Despite being a heavy underdog, Florida State made things interesting in the second half Saturday afternoon against fourth-ranked Clemson. But in the end, the Tigers were too strong on both sides of the ball and pulled off a 31-14 victory.
The win improves Clemson’s record to 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the ACC. The Tigers have clinched the ACC’s Atlantic Division championship for the third consecutive year and it’s the fifth time in coach Dabo Swinney’s nine full seasons that he has taken the Tigers to the conference title game. Clemson will face No. 7 Miami, which won the Coastal Division with Virginia’s 38-17 loss to Louisville on Saturday.
Florida State falls to 3-6 overall and 3-5 in conference play, which means the Seminoles will have a losing ACC record for the first time since 2006.
“We usually find a way to win games like these,” he said. “We’ve got to find that again.”
After a brutal first half, FSU got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter on a short touchdown run by junior Jacques Patrick. It capped off a 90-yard drive that was set up by a pair of pass-interference calls and a 39-yard catch by junior receiver Nyqwan Murray. That score cut Clemson’s lead to 17-7 after the Tigers dominated the first half.
The Seminoles then cut the lead to 17-14 with some razzle-dazzle early in the fourth quarter. After freshman quarterback James Blackman got the ball back on a flea-flicker, the former Glades Central star connected with tight end Ryan Izzo on a 60-yard catch and run to cut the deficit to three points.
But after FSU’s defense got the ball back with a fumble recovery by sophomore defensive end Brian Burns, Blackman threw an interception on the ensuing first down, and Clemson would go on to score another touchdown to make it 24-14.
The Tigers added one more score in the final minute.
The game looked like it would be a blowout early. Clemson’s highly touted defense held FSU’s offense to just 46 total yards in the first half — 23 rushing and 23 passing — and delivered several crushing hits on Blackman.
Blackman completed 13 of 32 passes for 208 yards, the touchdown and interception.
It was one of those blows that forced Blackman to fumble and set up Clemson’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter. After the turnover, the Tigers capped off a six-play, 20-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge by quarterback Kelly Bryant.
The Tigers’ second scoring drive also was short following a long punt return. Clemson went 28 yards on one play as tailback Travis Etienne broke free for a touchdown run on first down midway through the second quarter. The Tigers make it 17-0 at halftime on a 26-yard field goal.
“The story of the night was definitely the defense and the turnovers,” Swinney said.
Cam Akers rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries to lead FSU. Patrick was held to three yards on five carries, including the touchdown, in his return from a knee injury.
Travis Etienne rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns to lead Clemson. Kelly Bryant was 20-for-30 passing for 151 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown.
The Seminoles still need three victories to continue their streak of 35 consecutive bowl berths. They play host to Delaware State on Saturday, travel to Gainesville to face the Gators on Nov. 25 and finish the season against Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 2, in a game that was postponed earlier by Hurricane Irma.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.