September 24, 2011 - by
Doomed In Death Valley

Sept. 24, 2011

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CLEMSON, SC — The Florida State football team fell victim to a plethora of penalties and third-down defensive deficiencies Saturday night in Death Valley and Clemson withstood a late rally to earn the 35-30 win.

The No. 11 Seminoles (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) allowed the No. 21 Tigers (4-0, 1-0) to convert nine of their 17 third-down attempts while committing 11 penalties for 124 yards — two statistical black holes that didn’t help an inspired performance by a backup quarterback.

“We were our own worst enemy a lot of times today,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Leaving it on the field with penalties and not getting off the field on third-and-long.”

Without the services of injured starter EJ Manuel (left shoulder) at quarterback, redshirt freshman Clint Trickett made the first start of his career in perhaps the ACC’s most hostile environment at Memorial Stadium. 

Brandon Mellor
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Trickett wasn’t perfect — he threw an interception and missed a read here or there — but he didn’t look anything like a rookie playing in the most difficult game of his life. Despite the consistent cackling of a fired up crowd, the Tallahassee, Fla. native finished the day with an impressive 24-of-38 passing mark for 336 yards and three touchdowns. 

It was because of those numbers that FSU had a legitimate shot to tie the game in the final moments despite all the miscues and defensive breakdowns. The Seminoles had scored on a Kenny Shaw touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter and then got a fourth-down stop by its defense. Both of those things set up a potential “hero moment” for Trickett but his first-career two-minute drill ended on a sack.

For the game, Clemson out-gained FSU 455 yards to 365 but those numbers weren’t what mattered. What mattered was that the Tigers committed just five penalties for 50 yards and held the ‘Noles to just 3-of-10 on third-down conversions.

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Three of Trickett’s four favorite targets on Saturday were fellow freshmen. 

Rashad Greene had a team-high eight catches for 98 yards and one touchdown, Christian Green had seven receptions for 77 yards and Nick O’Leary, who made the first start of his career, had three grabs for 23 yards. Junior Rodney Smith added 118 yards and one touchdown on four catches.

On the other side, Sammy Watkins — the nation’s best offensive freshman so far this season — caught eight passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd was 23-of-37 for 344 yards and three scores.

FSU still couldn’t get the running game going, which led to an unbalanced effort. Chris Thompson had 36 yards on 11 carries and the team finished with just 29 yards on the ground.

Defensively, Mike Harris had 11 tackles, Nigel Bradham had nine and Christian Jones had seven. Bjoern Werner had a big interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Trickett’s first drive as the Seminoles’ starter couldn’t have gone much better. Well, perhaps four more points would have been ideal. But Trickett still orchestrated a nine-play, 66-yard drive that culminated with a 32-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal.

Boyd’s first drive against FSU was better, though. After Vince Williams dropped what would have been an interception on the Tigers’ first play, Clemson moved effortlessly down the field and Watkins hauled in a touchdown reception to give the home team a 7-3 lead.

That advantage ballooned to 14-3 a few minutes later because of an FSU miscue in special teams.

After forcing the Tigers to punt, safety Lamarcus Joyner ran into the punter to reset the chains. A deep pass and one-yard quarterback-plunge later and the Tigers had another touchdown with 1:54 left in the first quarter.

The next drive then saw FSU get it’s first touchdown. Trickett bought time in the pocket, rolled out to the left and floated a perfect pass into the outstretched arms of Smith, who then ran it into the endzone for a 57-yard score.

Two more miscues by the ‘Noles then followed. First Terrance Parks was called for a pass interference that put Clemson in the redzone and set up a Dwayne Allen touchdown grab to make it 21-10. Then Trickett threw an interception deep in his own territory that — luckily for the ‘Noles — resulted in a missed Chandler Catanzaro field goal attempt.

If the football didn’t bounce the ‘Noles’ way in the first half, that changed temporarily very early in the third quarter.

On second down, Boyd evaded a near-sack by Jones and then comically tripped and threw the ball up in the air. Werner was in the right spot at the right time and ran the interception into the endzone untouched in front of the stunned Clemson crowd.

Werner’s timely play trimmed the deficit to 21-17 before anyone in attendance had time to digest what exactly had just happened.

While the ‘Noles were on the good side of that play, the trend didn’t continue. Clemson escaped from a failed third-and-long because of a facemask penalty on FSU that was then followed by an Andre Ellington touchdown run that pushed the scoreboard to 28-17 late in the third quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Joyner then took the ball back deep into Tiger territory but it was called back because of holding.

FSU had just two possessions in the third quarter but that didn’t matter to start the fourth. Trickett quickly found Greene on a 30-yard touchdown toss to pull within 28-23 just five seconds into the final quarter. The ‘Noles then went for the two-point conversion but failed on the attempt.

But then another third-down conversion did the Seminoles in again — this time a 62-yard touchdown pass to Watkins. On FSU’s next drive, Trickett answered with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Shaw with 7:21 still left on the game clock.

Just when it seemed like the Tigers were on the ropes, FSU gave up its ninth third-down conversion of the game on Clemson’s next drive. The Tigers wound up not registering any points on the drive but their sustained possession dwindled the clock enough that Trickett was faced with the near-impossible before being sacked on his team’s final offensive snap of the game.

FSU has a much-needed break now with a bye this coming weekend. Next up on the schedule is a trip to Wake Forest for a game on Oct. 8.

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