CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s young offensive stars once again did the heavy lifting, and the No. 21 Tigers finally mustered a defensive stand that made the difference in a 35-30 victory over 11th-ranked Florida State on Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns and freshman Sammy Watkins hauled in eight catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers still found themselves up by just five after a failed fourth-down conversion gave Florida State the ball with three minutes left.
The Seminoles needed to march 76 yards to claim the win, but senior tackle Rennie Moore sacked quarterback Clint Trickett on fourth-and-9 with 1:41 left to end the threat.
“Last week the offense won it in the fourth quarter. This week the defense closed it out,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I can’t say enough about our players. This win puts us in the driver’s seat.”
Clemson improved to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference after knocking off a ranked team in Death Valley for the second consecutive week – a first for the program. Defending national champ Auburn failed to keep up a week ago, but Florida State kept pace. Four times the Seminoles trailed by at least 11 points and four times they pulled to within single digits.
“We had them down a couple of times, and they showed the heart of a champion themselves today the way they fought back and really took advantage of some mistakes that we made,” Swinney said.
After building a 14-3 lead, the mistakes started to show. Clemson failed to get any points out of a prime scoring opportunity when Quandon Christian intercepted a pass at the Florida State 20 in the second quarter. Boyd gave away a touchdown when his stumbling escape of a broken pocket resulted in a lobbed interception to Bjoern Werner for a Seminoles score early in the second half.
“Lord knows we made a million mistakes. We had enough mistakes to lose three games,” Swinney said. “But our guys have a resiliency.”
Boyd responded with an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive later in the quarter and struck a harsh blow early in the fourth when he found Watkins in stride down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown and a 35-23 lead.
Backup quarterback Clint Trickett, who started in place of the injured E.J. Manuel, threw his third touchdown pass with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter to pull Florida State within five points. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Seminoles from suffering its second loss in a row.
“It hurts because you wish you could have responded from adversity from a week ago,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Like I told this team, I have been on championship teams that have lost two in a row. We still have a chance to be a very good football team. We have to coach them better.”
Florida State struggled to stop Clemson, especially in key situations. The Tigers once again thrived on third down, converting 9 of 17 chances, and dominated time of possession 35:30 to 24:30.
Watkins broke a school record for a freshman with his fifth touchdown reception of the season in the first quarter and his sixth, which came in the early in the fourth, put him into a tie for ninth overall at Clemson. Boyd completed 23 of 37 passes to break the 300-yard mark for the second week in a row.
“I think we should have scored more, but I do think that we took advantage of our opportunities,” Boyd said. “This team is really starting to come together, and we’re realizing what this offense can do.”
Andre Ellington admitted after the game his injured hamstring wasn’t at 100 percent but he still led the Tigers with 71 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Dwayne Allen tallied 67 yards on four receptions, including a 34-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter.
Clemson’s defense held Florida State to 29 rushing yards.