CLEMSON, S.C. — Florida State now has a seat at the big-boy table.
The Seminoles shredded Clemson’s defense for 564 yards and frustrated Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd into turnover after turnover in a dominant 51-14 win Saturday night before a sold-out crowd at Death Valley.
The showdown between two of the nation’s top 5 teams, just the fourth time that has happened with two ACC teams facing off, was instead a one-sided knockout by the Seminoles.
“Florida State might be the best team in the nation,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Florida State is a heck of a football team. They took advantage of all of our mistakes.”
Florida State’s reward? The Seminoles (6-0) are in the national championship hunt along with No. 1 Alabama (7-0), No. 2 Oregon (7-0) and No. 4 Ohio State (7-0).
The problem? There can only be reservations for two at the national championship game in Pasadena, Calif., in January. The four teams will have to sort it out in what should be an entertaining second half of the season.
Lamarcus Joyner forced two fumbles and had an interception in the first 12 minutes of the game, and Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards and three touchdown passes.
Winston now has 20 touchdown passes this season, solidifying his status as a Heisman Trophy contender. He completed 22 of 34 passes on Saturday and has four 300-yard games in what is just a six-game career.
Rashad Greene had eight catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns for Florida State, which scored at will on Clemson from the start. The Seminoles had a touchdown or field goal on eight of their 11 drives in the game.
“They don’t worry about style,” said coach Jimbo Fisher, who earned the signature win in his fourth year at Florida State. “Style is not important to them. Substance is what matters. They’re confident in their abilities.”
Florida State’s defense turned in its best performance of the season in what was a huge test against Boyd, a quarterback who had burned the Seminoles the past two years. And Heisman voters will now likely cross Boyd off their list.
Boyd’s first pass was a completion to Stanton Seckinger, but he fumbled and led to Florida State’s first touchdown. On Clemson’s third drive, Boyd was sacked by Joyner and fumbled, and Mario Edwards Jr. scooped up the ball and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. Boyd also was intercepted on Clemson’s final drive of the half, leading to a Florida State field goal.
It was one of the worst first-half lines of Boyd’s distinguished career: 11 of 24 for 99 yards and a touchdown. And his night didn’t get much better; the Tigers went punt-interception-punt in the third quarter. Boyd finished 17 of 37 for 156 yards.
The Seminoles hadn’t won at Death Valley since 2001, a five-game losing streak. But on Saturday, they owned the place. After Florida State went ahead 17-7 in the second quarter, you could hear a pin drop — and then just a war chant from a small contingent of Seminole fans among the capacity crowd of 83,428 Clemson fans.
Florida State had opened 5-0 three times in the past 11 seasons (2003, 2005 and 2012), but lost Game 6 each time. On Saturday, the Seminoles improved to 6-0 for the first time since they won their last national title in 1999.
The Seminoles are once again in the hunt.
Now, Florida State essentially has a two-game edge on Clemson (6-1) in the Atlantic Division race. And the Seminoles have just four ACC games left: home games with NC State, Miami and Syracuse, and a road game with Wake Forest.
Florida State’s win also sets up a potential top-10 showdown on Nov. 2 in Tallahassee. Miami (6-0) plays host to Wake Forest (4-3) on Saturday, while Florida State welcomes NC State (3-3).
The first BCS standings will be released Sunday night, and it will be the first indication of how close Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Florida State are clustered in the top 4 and in what order.
There were plenty of doubts about the strength of Florida State’s schedule in the first five games. A 63-0 rout of No. 25 Maryland said plenty. But Saturday night was a thrashing that clearly caught the attention of the nation.
Early in the fourth quarter, the majority of the Clemson faithful had left. Death Valley was silenced. That silence spoke volumes.