[By Dustin Tackett] Florida State came into Saturday night's game against Clemson outscoring their first three opponents 176-3, but they knew the Tigers' offense would be a different story and they were right.
The Seminoles got punched in the mouth for the first time in 2012 when Tajh Boyd threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins on the opening drive, taking the air out of the 80,000+ Florida State faithful in attendance on Saturday night in Tallahassee. While it looked like there was a little miscommunication in the secondary, this was something that Florida State had not experienced in their first three games and became a perfect opportunity to find out what they were all about - and the ‘Noles responded. With a screen here and a pass over the middle there, EJ Manuel drove the ‘Noles down the field 85 yards on just 6 plays, ending with a Lonnie Pryor 13 yard touchdown run up the left side to tie the game at seven. The drive only took 2:37 and really showcased the first sign of Florida State's resilience.
"I can't say enough about our players' ability to overcome adversity - to compete in the game," said Coach Fisher.
A lot of the Florida State players were talking about their emotions right before and after kickoff, they were just too excited and missing tackles and assignments as a result.
"EJ had to come over to me before the game and just tell me to calm down and play my game, I was just too hyped up," said Wilder. "We just had to come out and settle down."
The Florida State defense seemed to be on their heels throughout the first half, with mental mistakes and blown coverages, however there was an overwhelming feeling that the ‘Noles defense would step it up. Timmy Jernigan talked about how Clemson's offense opened the game.
"They came out with a couple of trick plays which we knew was going to happen," said Jernigan. "You know, because a lot of teams are not gonna beat us heads up."
With the Florida State going into halftime down 21-14 against a division rival, they clearly had to make some adjustments. But coming out of the half all they wanted to do was settle down. When asked about what went on during halftime, there was an overwhelming expression of EJ Manuel's leadership and this is exactly what Jimbo Fisher wanted from his 5th year senior.
"EJ, right now with his leadership, it's great," said junior safety Lamarcus Joyner. "He's backing up what he's preachin' and we need that, you know, the guys look up to him out there."
The ‘Noles, fueled by the confidence and leadership of EJ Manuel, came out with an extra bit of enthusiasm on each and every play. Whether it was Chris Thompson running over multiple defenders in the secondary or James Wilder giving piggy-back rides, you could see the difference in the Florida State mentality on the field. The defense began to apply pressure and make stops while the offensive playmakers were fighting for every yard. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin made his first big game play of the season with a 64 yard reception, making some nice moves and fighting through tackles to pick up the extra yardage.
"It really shows the maturity of the team," said Benjamin. "Most teams can't do that, once they get down - they can't get back up."
Florida State certainly showed their ability to get back up against Clemson on Saturday night. EJ Manuel went 13 for 15 in the air in the second half and seemingly went mistake free. Jimbo Fisher, surprised by some of Manuel's numbers, had no doubt about his quarterback's decision making.
"I can't, off the top of my head, remember a bad decision all night," said Fisher. "They were mixing up blitzes and coverages and he had good ball security and made plays when he had to."
Fisher continued by talking about his quarterback's decision at the end of the game, where Manuel slid in bounds instead of trying to score the touchdown.
"It was extremely unselfish," said Fisher. "He understood how to win and knew they could get the ball back, he knew that, got down, didn't get the touchdown, and ran the clock out - great leader for our football team."
Moving forward, this kind of game - in this type of atmosphere, is the perfect precursor for the rest of the season. Now these Seminoles have been tested, they know what it feels like to trail, and more importantly, they know how to fight back and play until the last whistle. Lamarcus Joyner stressed how important a win like this is for his team.
"We got guys out there playing for each other, believing in each other, and that's always a great feeling when you can have trust in yourself and trust in the guy next to you," said Joyner.
When you think about the resilience of a football team, you have to start with their confidence. This Florida State unit is a very tight-knit, confident group of guys, and while they may have had their heads down going into the half, the senior leadership and coaching staff helped push them through - and the talent took them the rest of the way.
"It's important to not panic and trust in each other, believe in the coaches," said Rashad Greene. "We knew were weren't out of the game, came out in the second half and continued to play hard and giving a lot of effort and executing."
That's the word that pretty much sums up the Seminoles' resilience and comeback in the second half, executing. The ‘Noles executed on both sides of the ball throughout the second half of Saturday's game and stunned the visiting Clemson Tigers, who had struck early in Doak Campbell Stadium. The coaching staff had told them all week that they couldn't be stopped by Clemson as long as they executed. This Florida State team showed that they can battle against adversity and continue to stay focused for a full four quarters. If adversity should strike again, they may be able to lean on this experience for confidence.
The Seminoles travel to Tampa this weekend to compete against a USF team that surprised Florida State in Tallahassee just a couple of seasons ago, and they need to make sure to leave this Clemson game behind them and move on to the next one. If we learned one thing from Saturday's primetime battle against Clemson (and from Fisher's first 31 games in Tallahassee), it is that this Seminole football team will not quit. Having grown even closer after such an emotional win, they are even more prepared for the road ahead of them and they're ready for their next challenge.