since 2005.
Not long after Clemson made its grand entrance, sprinting past Howard’s Rock and down the hill onto the field, orange balloons filling the sky above Memorial Stadium, Florida State took control. On the first play from scrimmage Smith stripped Stanton Seckinger and Terrence Brooks recovered for the Seminoles at the Clemson 34.
Two plays later, Winston lofted deep down the sideline to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin, who went up high for the perfectly thrown ball and landed with it inside the pylon for a touchdown.
Winston has been even better than advertised in his first season as a starter, hard to believe considering the hype. But this opponent and this setting represented by far the biggest challenge of his young career. Turns out, it was just another showcase — for Florida State’s defense, too.
Lamarcus Joyner forced Clemson turnover No. 2, coming free on a blitz and knocking the ball free from Boyd. Edwards scooped and scored. It was 17-0 with 3:07 left in the first quarter and Death Valley suddenly didn’t seem so daunting.
Clemson made a much needed response, Boyd hitting Sammy Watkins with a 3-yard touchdown pass to trim the lead to 10 late in the first quarter. But Winston and his talented receivers struck again.
Winston beat a Clemson blitz with a quick pass to Greene, who slipped a tackle and was gone, 72 yards for a touchdown that made it 24-7 midway through the second. Greene made a shush gesture to the Clemson fans. He didn’t need to. He had already quieted them.
Joyner’s interception of Boyd in Florida State territory turned it into another field goal to make it 27-7 at halftime.
Boyd finished 17 for 37 for 156 yards.
The last sounds heard booming from Memorial Stadium were from the Florida State band, playing that familiar Seminole war chant with its fans chopping away.