The fourth-ranked Seminoles rolled up 667 yards of total offense and scored 35 second-half points to erase No. 10 Clemson’s seven-point halftime lead on their way to a 49-37 victory Saturday night.
“We just didn’t play four quarters,” Swinney said. “It’s a great game for us to grow and learn from. There’s a lot of football left. Certainly we’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
Florida State’s EJ Manuel threw for a career-high 380 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 102 yards in the biggest Atlantic Coast Conference game in years.
Chris Thompson ran for 103 yards and two scores and James Wilder Jr. added two touchdowns runs for the Seminoles (4-0, 2-0).
“We couldn’t stop the run,” Swinney said. “Our team, I thought they fought hard, but again, right there at the end the momentum change late in the third quarter going into the fourth quarter we just weren’t able to turn it back.”
Clemson (3-1, 0-1) built a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter on a 52-yard pass from All-American receiver Sammy Watkins to Andre Ellington.
Swinney said the turning point was Lamarcus Joyner’s 90-yard kickoff return after Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 50-yard field goal to put the Tigers up 31-21.
Joyner was tackled at the Clemson 10 and the Seminoles scored two plays later on a 9-yard Manuel pass to Rashad Greene.
“The kickoff return was huge – just a huge momentum swing in the game,” Swinney said. “It kind of lit a fire for them over there.”
Florida State trailed until late in the third quarter, taking its first lead at 35-31 on Manuel’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Smith. The Seminoles then built a 49-31 lead before Clemson scored late.
“Our offense is all about getting in the rhythm,” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. “Early on, we were firing on all cylinders. We were able to execute on some big plays. But as the game went on, we sputtered a little bit.”
The two teams combined for 1,093 yards of offense as Clemson put up 426 yards against the nation’s top-ranked defense.
“They’re No. 1 in the nation for a reason,” Freeman said. “We will draw some confidence from the good things, but we have to go back and correct some of the mistakes.”
The Tigers visit Boston College next Saturday.
Clemson needed just 86 seconds to reach the end zone as DeAndre Hopkins blew past Florida State safety Terrence Brooks on a 60-yard scoring bomb from Boyd – the first touchdown scored against the Seminole defense this season. But more were to come.
A trick play set up Clemson’s second TD, a 6-yard run by Andre Ellington. Darrell Smith got a yard on a shovel pass from holder Spencer Benton on a fake field goal from the Florida State 15 two plays earlier.
Yet another trick play gave Clemson its 28-14 lead when Watkins took a lateral from Tajh Boyd and then threw back across the field to Ellington on a 52-yard scoring play. Although Watkins had 109 all-purpose yards, he was kept out of the end zone.