Coming into Saturday night Florida State was still largely an unknown quantity.
Sure the early returns looked good. FSU hadn't scored fewer than 41 points in a game, they were ranked third in both scoring offense and scoring defense and they were fresh off a 63-0 demolition of the Maryland Terrapins -- who were ranked 25th at the time.
But nobody expected what happened in Clemson, SC last night when the Seminoles crushed the Tigers 51-14.
Florida State had no shortage of excuses at its disposal had it fallen short. The team lost 11 players to the NFL draft. They were starting a redshirt freshman quarterback against a top 3 team. It was loud.
But by the end of the night it was Clemson who was searching for excuses.
I think we can finally put to rest the tired question about whether or not Florida State is back now. The Seminoles are for real. They proved it when they outclassed a team that -- until today -- had many talking national title.
And that's not hyperbole either. Nobody had ever scored that many points on Clemson at Death Valley before. FSU did it against a squad that many Tigers fan would have argued was their most talented ever.
In Florida State's previous five trips to Clemson -- all losses -- Clemson had turned the ball over just six times combined. Last night FSU forced four turnovers. Clemson's redshirt senior QB Tajh Boyd accounted for three of those turnovers and never looked comfortable in the face of Florida State's pressure.
"I thought both our offensive and defensive lines did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage," said Jimbo Fisher after the game.
On the other side of the ball Clemson's Vic Beasley -- one of the nation's most disruptive pass rushers -- was all but neutralized by LT Cameron Erving. The sack artist was limited to just two tackles and didn't bother Jameis Winston much at all on Saturday night.
It was like that across the board too. Every matchup Florida State needed to win -- they won. Line of scrimmage? Check. The Clemson passing game? 4.5 yards per attempt. The crowd noise? Not a problem.
Florida State was dominant on Saturday night in a way that was reminscent of the program's heyday. And in the process they answered the same question that's been asked of them for the past three years.
Are they back? Yes.
It's getting harder and harder to imagine that Nick O'Leary won't graduate from Florida State as the best tight end in the program's history -- at least statistically. The Golden Cub is already a touchdown away from tying Florida State's career record for touchdowns by a tight end, but more to the point he has become one of the most dangerous weapons in the Florida State passing attack.
O'Leary totaled 161 yards on five receptions last night. He ran over a Clemson defender on one play and then at the end of the game rumbled for 94 yards and narrowly missed scoring after Jameis Winston found him wide open -- exploiting a Clemson run-blitz -- with the Seminoles backed up on their own goal-line.
"O’Leary is the man, just know that," said Winston after the game.
Senior Leaders on Defense
Florida State's three leading tacklers on Saturday were all seniors. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner and Christian Jones combined for 27 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The trio of seniors played exactly how a team needs their senior leaders to play in a big-time game.
Smith lead Florida State with 11 tackles. He was all over the field -- as he has been all season -- and provided the vocal leadership for the Seminole defense.
“I just think we came out here with that mentality [to win]," said Smith. "You saw on the first play the defense came out and forced that turnover. And that just showed this team that alright we said it, now we’re doing it. And then we just ran with it and ran and ran. And we just ran away.”
Christian Jones has looked better and better after moving back outside and beginning to rush the quarterback off the edge. He provided constant pressure against Tajh Boyd on Saturday and was also stout against the run. Jones just looks more natural outside in Jeremy Pruitt's defense and has returned to his 2012 form the past two games.
Lamarcus Joyner had the best game of any defender though. Joyner's sack caused a fumble -- one that was returned for a touchdown by Mario Edwards Jr. -- in the first quarter and he picked off Tajh Boyd to end a Clemson scoring threat in the second. Prior to Saturday Clemson hadn't given up more than two turnovers in a game all year. Joyner matched that total on his own by halftime.
This was the best Florida State's defense has looked all year -- and it came against the toughest opponent on their schedule.
“This was something we needed to show everyone," said Joyner. "We believe as an organzation, but does the world? I doubt it. So this was an opportunity to show that and we embraced that challenge.”
Winston's Pick Was a Function of Technology
It was the return of Jimbo the Luddite after the game. I say that in jest, but after waxing philosophical about computer rankings, goal post lasers and social media on and off throughout last season, Jimbo Fisher complaining about technology has become a trend. On Saturday he finished his press conference by asking the media how they could hear sounds on the moon but not invent a microphone that doesn't involve him taking his shirt off to clip it on before every TV interview.
The more pertinent part of Jimbo's tech-talk was in regards to Jameis Winston's first half interception though.
"The interception was our fault. The headset went out," said Fisher. "We signaled the route to the receiver and they ran the double move. The coach who signaled to Winston signaled for the single move. We had to throw away the headset. That could have cost you the ballgame. It cost us a huge turnover in the game. He didn't make that mistake, but he handled it well."
More Thoughts From the Morning After:
##- Roberto Aguayo is still perfect this season. He kicked three field goals and six extra points on Saturday to bring his point total for the season to 71. He is currently on pace to score 462 points by the end of his junior year. Dustin Hopkins' career NCAA record for a kicker is 442. By the way, that's averaging for 13 games per season. If he plays 14 a year -- as is well within the range of possibility -- the record could fall even faster.
##- Florida State has scored in their last possession of the first half and in the first possession of the second half in every game this season.
##- Rashad Greene had eight receptions for 146 yards and two scores. He now has seven touchdowns this year and has made a catch in 21 straight games.
##- FSU is now 10-1 all-time against ACC opponents ranked in the top 10.
For all the latest Florida State news and updates follow Patrik Nohe on Twitter...Follow @PatrikNohe_MH