TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – No matter the coach, the playbook or the players, the script for upsetting a No. 2-ranked team is usually the same:
Steer clear of penalty flags, protect the ball and take advantage of opportunities when they arrive.
Do all those things, mix in a little luck, and maybe there will be a chance to pull of the improbable.
Don’t, and the final result will usually look an awful lot like the one here at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The Florida State football team, beset by penalties, on the wrong side of the turnover margin and unable to capitalize on its opponent’s slow start, got a harsh look at that reality during a 59-10 loss to No. 2 Clemson on Saturday afternoon.
FSU got off to an inspired start, holding Clemson scoreless on its first three possessions. But a roughing the kicker call early in the second quarter nullified what would have been a missed Clemson field goal and put the Seminoles on the path to a historic defeat.
The 49-point margin of defeat is Florida State’s worst at Doak Campbell Stadium and tied for the largest in program history (49-0 at Florida in 1973).
“Didn’t play well at all,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “And did all the things you can’t do against a team like that.”
Among the ways the Seminoles hindered their effort:
- A staggering 16 penalties for 154 yards, including three players ejected for either personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s the most penalties committed by an FSU team since 2005.
- Two turnovers that ended in 10 Clemson points.
- A 4-for-17 conversion rate on third downs.
- Drops on open passing plays while the game was still scoreless.
- A high snap that sailed past quarterback Deondre Francois’ head and lost 23 yards right after the Seminoles had picked up back-to-back first downs.
- Five sacks allowed, while not getting any of their own.
“You can’t make mistakes against that team,” Taggart said. “You have to take advantage of every opportunity you have, and we had plenty, and we didn’t take advantage of it. …
“Every aspect of it, everybody took part in making mistakes.”
With freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence a little slow to get going, Clemson managed just 31 yards and three punts on its first three possessions.
Fittingly, an FSU penalty led to the Tigers’ breakthrough.
Moments after surrendering a 41-yard completion – Clemson’s first big play of the day – the Seminoles seemed to have avoided the worst by forcing three straight incompletions and a 40-yard field goal attempt.
And momentum clearly shifted to FSU’s sideline when kicker Greg Huegel pushed his kick wide right.
Any shot of energy, though, was short lived. Officials flagged FSU’s Asante Samuel Jr. for roughing the kicker – replays suggested that a diving Samuel never made contact with Huegel – and Clemson had a new set of downs.
Two plays later, Lawrence found Hunter Renfrow in the end zone for the first of 45 consecutive Clemson points.
“The little things turn into big things for us,” sophomore defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said. “The offsides, mis-formations and stuff like that. They all add up.”
The Tigers scored on nine of their next 11 possessions and might have had more were it not for time running out at the end of the first half.
Ricky Aguayo’s 35-yard field goal helped FSU avoid its first shutout since 2006, and the two teams then traded scores with their reserve units in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Deondre Francois completed 17 of 36 passes for 180 yards and interception before leaving with an injury in the fourth quarter. James Blackman, in his first extended action of the season, was 3 for 4 with a 73-yard touchdown to freshman Keyshawn Helton.
“Ever since the penalty on the (missed) field goal, everybody went down after that,” junior defensive end Brian Burns said. “Then we weren’t getting calls. There were a lot of calls against us. … It started to go down.”
Florida State’s task now is to reverse course, and quickly.
The Seminoles will play at No. 22 North Carolina State next week, at No. 3 Notre Dame a week later, and then close its regular season at home against Boston College and No. 9 Florida.
Those teams have a combined record of 24-4.
“You have 24 hours to think about this game,” punter Logan Tyler said. “And then you come back and focus on NC State and correct the mistakes we made.”