Clemson University

That was a close one

Clemson freshman tight end Brian Linthicum (88) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter.
Clemson freshman tight end Brian Linthicum (88) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter.

CLEMSON - For a half, the Bowden Bowl appeared it might not be fit for primetime television.

Clemson had transformed the ceremonial unveiling of No. 19 Florida State's offense into a public undressing.

Then the same old one-dimensional Seminoles stirred the memories of the yesteryear's descending Tigers.

The wheels nearly came off, but Clemson came up with three final defensive stops to preserve a 24-18 victory Monday night, expanding their recent dominance of the famed father-son competition.

After losing the first four bouts, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden has now won three in a row and four of the last five - just the third time in the last two decades a regular opponent has dominated Bobby Bowden's squad to such a degree.

The Tigers opened a 21-0 lead by the second quarter and seemed on the verge of a blowout before the surfacing of the latest chink in their special teams armor, the punting unit.

A blocked punt and a later safety caused by a bad snap allowed FSU to break the shutout and gradually make a game of it.

The safety pulled the Seminoles within 24-5 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter. On their ensuing possession, tailback Antone Smith followed up a 49-yard gain on third-and-one with a 1-yard touchdown run to narrow the gap to 24-11.

Clemson's offense, which had displayed the razzle-dazzle and athleticism once FSU's trademark in the first half, suddenly could not rid its case of the hiccups.

Pinned against its goal line after a three-and-out, the Tigers gave the Seminoles the ball in prime field position again, this time at the Clemson 32 after a 21-yard punt return.

Seven plays later, quarterback Drew Weatherford hit Richard Goodman for a 9-yard score on third down to make it 24-18 with 11:40 left.

Clemson's next two drives stalled inside its territory.

Making his first career start, redshirt junior Cullen Harper played the part of a Rob Spence quarterback, managing the game without committing a turnover.

Harper went 14 for 24 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, but on a key third-and-seven that could have sealed the win with four minutes left, he misfired to open receiver Tyler Grisham along the left sideline while rolling left.

It marked the first time a Clemson has beaten a ranked team with a first-time starting quarterback in more than 30 years.

A touchback gave FSU a second chance for a game-winning drive with 3:50 remaining.

Three big plays put the Seminoles on the Clemson 31 within a minute. But the Tigers finally stood firm, forcing three incompletions before junior defensive end Phillip Merling registered a drive-ending sack.

FSU had one last shot, taking possession on its 39 with 0:29 left. But a sack, spike and an incompletion finally sealed the deal.

By the end of the first half, FSU fans had to be searching for the receipt on their pricey coaching additions, namely new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.

Clemson coordinator Vic Koenning, who nearly guided Troy's defense to upset Fisher's vaunted LSU offense in 2004, seemed to have Fisher's number again.

The Seminoles mustered a meager 62 yards - a third of which came from Weatherford's 22-yard scramble to open the game.

They finished with just one first down in the half and only crossed midfield when Maners' punt was blocked in the second quarter, setting up a field goal.

• Clemson notebook • 3C