CLEMSON’S BUBBLE was burst in a big way Saturday night in what proved truly to be Death Valley for the Tigers and all their dreams of a championship season.
The 51-14 humbling of third-ranked Clemson by fifth-ranked Florida State delivered a death knoll to the Tigers’ national championship hopes. That was not all. Essentially buried as well was Clemson’s quest for an ACC Atlantic Division title and any chance of capturing the league crown.
Also dismantled were any remaining hopes for a Heisman Trophy for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
The game was billed as a matchup of two of the nation’s best quarterbacks, one a seasoned veteran with big-game experience and the other a redshirt freshman who was facing the first big test of his career.
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By halftime, that issue was settled. Boyd was out of sync. Florida State’s Jameis Winston was out of this world. Boyd was the one who looked nervous. Winston appeared calm and collected throughout.
“I don’t think nothing makes me nervous on the field,” Winston boasted earlier in the week. “Being in the huddle and communicating with guys on the field, they can’t see nervousness in you; nervous is not even in my vocabulary on the field.”
Never-nervous Winston introduced himself to a national TV audience with a spectacular performance. Despite his inexperience, he stood in the pocket looking every bit like a poised veteran. He picked out open receivers and connected with them with precision.
His first pass attempt set the tone for the evening. Facing a second- and-8 at the Clemson 22-yard line, Winston lofted an absolute beauty of a pass to the goal line. Kelvin Benjamin snared the ball, fell into the end zone and Florida State never looked back.
By game’s end, Clemson had wished Winston had stuck to baseball, a sport he played last spring at Florida State. He hails from the same hometown of Bessemer, Ala., as Bo Jackson, who starred professionally in baseball and football.
Winston’s showing Saturday would have made Jackson proud. When the game’s outcome was decided during the first half, Winston completed 14 of 22 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
By game’s end, he had his fourth 300-yard passing game in six career starts, finishing with 444 yards. He entered the game ranked second nationally in passing efficiency and did nothing to damage that lofty status by completing 22 of 34 passes for three touchdowns.
Winston’s showing provided a stark contrast to that of Boyd, who completed 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. Boyd also threw two interceptions.
Boyd never appeared to find any rhythm. He missed passes short of his target, overthrew receivers and, worst of all, turned the ball over. His first-quarter fumble after being sacked for an 18-yard loss was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Florida State’s Mario Edwards.
That staked Florida State to a 17-0 lead. When the advantage stood at 24-7, Clemson had a chance to inch back into the game midway through the second quarter. The Tigers were driving when Boyd inexplicably fired a pass with no Clemson receiver in the vicinity.
The pass spiraled to Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Clemson then watched almost helplessly as Florida State closed out the first half with a 13-play, 72-yard drive that culminated with a 24-yard field goal by Roberto Aguayo.
That left Clemson with a 27-7 halftime hole, and the Tigers had silenced what earlier was a boisterous sellout crowd that came to witness one of the biggest games in Clemson annals.
Instead, Clemson’s bubble was burst in a big, big way.