Florida State did not have Jameis Winston. It didn't have superstar defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr., for much of the game. It lost defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample down the stretch as well.
The Seminoles were out gained by nearly 100 yards. They did not win the turnover battle. And yet, they still won their 19th game in a row. They are still undefeated at Doak Campbell Stadium under Jimbo Fisher against Atlantic Division opponents.
So, uh, how exactly did this happen?
Clearly FSU forced the fumble when Clemson was all but assured of a win. But the stuff that happened before that, that kept FSU from ever being down by two scores, and eventually tied, keeping the game in reach, was a huge deal.
Win short yardage
Florida State finished and Clemson did not -- particularly in short yardage. FSU has seen plenty of times in which the team outgained and largely outplayed the other, but did not play situations well. But as Jimbo Fisher's career at FSU has wore on, his Seminoles seem to be better and better about winning on the margins.
Clemson did make a ton of great, improbable and likely not repeatable catches. But Florida State stepped up huge in some specific scenarios. Situational football.
With 6:15 left in the first quarter, Clemson faced a 3rd and 2 from its own 24. Florida State won at the line of scrimmage and stopped Clemson short. Clemson was forced to punt. FSU did not score on the resulting possession, but it did pin Clemson deep thanks to the good field position.
FSU again stopped Clemson on 3rd and 1 late in the second quarter on a drive that could have put the Tigers up two scores, again winning at the line of scrimmage on Clemson's 25.
And the most important stop which came in overtime, on 4th and 12", as Eddie Goldman crashed through the line, drove the guard back, making the running back change course only to be swallowed up by a pair of defenders.
Clemson also failed to convert on 3rd and 3 from FSU's six (poor throw to a wide open tight end who would have scored) and 3rd and 4 from its own 43 when FSU sniffed out a screen pass.
On its third and fourth biggest drives of the night, 53 and 50 yards, Clemson failed to get any points, once missing a field goal and once being forced to punt.
That was the message to the players.
Why do coaches call a timeout when the game is all but lost? Because football is not played by robots. Humans are fallible, especially college kids. Give up a big play? OK. Make the tackle, and force the opponent to execute again. Do not simply concede the drive.
Tonight was great example of why coaches always preach to just"play the next play." Forget about what just happened & keep playing the gm.— Jeff Cameron (@JCameronShow) September 21, 2014
The one play that embodied this was actually a good play for Clemson. From Florida State's 20, FSU brought a zone blitz, which meant that defensive end/linebacker Chris Casher had to drop into coverage. Casher is 260 pounds, and was playing mostly because superstar end Mario Edwards, Jr. was out with a concussion. Clemson picked up the blitz well, and Casher was effectively hung out to dry. But he did not give up. Instead, he hung with the receiver as best he could, who made a nice catch, but because Casher did not quit, he was able to tackle him just short of the goal line.
A few plays player, because Casher had denied the touchdown, Clemson was forced to snap the ball again to try for a touchdown. But snap went wrong for Clemson. Very wrong. 23 yards, over the quarterback's head, to be exact. Clemson would miss the resulting field goal.
And so it went several times on the night, with Clemson making some great catches and FSU refusing to simply give up on the drive and allow the TD.
After the game, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney echoed those sentiments.
"I want to congratulate Florida State. What a great fight by their team. A great fight. They didn't quit, their backs were up against the wall many times, and they never quit," Swinney said. "I have great respect for a great competitor. I really do. Those guys competed. They had a lot of adversity, but they hung in there and fought, but great teams find a way to win."
Florida State is typically excellent in the kicking game, and that continued Saturday night. Roberto Aguayo was perfect from 50 yards. And his kickoffs were excellent, as well. His four kicks were extremely well executed, and Clemson started drives on an average at their own 21 -- 4 yards better each time than the Tigers would have had FSU simply kicked the ball through the end zone.
Clemson, on the other hand, missed two field goals -- of 23 and 40 yards. If either are made, it's certainly possible that the Tiger would have won the game. FSU didn't block them, and they are simply errors by Clemson's field goal unit.
Punting, on the other hand, figured to be a huge advantage for Clemson, as punter Bradley Pinion is an excellent one, and throughout most of his career at Florida State, FSU's punter Cason Beatty has been a disaster.
But Beatty wasn't a disaster Saturday night. In a game in which he would be called upon a lot due to FSU's offensive struggles and Clemson's excellent defense, Beatty stepped up huge. He pinned Clemson inside its own 12, hit a 50-yarder with no return to flip the field, a 41-yarder with no return punting out of FSU's end zone, boomed a 43-yarder to again pin Clemson inside the 20 at its own 16, dropped a 41-yarder to Clemson's 4, and had one more stop inside Clemson's 20 for good measure.
On the night, Clemson did not have a single yard of punt return yardage. Because of Beatty, FSU did not have the field position deficit resulting from special teams that it has so often had with him punting.
I spoke with Beatty about his performance. He told me that it is tough to only have one punt a game, which sometimes happens with FSU's excellent offense. His goal was to just take what he does in practice and use it in the game. He also added that he could feel himself getting into a rhythm and trying to hit the same punt each time.