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CLEMSON, S.C. – In the previous two meetings between Florida State and Clemson before Saturday night, the Seminoles' pass defense was burned for six touchdown passes by Tajh Boyd, three of at least 50 yards.
On Saturday night in Death Valley, Florida State's secondary smothered Boyd's receivers, caused game-changing turnovers and didn't allow a pass of more than 18 yards.
Lamarcus Joyner led the way, playing the Jameis Winston role for the Seminoles' defense, leading a dominant effort in a 51-14 victory that helped Florida State move up to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25. The versatile senior cornerback had a sack that forced a fumble by Boyd, a fumble that was returned for a score by Mario Edwards. Joyner also had an interception and eight tackles.
Fellow senior Terrence Brooks, the free safety who had problems against Clemson last year, had five tackles, a fumble recovery and broke up a pass.
Joyner, who is often used on slot receivers, and Brooks have been joined by a bevy of underclassmen to make up a deep secondary that can handle three- and four-receiver sets better than most teams.
Sophomore P.J. Williams might be the Seminoles best cover corner. Fellow sophomore Ronald Darby, who played extensively as a freshman, had an interception in the second half against Clemson.
Freshmen Jalen Ramsey is a budding star at strong safety. He made six tackles against Clemson, and is backed up by another promising freshman, Nate Andrews.
Against Clemson, the secondary rarely allowed easy throws down the field for Boyd, the senior who had one of the worst games of his career, going 17 for 37 for 156 yards. Boyd had passed for 591 yards the past two seasons against Florida State.
Star receiver Sammy Watkins caught eight passes, but for only 68 yards. He never got free deep, and Clemson's lack of another consistent receiving threat allowed Florida State to further clamp down on Watkins.
On the season, Florida State ranks second in the country in passing yards allowed per game (158) and second in yards allowed per pass (5.45), despite having big leads in most games.
The growth of the Seminoles' secondary is part of the maturity of a team that looks like Jimbo Fisher's best in his four seasons as coach.
"They understand the power of preparation and they feel prepared," Fisher said about his team after the game.