No. 1 in the country has a nice ring to it and Clemson wants to keep hearing that sweet sound all the way through the evening of Jan. 11. Step one is to win the ACC and make the College Football Playoff, and head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers inched closer to that goal on Saturday by clinching the Atlantic Division with a 23-13 win over Florida State.
With Syracuse, Wake Forest, and South Carolina remaining on the schedule, there don’t appear to be many dangerous landmines in front of the Tigers before the ACC Championship Game, though the match up with the Gamecocks is always a heated affair. The quality of those opponents will hurt Clemson’s strength of schedule, but whether or not they are No. 1 going into the Playoff is irrelevant. If the Tigers win out, they will be part of the four-team party on New Year’s Eve.
Here are five thoughts on Clemson’s win over the Seminoles.
1. The Atmosphere Again
At many stadiums, there is not as much electricity in the building during afternoon games. Many talk about how difficult it is to play at that other Death Valley – the one in Baton Rouge – at night but it is a bit easier during the day. That was not the case at Clemson on Saturday. The crowd was loud right from jump street. The crowd really became a factor in the third quarter when Florida State had a delay of game penalty and a false start on successive plays. On the day, FSU had three delay of game penalties and the noise was a factor. Florida State, like Notre Dame before them, is used to playing in hostile territory. But neither was ready for Clemson.
2. Holding Dalvin Cook to 194 Yards
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Florida State’s Heisman contender had a huge day on the stat sheet with those 194 yards on 21 carries. But a look inside the numbers is very revealing. Cook had 111 yards on his first two carries and 125 at the end of the first quarter. He only had 40 yards in the second half and 28 of those came on two carries. Seven times Cook was stopped for no gain or lost yardage and 48 percent of his carries went for two yards or less. The Tigers were especially tough on Cook on...
3. Third (and Fourth) Downs
Clemson was 7-of-17 on third-down conversions while Florida State was just 2-of-12. That only tells part of the story. The timing of the Clemson conversions and stops were the difference in the game. Down 10-6 early in the third quarter, Clemson faced a 3rd-and-2 on the Florida State 38-yard line. The Tigers ran a little slip screen that Deon Cain took to the house. On the ensuing FSU drive, the Noles had a 3rd-and-1 at the Clemson 24. The Tigers stuffed Cook and the Seminoles settled for a tying field goal. In the fourth quarter, up 16-13 Clemson stopped Cook on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 to end a Florida State drive. Less than four minutes later Clemson had scored and the game was over. Championship teams win the third-down battle.
4. B.J. Goodson
When analysts talk about the Clemson defense, they usually start with Shaq Lawson, Ben Boulwar, and Mackensie Alexander. And honestly, those are good places to start. But the senior from Lamar, S.C. has been a solid contributor for a long time and is tied with Boulware for the team lead in tackles. Saturday may have been the best game of his career. Goodson led the team with nine tackles, had two sacks and another 1.5 tackles for lost yardage, and his recovery of a fumble caused by Boulware ended any Florida State hope. On a team with a number of big-time defenders, Goodson is someone that should not be overlooked.
5. Getting the Florida State Monkey Off Their Backs
The Tigers have been one of the most consistent teams over the past few years. They have taken care of business so well that the word that all Tigers hate has been put to rest. The thorn in their side, though, has been Florida State. The Seminoles had won the last three meetings and four of the last six. Last year’s game was especially painful because Clemson believed they were the better team but gave the game to FSU... and they were probably right. All of that’s behind them now. With so much on the line, Clemson came through and vanquished its ACC archrival.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.