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Florida State backs up its ranking by rallying past Clemson

The SportsXchange

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For three weeks, Florida State had to answer questions about how it would respond when it went up against an equally talented team, what would happen when the Seminoles faced an opponent that punched as hard as they had punched in their first three games.

On Saturday night against No. 10 Clemson, the No. 4 Seminoles found their answer.

Trailing by 14 early in the third quarter, Florida State surged to five second-half touchdowns and a 49-37 win over the Tigers.

The victory gives Florida State pole position in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division race and could further assert the Seminoles' position among this season's national championship contenders.

"I'll say this -- everybody got their money's worth," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That was a great ballgame. I think that was two very good football teams who were throwing haymakers at each other right and left from the opening bell and just kept answering each other's calls."

Clemson had Florida State on the ropes midway early in the second half. The Tigers used some trickery -- a 52-yard touchdown pass from receiver Sammy Watkins to running back Andre Ellington -- to take a 28-14 lead with 11:48 to go in the third quarter.

Florida State, though, answered with a 35-3 run, sparked by Lamarcus Joyner's 90-yard kickoff return to the Clemson 10 after the Tigers kicked a field goal for a 31-21 advantage.

The Seminoles scored on that drive, with Rashad Greene catching a 9-yard touchdown pass from EJ Manuel. Florida State forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then took its first lead of the game on a 29-yard strike from Manuel to Rodney Smith.

"Playing a team like that, especially at their place, you can't do certain things to help them," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "The kickoff return was huge -- just a huge momentum swing in the game. It kind of lit a fire for them over there."

Manuel had a career night, throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 102 yards on the ground. The fifth-year senior accounted for 482 of FSU's 667 total yards.

"We just knew we had to keep scoring points to help our defense out," Manuel said. "(The Tigers), we knew they could score 50 points easily. As an offense, we knew we had to go out there and take the initiative and score points."

Chris Thompson (103 yards, two touchdowns) and James Wilder Jr. (65 yards, two touchdowns) sparked Florida State's rushing attack, which finished with 287 yards and 7.2 yards per attempt.

Florida State's second-half turnaround was a shock for the Tigers, who were cruising toward an upset and what would've been their sixth win over the Seminoles in eight meetings.

Installed as 14.5-point underdog before the game, Clemson used of a variety of deep passes and trick plays to catch flat-footed a Florida State defense that hadn't allowed a touchdown in its first three games.

It took all of one minute and 26 seconds for Clemson to poke a hole in the Seminoles' defense. The Tigers scored on their fifth play of the game and added two more touchdowns to take 21-14 lead into halftime.

Tajh Boyd beat Florida State's third-down blitz for a 60-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins that put the Tigers up 7-0. It was the first touchdown Florida State had allowed this season, and it eclipsed the Seminoles defense's three-game point total (six) in one play plus an extra point.

Florida State, though, answered right back on the ensuing drive with an impressive six-play, 85-yard march that senior fullback Lonnie Pryor punctuated with a 13-yard touchdown run.

Things got even wilder on the next drive when, facing a fourth-and-1, Clemson faked a field goal and holder Spencer Benton dished a shovel pass to Darrell Smith. After video review, officials confirmed that Smith barely made it over the line for a first down.

The Tigers scored two plays later on a 6-yard run from Ellington.

Clemson had a chance to extend its lead after Florida State's Dustin Hopkins pushed a 44-yard field-goal attempt wide right. However, Cornellius Carradine sacked Boyd twice, and the Tigers were forced to punt.

The Seminoles answered with a four-play, 74-yard scoring drive. Thompson did the heavy lifting with a 41-yard run, and Wilder finished things off with a 5-yard touchdown run.

Florida State, though, squandered its own chance to seize control when, after forcing the Tigers to punt again, sophomore returner Greene muffed a punt and Clemson recovered at the Seminoles' 31. Boyd tossed his second touchdown pass four plays later to put the Tigers back on top.

With time waning in the second quarter, the Seminoles drove to the Clemson 13-yard line before a false-start penalty moved them back. Dustin Hopkins missed his second field-goal attempt, a 37-yarder that went wide left as time expired.

"Obviously this is a tough loss because it's a division loss as well, so we don't control our own destiny anymore," Swinney said. "That's the difficult part, but it's far from over. ...

"We're still in the car, we just don't have our hands on the steering wheel anymore."

NOTES: The game was the Seminoles' 100th against a top-10 opponent. Florida State is just 43-54-3 against top-10 teams, but it's 10-2 against ACC opponents in the top 10. ... Florida State and Clemson had split the last six meetings, but the Tigers had won six of the last nine. The winner of this game has won the ACC Atlantic Division each of the past three years. ... Clemson's 253 yards of first-half offense nearly reached the number of yards Florida State had allowed in its first three games. The Seminoles came into the contest having allowed 310 yards combined to Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest. ... Dustin Hopkins made 22 of 27 of his field-goal attempts in 2011 and was 3-for-3 in 2012 before Saturday, when he finished 0-for-2.
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