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FSU late push too little, too late against Clemson

A great start, a great finish — the win was lost somewhere in the middle.

Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

The Florida State Seminoles took to their home stage facing the No. 4 Clemson Tigers under a mild October night sky. The Noles came into the matchup 4-2 (2-2 ACC) up against an undefeated Clemson team, and things got a little shakey in the middle.

Clemson won the toss and deferred to the second half and the opening kickoff ended in a kneel in the end zone for defensive back Sam McCall.

The first pass of the game went complete to wide receiver Johnny Wilson and running back Lawrance Toafili showed his speed and ability by cutting through Clemson’s back seven. Aided by a 10-yard reception from Malik McClain and a massive 20-yard gain from Benson, the Noles got into scoring position.

Clemson’s defensive front proved to be challenging, with multiple tackles for loss on the opening drive, but quarterback Jordan Travis showed off his ability on the ground for the Nole’s first score of the night on a 20-yard run.

The Tiger’s drive on offense sputtered. Big hits by defensive end Derrick McLendon and a PBU by defensive back Renardo Green forced the first three and out of the game; wide receiver Mycah Pittman would return it for 31-yards on the following punt.

A risky decision by Travis caused an incompletion, and the Tiger defensive front ended the Noles’ second drive after a short pass to tight end Camren McDonald that ended in a sack to force the punt.

Back on defense, linebacker Tatum Bethune and defensive back Akeem Dent provided stops but on the following play, quarterback DJ Ugeilielie was able to connect with wide receiver Antonio Williams on a 59-yard bomb to put the Tigers on the board. The play was there to be made; however, a missed opportunity by defensive back Kevin Knowles who didn’t quite get home gave up an easy score.

Special teams, which haven't made many mistakes this season, put the Nole offense in a bad predicament with an illegal block in the back penalty, but Travis was able to find wide receiver Johnny Wilson with a 22-yard throw and catch. On third and three, it was wide receiver Malik McClain who came down with the big play this time moving the offense to midfield. Another big 16-yard gain by Benson moved the Seminoles to the 30.

The Tiger defense committed a big pass interference penalty after delivering a massive hit on Travis the previous play. Pittman came up with a first down followed by an illegal shift penalty which moved them back. In scoring distance from the six-yard line, the first quarter ended with a 5-yard rush by Travis.

DJ Lundy went in as fullback and was able to score his second touchdown of the season, putting the Noles back up by seven. The extra point by Ryan Fitzgerald was good.

Clemson completed a 19-yard pass followed by a six-yard sack by McLendon, and on 4th and one, Uiagalelei was able to convert, followed by an 11-yard completion to running back Will Shipley. Another completion to Williams put Clemson at the 7-yard line and Jake Briningstool was able to get in the endzone off a no-huddle pass to tie the game.

Benson started off with a 20-yard rush which would’ve gone for more had the turf monster not tripped him up. Trying to play off the pass option the following throw to Wilson, which fell incomplete. On 4th and two, another incompletion to Wilson put the Tigers at the 30.

Closing out the half, Clemson was able to drain the clock on the ground converting on crucial third downs. Linebacker Tatum Bethune went back in the game and forced an incompletion and a near sack, and the defense was able to hang on, forcing a field goal. Big plays by Dent and defensive back Brendan Gant were being made, but the Tigers' tight ends were steadily getting open.

A critical momentum change came when a Travis fumble gave Clemson the ball in favorable field position, and the defense holding strong wasn’t enough given the situations they were put in. The Tigers would score on second and goal off a run by DJ Uiagalelei.

The Noles were unable to score in the final moments of the half, pushing the ball downfield.

Halftime Stats

Clemson 24, FSU 14

Passing - Jordan Travis (10 - 18) 87-yards

Rushing - Trey Benson (6 attempts, 69-yards)

Receiving - Johhny Wilson (3 receptions, 35 yards)

Leading tackler — Derrick McLendon (5 total, 1 sack)

Third down conversons (3 - 6)

First downs - 16

To open the 3rd quarter, Shipley returned the Seminoles' kick for 65-yards with a touchdown only being saved by linebacker Kalen DeLoach and on the following play, a flea flicker to receiver Alan Davis went 31-yards for a score to put the Tigers up 30-14.

The game went from slugfest to slaughter, it seemed, and only at the end were the Noles able to chop their way back. Clemson forced a fourth down, and on a fake punt, they were unable to convert, putting the Tigers on the 34-yard line.

*The defense was put in unfavorable situations the entire night, and even though they were able to apply pressure, it wasn't enough.

The Tigers on third and eight were able to convert off a pass to Shipley, and a holding call bailed out the defense from giving up another score. A great play by Renardo Green saved a pass to the endzone, and on third and thirteen, Dennis Briggs forced a sack and a field goal which put the score at 34-14.

Starting at the 25, the Clemson defense was able to stop the run game pretty handily and after a 26-yard catch from Ja’khi Douglas, an illegal shift penalty brought the ball back, forcing another punt by the Seminoles.

The Nole defense remained resilient, and on fourth and two, they forced a punt (their third of the night.)

Toafili in the passing game brought a spark to the offense off two short receptions for six and nine yards, but the offense couldn’t get anything going, and a roughing the passer call gave the Noles a fresh set of downs. The 3rd quarter ended with FSU down by 20.

*Toafili ended the game second in receiving yards with 45 on six receptions

A crucial scramble by Travis for 14 put the Noles inside the ten, and after a couple of missed throws to Wilson, they were unable to get into the endzone.

After marching down the field, the offense was able to get into the end zone for a touchdown by Ja’Khi Douglas. This is when the Noles’ momentum started to swing back in their favor. Completions to McDonald and Markeston Douglas and a 25-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kentron Poitier got the Noles into a position to win, but the following onside kick wasn't successful, and they ran out of time.

The game ended with a final score of 34-28. There were some questionable red zone play calls, but the offense battled back. FSU will now head into a much-needed bye week to heal up before their next matchup against Georgia Tech.

End of Game Stats

Clemson 34, FSU 28

Passing - Jordan Travis (24 - 42) 254-yards, 2 touchdowns

Rushing - Trey Benson (7 attempts, 69-yards)

Receiving - Johhny Wilson (6 receptions, 75 yards)

Leading tackler — Derrick McLendon (8 total, 1 sack)

Third-down conversons (7 - 13)

First downs - 28

*Stats provided by