Early in the third quarter it looked more of the same from Florida State in its recent work against Clemson as it trailed 28-14.
Turns out things were different for the fourth-ranked Seminoles this year as they responded with a 35-3 run to take control of the game, and thus the Atlantic division with a 49-37 win over the No. 9 Tigers at Doak Campbell Stadium.
In front of an electrified crowd of 83,231 FSU head coach [db]Jimbo Fisher[/db] and FSU (4-0, 2-0 ACC) came away with the big victory that the program has been searching for the better part of the last decade.
"That was great ball game," Fisher said. "It was two very good football teams throwing hay-makers at each other right and left from the opening bell, and just kept answering each other's calls."
Early in the game it was Clemson's (3-1, 0-1 ACC) quick strike offense that knocked FSU to the mat with three scoring drives, all taking less than four minutes, including a 60-yard touchdown pass from [db]Tajh Boyd[/db] to [db]DeAndre Hopkins[/db].
As the vaunted FSU defense struggled to find its footing it was fifth-year senior quarterback [db]EJ Manuel[/db] who took the load upon his shoulders with undoubtedly the best performance of his career.
Manuel completed 27 of 35 pass attempts for a career-high 380 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 102 yards on the ground on 12 carries, becoming the first FSU signal caller to throw for more than 300 yards and run for 100 or more in the same game since a guy named Charlie Ward in 1992.
FSU racked up 667 yards of total offense, including 303 yards on the ground. Senior [db]Chris Thompson[/db] rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns while sophomore [db]James Wilder[/db] added 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"In a game like this we were prepared for it and we understood (Clemson) was going to come out and get points and we knew we had to come out and get points too," said Manuel.
With an electric offense, Clemson took its 28-14 lead with 11:48 left in the third quarter on a tricky pass from receiver [db]Sammy Watkins[/db] to running back [db]Andre Ellington[/db], a 52-yard score that sucked the air out of Doak Campbell Stadium.
FSU answered right back with the big play it needed in the form of a 64-yard gain on a shovel pass to [db]Kelvin Benjamin[/db]. FSU punched it in just four plays later on a nine-yard run by Thompson on perfectly executed option pitch from Manuel.
After holding Clemson to a field goal on the ensuing drive to make it 31-21, FSU seized control of the game with another big play, a 90-yard kickoff return by [db]Lamarcus Joyner[/db]. Manuel connected with [db]Rashad Greene[/db] two plays later for a nine-yard score to cut the lead to 31-28 with 7:07 left in the third quarter.
"That was a big play there. That ignited us," Fisher said of Joyner's return. "That was a tremendous play. In the first half we struggled on special teams but in the second half, we took over."
FSU forced a three-and -out on the ensuing drive and posted a 29-yard touchdown catch by [db]Rodney Smith[/db]. The score gave FSU a 35-31 lead, its first of the game, and one it would not relinquish the rest of the way.
"I think that's just what we wanted to do," said Manuel. "Get ahead, get the momentum, we had our fans behind our back the whole night and we knew that so if we made big plays (the defense) was going to do the rest."
After allowing 253 yards of total offense in the first half, the FSU defense responded by allowing just 173 yards in the second half and coming up with key stops, something Clemson failed to do.
"It was just discipline," defensive tackle [db]Timmy Jerningan[/db] said of the turnaround. "There wasn't really an adjustment. We were feeding off the offense. When we've seen that the offense just kept fighting back, kept fighting back, and EJ stepped up so much…the whole defense feeds off of that."
With the lead and the momentum in hand Wilder and Thompson wore down the Clemson offense with a powerful rushing attack. Wilder punched in a 5-yard score and Thompson added a 27-yard touchdown run just one play after a [db]Nick Waisome[db] interception for a 49-31 lead.
Fisher compared the game to that of a heavyweight bout, and despite his team coming away with an impressive decision that will force pollster to take notice, after the game the third-year head coach was only interested in how his team would respond to its next bout - a 6 p.m. ET tilt against South Florida (2-2) in Tampa next weekend.
"It's a good win. We should win big games here at Florida State. We're 4-0 that's all it is," Fisher said. "We've critical game next week at South Florida we have to read for that and put this one behind us very quickly and move on."