Jimbo Fisher wondered all week what his team would do when it was punched in the mouth. On Saturday night Fisher and all of America got the answer. Florida State hits back much harder.
Down 28-14 and 31-21 at points, Florida State snapped off 28 unanswered points and their defense dug in and began to shut down Clemson's offense.
“That was a great ball game," said Jimbo Fisher afterwards. "I think that was two very good football teams throwing haymakers at each other right from the opening bell and both just kept answering each other’s calls."
But the Seminoles hit harder and won the slugfest by night's end. I have to be honest I thought making it a shoot-out was the one thing that would give Clemson an advantage. As it turns out Florida State's offense is pretty loaded too.
EJ Manuel deserves all the credit for stepping up on a big stage. 480+ all-purpose yards are the stat to lead with but Manuel's cool head under pressure provided stability and leadership that probably saved the game for the Seminoles.
At the end of this one you could see how much older, how much more mature FSU is from last season.
Last season this team would have gone down, this year it dusted itself off and downed its opponent. After the game players talked about just that.
About how they'd been through the peaks and valleys together already, about how OU prepared them and about how they always had faith that they would pull it out. That last part is key because if we learned anything today, more than about X's and O's and offenses and defenses, this FSU team believes it can win a title.
That's half the battle.
And it wasn't just that Florida State came back but how they did it. Resoundingly. By the mid-4th quarter FSU had run away with the game, but it wasn't until the 3rd quarter that Clemson even pushed its advantage to two scores. That's a 28-point swing in the course of approximately 12 and a half minutes of football.
Great teams can just flip it on. 2000-2003 Miami used to sleepwalk through halves and sometimes three quarters before showing up and winning in a flurry when it counted. 2004-2006 USC was another team like that. A national update would come through about how the Trojans are up just 14-10 through the half and by the 4th it's 45-10. Good teams can make runs like that.
Last night it was Florida State's turn to flex.
The offense scored on a 10-yard drive set up by a 90-yard Lamarcus Joyner kickoff return. Then they drove 64 yards in just over two and a half minutes, 77 yards in three and followed up a Nick Waisome interception with a one-play 27 yard Chris Thompson TD drive.
The key was the defense also started making stops and the result was a team that looked powerful and potent on a national stage against a top ten opponent.
Defensively, you have to acknowledge the fact that 426 yards and 36 points is about what Clemson did last year. The reason this year is more impressive is that Clemson was pacing for well more than that when the Florida State defense started to play out of its mind.
Before people get too down on the D, Clemson's offense is really that good and the officiating was suspect at times. In the mid-third, FSU had accrued 6 penalties while Clemson had none. It wasn't for lack of trying either. On one play in particular Tank Carradine was tackled trying to make a play on a screen that went up the sidelines for big yardage. It set up a score later in the drive, but the hold was as blatant as it gets.
By the night's end Florida State had put the game out of the reach of the officials though. That came largely because the defense started to make adjustments and shut down the Clemson offense.
When Florida State went down 31-21 the defense begun a spell in which it gave up -6 yards, chased around Tajh Boyd, created a turnover and gave the ball back to their offense after shutting down drives, that in turn helped FSU turn a ten-point deficit into an 18-point lead.
That stretch won the game.
To break it down a little further, in a 12-minute period over last night's game the defense turned it up to hold a Tiger offense that racked up 426 yards on the day to -6 yards, while the offense reeled off 28 un-answered points and put the game out of reach.
I don't know if we can say with certainty that FSU is completely back, but last night they flipped the switch and dominated a top ten team.
That in itself is a mark of a great team.