Although Florida State's defense looked vulnerable against a high-powered Clemson offense, it clamped down when needed and allowed EJ Manuel and crew to rally for a huge victory.
Yes, a defense that had allowed one field goal in in the first three games gave up 37 points and 426 yards Saturday night -- but took control in time for the offense do its thing. After Chandler Catanzaro's career-best 50-yard field goal gave Clemson a 31-21 lead, the Tigers next five offensive possessions ended with four punts and an interception.
"That's what Florida State's defense is all about," said defensive end Bjoern Werner, who finished with four tackles but held without a sack for the first time this season. "Fight and finish."
And now Florida State -- which is allowing 10 points and 184 yards a game -- has control of its own destiny in the ACC as the league's only unbeaten team.
The Seminoles (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) remained No. 4 in The Associated Press poll announced Sunday right behind LSU, which escaped with a 12-10 win at upset-minded Auburn. Clemson, which defeated Auburn in the season opener, dropped seven spots to No. 17 after Saturday's loss in Tallahassee.
And while Clemson managed 426 yards and 37 points Saturday, they had 180 of the yards and its first two touchdowns in the game's first 13 minutes.
Clemson's offensive line slowly gave ground against a relentless Seminole defense that forced the Tigers into a series of trick plays throughout the game.
"As the game went on, we sputtered a little bit," Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. "They're No. 1 (defensively) in the nation for a reason."
His coach wasn't as charitable in describing Florida State's second-half defensive resurgence.
"We got our butts handed to us, period, in the second half, in the fourth quarter," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "They went and got it."
But Swinney believed there were a lot of teaching points coming out of the loss to benefit his team going forward.
"This will be a great game for these guys to learn from," Swinney said. "Some of them got their noses bloodied a little bit tonight and we have to grow them up from it."
Clemson (3-1, 0-1) looks to rebound at Boston College (1-2, 0-1) next Saturday while the Seminoles travel to South Florida (2-2) in their first road test of the season following four straight home games.
Manuel single handedly put up more offense than the Tigers, throwing for 380 yards and running for another 102 -- the first Seminole quarterback to reach those plateaus since former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward in 1992. Manuel's brilliant showing may have also propelled him into some of the early season Heisman talk.
The Seminoles have rolled up 1,279 yards in league wins over Clemson and Wake Forest with Manuel having completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 552 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in league play.
Florida State's conference schedule resumes Oct. 6 at North Carolina State before home dates with Boston College and Duke sandwiching an Oct. 20 trip to Miami.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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