CLEMSON — – Clemson entered Saturday night with its collective chest puffed out, ready for another turn in the national spotlight.
The No.3 Tigers ended it picking up the pieces under the hot lights following a complete dismantling at No. 5 Florida State’s hands, 51-14.
The Seminoles stunned a Memorial Stadium crowd with a rout of the Tigers in the ACC’s first top-five matchup since 2005, putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the Atlantic Division crown and squarely in the conversation for the BCS national title game.
Meanwhile, Clemson must regroup following an uncharacteristically sloppy effort that featured multiple turnovers and poor play from senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Tajh Boyd.
Clemson dug itself a stunning 27-7 halftime hole thanks to uncharacteristic mistakes and only scored once in the final seconds of the second half.
On the game’s first offensive play, tight end Stanton Seckinger caught a nine-yard pass and then fumbled at his own 34, with Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith recovering.
Two plays later, FSU quarterback Jameis Winston threw a perfect pass to the right end zone pylon, with Kelvin Benjamin hauling it in for a 22-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead 82 seconds into the game.
Florida State never relinquished the lead.
Florida State followed with a 16-play, 77-yard drive capped by Roberto Aguayo’s 28-yard field goal, extending the lead to 10-0 with 4:38 left in the first quarter.
Then, a bad quarter got worse. While scrambling for a first down, Boyd lost his handle, and the ball was scooped up by Mario Edwards, who rolled 45 yards for a touchdown and shocking 17-0 lead.
Clemson rebounded nicely with a long touchdown drive of its own; Sammy Watkins finished it with a juggling three-yard grab that cut the lead to 17-7 with 51 seconds left in the quarter.
It was the most points Clemson had allowed in a quarter since last November against N.C. State. The Tigers had held five consecutive foes to 14 points or less, their longest streak since 1989.
In the second quarter, Clemson failed to turn three drives inside Florida State territory into points.
That would come back to haunt them.
Midway through the quarter, Winston found Rashad Greene over the middle from his 28. He stepped through a pair of missed tackles, turned on the afterburners and was gone for a 72-yard touchdown and 24-7 Seminole lead.
A final drive before the half moved to the FSU 25, but a miscommunication with a receiver turned into a Lamarcus Joyner interception at the Seminole 12. Florida State ground out a 14-play, 72-yard drive that ended with an Aguayo field goal with three seconds left in the half.
Clemson committed three turnovers in the half, one more than it had committed in any game this season.
In the first half, Winston completed 14 of 22 passes for 242 yards , two touchdowns and an interception: Boyd had 11 of 24 for 99 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.