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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had few inspirational words and no get-up-off the mat speeches, not after his third-ranked Tigers' record-setting defeat.
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1) had come in hoping to take control of the Atlantic Coast Conference and cement their place among the BCS contenders. Instead they left with a 51-14 loss to No. 5 Florida State, which scored the most points in Death Valley history on Saturday night.
"We know we're better than how we played, but nobody cares about that," Swinney said. "We got our butts handed to us."
The Seminoles (6-0, 4-0) quickly turned the ACC top-five showdown into a beatdown. They led 17-0 in the opening quarter, scoring touchdowns after two fumbles that stunned the crowd and put Clemson's fast-paced offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd on its heels.
"We never could swing the momentum back in our favor and turnovers were a huge part of that," Swinney said. "You can't win when you play like that."
Clemson hadn't played like this for much of the past two seasons. It had won several key games since its last ACC defeat (at Florida State in 2012) including victories over Southeastern Conference powers LSU and Georgia.
The Seminoles proved the biggest challenge of all. Boyd, who came in a Heisman Trophy candidate, finished 17 of 37 for 156 yards and two interceptions and was completely outclassed by Florida State freshman Jameis Winston, who passed for 444 yards and three touchdowns, plus ran for a fourth TD.
Boyd said the loss was "West Virginia-esque," referring to the Tigers' last embarrassment, a 70-33 loss to the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl after the 2011 season.
"We didn't play up to our capabilities and that's the most disappointing thing," Boyd said.
Winston and the Florida State defense took the Tigers out of it early and the Seminoles kept going.
Rashad Greene caught eight passes for 146 yards and two scores, including a 72-yard sprint that made it 24-7 in the second quarter.
"We have high expectations for ourselves," Greene said. "So we try and get our plays in and do as much as we can and score as much as we can. We were prepared and we just went out there and executed."
Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary punctuated the victory in the third quarter, running over Clemson's Travis Blanks as he tried to make a tackle. O'Leary, the grandson of Jack Nicklaus, finished with five catches for 161 yards, including a 94-yard catch in the final quarter when the Seminoles were backed up to their 1. That set up Roberto Aguayo's 20-yard field goal that broke the Death Valley record for points by an opponent.
Not long after Clemson made its grand entrance, sprinting past Howard's Rock and down the hill onto the field, orange balloons filling the sky above Memorial Stadium, Florida State took control. On the first play from scrimmage Florida State's Telvin Smith stripped Stanton Seckinger and Terrence Brooks recovered for the Seminoles at the Clemson 34.
Two plays later, Winston lofted a pass deep down the sideline to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin, who went up high for the perfectly thrown ball and landed with it inside the pylon for a touchdown less than 2 minutes into the game.
Winston has been even better than advertised in his first season as a starter, hard to believe considering the hype. But this opponent and this setting represented by far the biggest challenge of his young career. Turns out, it was just another showcase game — for Florida State's defense, too.
LaMarcus Joyner forced Clemson turnover No. 2, coming free on a backside blitz and knocking the ball free from Boyd. Edwards scooped and scored, covering the ball with two arms as he crossed the goal line with a Clemson player trying to strip it from behind. It was 17-0 with 3:07 left in the first quarter and Death Valley suddenly didn't seem so daunting.
Winston beat a Clemson blitz with a quick pass to Greene, who slipped a tackle and was gone, 72 yards for a touchdown that made it 24-7 midway through the second. Greene made a hush gesture to the Clemson fans. He didn't need to. He had already quieted them.
Joyner's interception of Boyd in Florida State territory turned it into another field goal to take a 27-7 lead at halftime.