Florida State falls in Death Valley
By PETE IACOBELLI, AP
CLEMSON, S.C. -- C.J. Spiller couldn't help himself, and after his latest record-setting performance he probably deserved to tout himself as a Heisman Trophy contender.
At the end of Spiller's high-stepping, 5-yard touchdown run, Clemson's star tailback flashed a quick Heisman pose.
"A baby, a mini one," he finally admitted Saturday night.
Spiller had a career-high 165 yards rushing and his 20th touchdown of at least 50 yards to lead the Tigers closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in a 40-24 victory over Florida State.
It was Clemson's fourth straight victory after starting 2-3 and a chance for Spiller to enhance his rising Heisman hopes.
The usually humble Spiller tried at first to deny the bit of showboating at the end of perhaps Clemson's biggest victory in four seasons.
"All the pose you'll see is if I'm hopefully in New York and holding up the trophy," he said.
He has a shot if he keeps posting numbers like this. Along with his rushing TD, Spiller had a 58-yard scoring catch and finished with 312 all-purpose yards, surpassing the school record of 310 set two games ago in a 40-37 overtime win at Miami.
"I doubt if anybody is playing better than him in the country," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said.
A bigger stage is in Spiller and the Tigers' reach.
Clemson (6-3, 4-2 ACC) can take the ACC's Atlantic Division with victories over North Carolina State and Virginia the next two weeks and advance to the league's title game for the first time.
A win there and Clemson is off to the Orange Bowl with its first ACC title since 1991.
For Florida State (4-5, 2-4), it was the fifth loss to Clemson in the past seven meetings -- and will could revive the debate over Bowden's future with a program he brought to two national championships the last 33 years.
Bowden, who turns 80 on Sunday, said the game came down to Spiller and Seminoles errors.
Christian Ponder, the ACC's passing leader, missed two days of practice with sore ribs and threw four interceptions after having only three all year.
And a Seminoles defense that hoped to send retiring coordinator Mickey Andrews off with a flourish, failed to contain the Tigers after holding a 17-6 lead.
Bowden said his team was poised for three quarters. "Then, of course, the dam broke," he said.
The Seminoles' hopes for a division title are gone now after the first Clemson-Florida State game in Death Valley that did not match Bowden against his son, Tommy, in 10 years.
Fans rushed Frank Howard Field with a sense Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney, who took over for Tommy Bowden during last season, were closing in on a championship goal.
Spiller become the school's all-time pass catcher among running backs and he and track partner, receiver Jacoby Ford, broke an NCAA mark for all-purpose yardage by teammates, bettering the 10,253 yards of Marshall Faulk and Darnay Scott of San Diego State from 1991-93.
"Who wouldn't want him on their team?" Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier said of Spiller.
After Dwayne Allen's 17-yard catch put Clemson ahead 6-3 -- Richard Jackson missed the team's first extra point since the 2006 Music City Bowl -- Ponder answered right back with a 49-yard scoring throw to Lonnie Pryor less than two minutes later.
Then the Seminoles defense got into the act, Jamie Robinson returning a Kyle Parker interception 52 yards to go up 17-6.
The fireworks slowed down in the second, largely thanks to mistake from both offenses.
Ponder threw a pair of picks after entering with three.
Clemson tightened the game, taking advantage of Chris Thompson's fumble in his own territory. Two plays later, Parker found a streaking Xavier Dye across the middle of the field who finished off a 43-yard touchdown.
Spiller converted the first 2-point conversion of his career to cut the Seminoles lead to 17-14.
Spiller's 45-yard run late in the second half looked like it might bring Clemson more points. However, the Tigers came up empty after a first-and-goal from the 1.
Florida State took the lead for the last time, 24-21, when Jermaine Thomas closed a 16-play drive with a 1-yard TD run.
That's when the Tigers showed their newfound poise.
"We taught these guys to be a lot tougher," Swinney said. "During the fourth quarter, we used a lot of mental toughness to overcome the pressures of the game."
It doesn't hurt to have a guy like Spiller, too.
Received 11/08/09 12:43 am ET