CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Jimbo Fisher hadn’t ever seen anything like it. He hopes he never sees it again.
Fisher, Florida State’s new offensive coordinator, couldn’t fathom the first-half mistakes that left the his 19th-ranked Seminoles with only one first down, 62 yards and trailing 24-3.
“It was the one of the most different halves of football I’ve ever been around,” Fisher said. “Maybe it had to come. We’ll get it out of the way, put it behind us and go on from there.”
It’s hard to know where the Seminoles (0-1) go next after their 24-18 loss to Clemson in the Bowden Bowl on Monday night.
Even with a second half rally, this Florida State doesn’t look anything like the program that dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference since it entered in 1992.
“It looked like stage fright. We were running a new offense but I thought we grasped it better than that. We were bad,” said Bobby Bowden, who lost for the third straight time to son Tommy and his Tigers.
Fisher was supposed to retool the Florida State attack and bring the flash back to the Seminoles this season.
Instead, it was first-time starter Cullen Harper throwing two touchdown passes as the Tigers beat the Seminoles for the fourth time in five years.
Clemson linebacker Nick Watkins says the win is nice, but the Tigers have bigger things on their minds.
“It’s not that big a statement,” Watkins said of the win. “We beat Florida State for a few years in a row, whatever it is, and we haven’t won a championship yet. So beating Florida State doesn’t mean anything.”
It meant something to many of the 83,000 at Death Valley.
Clemson fans rushed the field and the collapsible goal posts came down after Weatherford’s final pass fell to the ground. But officials chose to review the play, moving orange-clad fans out of the way.
Finally, they were told the play stood and the game was indeed over.
Florida State nearly saved itself with a second-half rally in the season opener for both teams.
When Drew Weatherford hit Richard Goodman for a 15-yard TD pass with 11:40 left, the Seminoles trailed by 6. Weatherford and the Seminoles got the ball back three more times after that, but could not score.
“He wasn’t sharp and I was surprised,” Bobby Bowden said. “He had a lot of sacks and I don’t know if he wasn’t reading the right thing or if they just had a guy free and he couldn’t get away from him.”
Harper, a junior, did his part in his first game at Memorial Stadium.
He connected with freshman tight end Brian Linthicum on an 11-yard scoring pass and Aaron Kelly for a 41-yard TD connection as the Tigers took a 21-0 lead less than 17 minutes into the game. In between, tailback James Davis scored on a 29-yard run.
“It was awesome,” Harper said. “I couldn’t ask for a better first game experience.”
Florida State stumbled through a miserable first half where it managed only one first down and 62 yards. Weatherford was under constant pressure and looked lost when he wasn’t.
Florida State only crossed midfield once in the first half after Roosevelt Lawson’s blocked punt.
“We didn’t outfight them in the first half and it bit us in the butt,” Thacker said.
The Seminoles found their rhythm in the second half.
Antone Smith had a 49-yard run to Clemson’s 1, then followed with the score that drew them to 24-11. Goodman’s TD catch tightened things up even more.
But Weatherford and the Seminoles couldn’t sustain the rally.
They got to Clemson’s 31 with 3 minutes left. But Florida State’s junior quarterback threw three incompletions and was taken down from behind by defensive lineman Philip Merling.
Harper was 14-of-24 for 160 yards and no interceptions. Davis gained 102 yards on 18 carries.
The victory closed Tommy within a win of his father after the ninth meeting of college football’s best known family feud.
Bobby’s Seminoles won the first four games in the series by a combined score of 160-79. Tommy won four of the past five, including the last three at Death Valley.
Bobby Bowden said he can’t be certain the Seminoles will rebound from their fifth loss in their last eight games.
“You never know. The season’s too young,” he said.
Clemson got things going with a reverse to Jacoby Ford that went for 34 yards to Florida State’s 23. Three plays later, Harper found Linthicum for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
The Tigers were at it again moments later when linebacker Nick Watkins recovered Preston Parker’s fumble.
Davis, who gained 1,187 yards a year ago, showed off his power on the next play, breaking two tackles and cutting hard left near the goal line for his 29-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Two series later, Harper hooked up with Kelly for a 41-yard touchdown pass.