Clemson has exorcised its share of demons over the past few years under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers added another one to the list Saturday night.
Deshaun Watson connected with Jordan Leggett for a 34-yard touchdown pass with 2:06 remaining as No. 3 Clemson rallied for a 37-34 win over No. 12 Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium. The win was Clemson’s first at FSU since 2006. The Tigers entered the game 1-11 in their previous 12 trips to FSU.
Florida State had a chance to answer in the final minute but drove to the Clemson 34 before going backward and turning the ball over on downs.
“I’m glad to finally walk into this (press) room and be happy,” Swinney said. “It’s been a long time coming, I can tell you that.”
Watson overcame two interceptions to finish with 378 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 52 yards while becoming the first Clemson quarterback to beat the Seminoles in consecutive seasons.
The junior played his best football with the game on the line, completing 7 of 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“It’s big. Very huge. All road wins are very huge in college football,” Watson said. “We made a couple of mistakes but overcame that and got the job done.”
The key to Watson’s success late was connecting with Leggett. Clemson’s 6-5, 260-pound tight end had three catches for 70 yards on the game-winning drive.
“I think we’re definitely blessed. Someone is looking over us and helping us get that extra edge we need,” Leggett said.
He finished with five catches for 122 yards and a score.
Tigers running back Wayne Gallman had 20 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns but was overshadowed by Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who had 19 carries for 169 yards and four touchdowns in the loss.
“He’s a terrific player, what great balance,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “I’m definitely glad (he’s leaving) but it’s Florida State. They’ll find somebody else.”
Clemson controlled much of the first half and led 17-7 late in the second quarter before Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois led a six-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 17-14 at the break.
The second half consisted of Cook and the Clemson offense trading blows.
After a Greg Huegel 34-yard field goal early in the third quarter gave Clemson a 20-14 lead, Cook took consecutive carries 43 yards and 70 yards for touchdowns to put the Seminoles ahead 28-20.
Gallman answered with a 2-yard touchdown run and another Huegel field goal gave the Tigers a 29-28 lead with 5:25 left in the game.
Cook’s fourth touchdown of the evening from 8 yards out put FSU up 34-29 with 3:23 remaining before Watson and Leggett answered.
Clemson’s defense finished with 10 tackles for loss, including six sacks. Austin Bryant led the way with a pair of sacks.
Tigers safety Jadar Johnson grabbed his fourth interception of the season before leaving the game in the second half with an injury.
Clemson’s front seven took over in the final minute as Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence combined for a sack on third-and-long and Ben Boulware sacked Francois on fourth-and-32 to seal the victory.
Star of the game: Watson: Clemson’s quarterback led the game-winning drive when the Tigers had to have it and was sensational down the stretch.
Play of the game: Watson found Leggett wide open down the right sideline late in the fourth quarter and the tight end dove for the end zone for the game-winning score.
Stat of the game: 16-2: Clemson is now 16-2 in its last 18 games decided by a touchdown or less.
Dalvin Cook was the best player on the field: The Florida State running back took consecutive carries in the third quarter 43 yards for a touchdown and 70 yards for a touchdown. He finished the game with four scores and averaged 8.9 yards per carry.
Deshaun Watson is special: Not exactly breaking news, but to be able to erase early mistakes from his memory and make the big plays late was impressive to watch.
Who: Syracuse at Clemson
When: Saturday, Nov. 5
HOW THEY SCORED
CLE: Gallman 1 run (Huegel kick), 11:05
CLE: Renfrow 4 pass from Watson (Huegel kick), 1:41
FSU: Cook 4 run (Aguayo kick), 8:20
CLE: FG Huegel 23, 1:49
FSU: Murray 5 pass from Francois (Aguayo kick), :23
CLE: FG Huegel 34, 9:08
FSU: Cook 43 run (Aguayo kick), 6:18
FSU: Cook 70 run (Aguayo kick), :43
CLE: Gallman 2 run (pass failed), 11:30
CLE: FG Huegel 46, 5:25
FSU: Cook 8 run (pass failed), 3:23
CLE: Leggett 34 pass from Watson (M.Williams pass from Watson), 2:06
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Clemson, Gallman 20-82, Watson 17-52, (Team) 1-(minus 1). Florida St., Cook 19-169, Stevenson 2-41, R.Johnson 0-0, Francois 7-(minus 47).
PASSING: Clemson, Watson 27-43-2-378. Florida St., Francois 17-35-1-286.
RECEIVING: Clemson, M.Williams 7-70, Leggett 5-122, Renfrow 5-62, A.Scott 4-33, Cain 2-69, McCloud 2-13, Thompson 1-7, Gallman 1-2. Florida St., Murray 6-96, Whitfield 4-70, Rudolph 3-63, Cook 2-15, Tate 1-23, Saunders 1-19.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.