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Seminoles Survive: FSU goes into Death Valley and snatches victory from jaws of defeat

The Seminoles forever changed the trajectory of their program with an overtime victory over Clemson

NCAA Football: Florida State at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Not all college football games are created equal.

In between the blowouts and standard wins and disappointing losses, there arises a “where were you moment” game.

At 3:40 P.M., Florida State made its first major step in taking back the crown as king of the ACC. Clemson gave the Seminoles the best shot they could, looking light years ahead of where they were against Duke, and almost derailed the Seminole’s magical season.

Florida State, as they have all year, never blinked.

The only time FSU led in today’s game was during overtime, but the Seminoles hung around the entire game waiting to make the knockout punch. The game was not pretty; it was not clean. Mike Norvell mentioned, “There are a lot of things we are going to have to correct.” Florida State won dirty, which makes the game all the more sweeter.

The team from Tallahassee is a work in progress. The second half against LSU proved this team's ceiling, but they have yet to reach those heights since. Instead, the ‘Noles choose to do it the hard way. The last three games produced ugly moments, none worse than the 4th quarter against BC, and still, the team's heart shines through.

Florida State went down ten points multiple times during the first half. Their response? Two touchdown drives.

They went down 7 in the second half, and Clemson had the ball on the FSU 30-yard line. Their response? Strip sack fumble returned for a touchdown. This season will be a roller coaster with this team, but it could be a ride of destiny if yesterday were a sneak peek.

First Thought: Jordan Travis is a certified gamer

The secret looks to be out; Jordan Travis is battling something in his upper body.

“I tweaked [my shoulder] a little bit [during the game] but it’s football,” the quarterback said after the game. “It’s a tough game — playing quarterback, you’ve gotta be one of the toughest guys on the field, put injuries aside no matter what, and put your life on the line for this football team.”

Florida State did not run him as much as they usually did, and he stayed down multiple times after being rocked by Clemson defenders. He did not make every throw, and he did not play a perfect game.

But make no mistake, he willed this team to victory.

After going down 10 and the game looking to be getting out of hand, Travis put together a masterclass driving the ball 75 yards in 13 plays while running over 6 minutes off the clock to give the defense a breather. He converted a fourth down QB sneak and threaded the ball to Keon Coleman while on the run to continue to move the sticks.

It was the exact drive needed at that very moment, and Travis answered the call.

In the second half, Clemson ratcheted up the pressure. He had no choice but to stand in the pocket and continue to get smoked as the offensive line braved the Tiger storm. He never flinched, he never stopped believing, and finally, one of those 1 on 1 shots connected for the game-winner in overtime.

In his post-game press conference, he mentioned he felt “disrespected” by the Clemson defense for constantly putting their corners on islands with the FSU receivers. The Tiger game plan was clear all afternoon: they would stack the box, take away the run, and force Travis to beat them.

And he did.

“I feel like we were disrespected all day. I mean, you put one-on-one against Johnny Wilson, and Keon Coleman, I feel like you have no respect for either the receivers or the quarterback. I missed a lot of throws early on against one-on-ones. I wish I could go back and complete them. But man, we stepped up when we needed to. Keon made a big-time play, the offensive line gave me time and that’s just a fade one-on-one. I like my guy every single time.”

No. 13 returned this year for games like this, proving to the country on Saturday that he will not be denied what this team can accomplish.

Second Thought: The culture is clear

The last loss Clemson suffered in Death Valley in conference play was in 2016, and early Saturday, it looked like its winning streak would continue. The formula for their success was put into play early in the game: fast start, raucous atmosphere, and a suffocating defense.

FSU got the best shot in each of these categories and never wavered.

This is a game Florida State would have lost in the last ten years. Heck, this is a game that most college football teams lose. But on Saturday afternoon, the team's culture and DNA were displayed — the way the defense battled in the run game proves the theory true.

Clemson ran 79 plays and dominated time of possession, but the defense brought its lunch bucket and hard hat to Death Valley and did not let the Tiger run game take over the game. Will Shipley ran the ball for 16 yards in the 4th quarter, and his usual body blows never seemed to land on the Seminole defense. Both teams knew Clemson needed to run the ball to be successful, and Adam Fuller’s crew never let that part of the plan get going.

It was not in the game plan to have the defense play over 70 snaps the last two weekends, but the seeds planted in the spring bear fruit in the fall as FSU now has the physical and emotional ability to outlast any opponent.

Third Thought: This win changed the program

No matter the victor on Saturday, the game was a referendum on the programs, players, coaches, and college football in general. The storylines pre-game were obvious: the portal king vs. the portal hater, the new upstarts vs. the team that won 7 out of the last 8 ACC titles.

Saturday produced a changing of the guard. Florida State lost seven straight to the Tigers, and now the weight is lifted off their shoulders. Florida State would only have won that game with the transfers taken through the portal. Coleman, Wilson, and Verse all shined on Saturday, as Clemson did not have an answer for their talent.

Conversely, the Tigers looked like a team one or two pieces away from putting them over the top.

FSU proved that teams need to utilize the portal and new era of college football, taking back the crown as the team to beat in the ACC. Dabo Swinney created a dynasty in South Carolina. Seven out of the last 8 ACC titles and multiple national championships during that period took Clemson to the upper echelon of college football. Florida State on Saturday slayed the giant.

Florida State is heading into their bye, having played a third of its entire season. Yet this game will define this season and the year to come. On a game-by-game basis, FSU needed this game to make the ACC championship game, and it will be a needed boost to their resume down the line.

But, from a holistic view, it changed the landscape of college football and this Florida State program.