There were plenty of storylines to come out of the best college football Saturday of 2012 so far, but as the clock turned to midnight on this particular Saturday, there was one which stood out above them all: Florida State is back. Not just as a Top 10 team. Not just as a perennial ACC favorite. But as a tried and true National Championship contender too.
The Seminoles weren’t perfect in a 49-37 win over Clemson Saturday night, but simply wore down a really good Tigers team in a dominating second half that sealed the victory. For Florida State, this was the biggest win of the Jimbo Fisher era, and one where they proved to be elite-yes, elite- on both sides of the ball. For the Seminoles, Saturday’s victory wasn’t just about their vaunted defense or even the emergence of E.J. Manuel, Chris Thompson and James Wilder as bona-fide offensive stars. Nope, this win was a team effort in every sense of the word.
You want to know what the crazy part is though? For the first 35 minutes or so of the game, it was actually Clemson that looked like the elite team and National Championship contender. The Tigers came out swinging, took their first lead less than two minutes into the game and were up 28-14 early in the third quarter. At the time, it looked like Clemson had more than enough to pull off the upset.
And really, if there was one word that best described the last quarter and a half of the game, it was “enough.” From the time Clemson took that lead, they simply didn’t have “enough” of anything to keep up with the Seminoles. Not enough energy on defense and not enough bodies on offense to stop their opponent’s ridiculous pass rush either. Florida State’s depth on both sides of the ball proved to be too much for Clemson, and the Seminoles showed it drive after drive, by grinding the Tigers to sawdust over the final 35 minutes of the game. No, this game wasn’t about Clemson giving the lead away. It was about Florida State going out and taking a win right from their hands.
And it happened with big plays.
With Clemson holding that 28-14 lead Florida State’s next touchdown was set up by a 64-yard pass from E.J. Manuel to Kelvin Benjamin, and after Clemson extended it to 31-28 with a field goal, it was another big play in the return game by LaMarcus Joyner that set up another score. The Seminoles punched the ball in two plays later to cut the lead to 31-28, and less than two minutes after that again scored to go up 35-31. If that all sounds fast and furious on paper, well it was the same in real-time, but that 35-31 score proved to be important; it was Florida State’s first lead of the game, and one they wouldn’t relinquish.
It was also at that point that the Seminoles flexed their muscles as true National Championship contenders.
For starters, there was the defense, which not only proved to be as good as advertised, but even better when it mattered most. Over the final 35 minutes they bottled up Clemson’s potent attack and limited Tajh Boyd, after he was basically able to do whatever he wanted in the first half. Most importantly, their size, speed and depth up front simply overwhelmed a Clemson front-line that had held strong to that point. They had no answers, and if Saturday night was any indication neither will many teams in college football going forward.
Offensively it was much the same, as E.J. Manuel- a guy who has been a lightning rod for angry Noles fans through the years- played inarguably the best game of his career in Tallahassee. He started the night by running the ball quite a bit early, and finished it throwing it all over the field. The end result was maybe the most impressive stat line (relative to the competition, anyway) of any quarterback in the 2012 season. He finished with 27 of 35 completions, 380 yards and two passing touchdowns, to go along with 102 yards on the ground as well. Add in another Chris Thompson breakout performance (103 yards rushing and 79 yards receiving) and the continued emergence of James Wilder (we told you to watch out for him last week), and it’s easy pretty easy to see how the Seminoles ended up with 49 points on the board Saturday night.
Add up all those stats and it’s also pretty easy to see that this team is in the discussion for the National Championship going forward.
Last week we asked if the Seminoles were “back” and tonight, they answered with an unequivocal yes.
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