The Florida State – Clemson game was billed as the ACC Game of the Year and that might not have been an exaggeration. It was the Seminoles’ first test of the 2012 season, and they passed, with a 49-37 win over the reigning ACC Champs.
The story was supposed to be Clemson’s potent offense against Florida State’s rock solid defense, but Florida State proved it was balanced – and dangerous – on both sides of the ball.
The Tigers threw all its talented weapons and some tricky plays at Florida State, but the ‘Noles answered with a whopping 667 yard performance that moved FSU’s offense up to second nationally in scoring and total offensive yards.
“At one point, I remember thinking, ‘Anything they do, we have to do better,’” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said after the game.
That’s exactly what the Seminoles will have to do every game for the rest of the year if they want to convince the nation, particularly the pollsters, that they’re the real deal.
This week, they have to avoid a letdown game against a South Florida team still smarting from last weekend’s last-minute loss to Ball State. The only remaining ACC games that look, at this point, like they could pose a problem are trips to Miami and Virginia Tech.
The Hurricanes weren’t expected to be a factor in the conference, but they’re currently at the top of the Coastal Division after a big win over Georgia Tech. Their only loss this season was to a Kansas State team that has its sights set on, at minimum, a Big XII title.
Before the season, the Thursday night date with the Hokies in Blacksburg looked like the most daunting game on the schedule aside from Clemson, but Virginia Tech has underwhelmed, losing to Pitt and needing overtime to beat Georgia Tech. Thursday night home game or not, the Hokies won’t beat the FSU team that showed up against Clemson.
If the ‘Noles make it through the regular schedule unscathed, the final regular season game against Florida could be key in determining where they go bowling. The Gators are on the rise but their next five SEC games are tough. If they come into Tallahassee in December as a quality ranked opponent, a win there could be as valuable to FSU as the ACC title game.
To get to that point, of course, Florida State has to handle its business in the ACC for the rest of the year, but the team’s dramatic, come-from-behind win, over a formidable regular season opponent, showed a spark and resiliency that’s been lacking in years past.
What was most impressive about the Seminoles on Saturday night, and perhaps most important to the team’s continued success, wasn’t what they accomplished on the field, but how they did it.
Clemson came into Doak-Campbell Stadium and in less than two minutes scored a touchdown, the first one Florida State had given up all season. The supposedly solid defense landed the ‘Noles in a hole almost instantly, and the team trailed until the third quarter.
It took five second-half touchdowns for the Seminoles to finally overtake the Tigers. FSU’s senior quarterback E.J. Manuel was 27 of 35, with 380 passing yards and another 102 on the ground, singlehandedly gaining more total yards than the entire Clemson offense and making a case for himself as the ACC’s best Heisman Trophy contender.
“This team last year, we couldn’t have done this. We couldn’t have fallen behind like that in a game like this and did what we did,” FSU running back James Wilder, Jr. said after the game.
It could be the difference between last year’s Citrus Bowl trip and an Orange Bowl bid – or even better.