CLEMSON WINS DEATH VALLEY HALLOWEEN THRILLER 30-20 OVER FSU, EXTENDING NATION'S LONGEST HOME WIN STREAK TO 32
- 2021-10-31 10:15:18
CLEMSON, SC - The Tigers win another Death Valley thriller! It's ironic that their first time scoring 30 points and winning by two scores against an FBS opponent this season came thanks to a crazy desperation play by FSU and a goal-line review with no time on the clock! That play made hundreds of thousands of gamblers very happy and about the same number very angry because the score made the Tigers cover the 9.5 point spread and also pushed the point total for the game over the over/under threshold. Personally, it made me look good because my score prediction was 31-17. If there had been one second left on the clock, the Tigers would have kicked an extra point to give them 31 points. Never the less, it was yet another nail-biter for Clemson Nation, and every game against FBS opponents has been that way for the Tigers this season. Technically, the game doesn't count as a one-score win thanks to the crazy last play, but in essence, it was a one-score game. If you count this one as such, the Tigers are now 31-7 in such games since 2011, by far the best win percentage in the nation over that span! It is truly remarkable how regularly the Tigers win these types of games, especially this season with an unprecedented number of injuries on both sides of the ball.
Despite the fact that this was the first meeting of Clemson and Florida State with neither team ranked since 2010, the game still had that intense, big-game rivalry feel. Not to mention the animas from last season when the Tigers paid to travel down to Tallahassee, only for the Seminoles to use Covid as a last-minute excuse not to suffer another humiliating home loss against the Tigers. The previous meeting in Tallahassee was a 59-10 Clemson win in 2018, the worst loss in FSU history, and the Noles wanted no part of that again last year with an already dismal record. But FSU came into this one with a renewed confidence and momentum after winning 3 straight games with Jordan Travis as the starting quarterback, and the Tigers are obviously the most vulnerable they've been in 7 years with a struggling offense and unprecedented injuries.
The game was listed as a sellout, but there were probably about 70-75,000 on hand, probably due to the weather and the disappointing loss last week at Pitt. Still, it was an electric atmosphere in Death Valley, especially in the second half! Dabo said several times this week that the team would need the fans to show up, and the fans answered the call.
The Tigers led for most of the game, but it was back-and-forth early and late. Sophomore RB Kobe Pace was out with Covid, so everyone knew that it was going to be up to the two freshmen backs, Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, to carry the load offensively, and boy did they do just that! Shipley, of course, returned from injury last week at Pitt and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Before his injury, he was emerging as a force, scoring 5 touchdowns in 3 games, but he had his best game in his young career when the Tigers really needed it against FSU. He rushed for over 100 yards for the first time in his career and scored 2 big touchdowns, including the fourth quarter game-winner, averaging 5.1 yards on 25 carries. Dabo has often called him a relentless runner, and it showed on that 21-yard tackle-breaking gallop to put the Tigers up for good, 24-20.
Shipley's roommate and fellow freshman, Phil Mafah, demonstrated his tackle-breaking ability as well, turning in a 63-yard run that set up the Tigers' first touchdown to regain the lead 10-6. It is the longest play of the season for the Tigers, which illustrates how much this offense has struggled in 8 games compared to years past, when they had explosive plays like that one in just about every game. The ensuing touchdown was a beautiful pass by DJ to Davis Allen on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. We have seen very few fades called this season compared to recent years, when we would see several every game to players like Tee Higgins and Mike Williams, especially in the red zone. I never would have foreseen TE Davis Allen's number called on a fade, but it was executed to perfection on 3rd and 7 after a timeout by Dabo.
DJ made several other fantastic, accurate throws, but he also made some of the same frustrating mistakes we've seen all season. He was off target on a great diving catch by freshman TE Jake Briningstool that would have went for a lot more yards and obviously had the fumble that was taken into the end zone by DE Jermaine Johnson. The Tigers did a good job neutralizing the talented pass rusher, who came in with 6.5 sacks, but he came free on that play, and it gave the Seminoles a fourth quarter lead. DJ also under-threw a pass to Ngata that was intercepted, and he made an ill-advised pass to EJ Williams after he fell down and got back up. The defender was draped all over him and was able to strip the ball out for a fumble. DJ should have just thrown that at his feet and lived to play another down. The interception was a poor throw and poor decision, but Ngata should have come back to the ball and fought to ensure the DB couldn't catch it, so that one isn't just on DJ. Still, I think it's clear to see that DJ is making progress. It was great to see Tony Elliott call for some shots down field. Even though they didn't complete them, Beaux Collins drew a couple big pass interference penalties, and just taking those shots opens up the run game. The offensive line also played relatively well, considering it was their 8th different lineup in 8 games and they were without their anchor, Matt Bockhorst, who suffered a career-ending torn ACL early in the Pitt game last week. Center Mason Trotter and guard Will Putnam went down during the game, and I'll get an update on their status when I talk to Dabo on Sunday evening. They had a couple false starts and gave up 3 sacks, but they did a good job opening some run lanes for Shipley.
The defense was phenomenal, as they have been all season long despite enormous losses from injuries. Jordan Travis may be the toughest quarterback in the nation to sack, but the defense was able to get him down 6 times. He has been sacked just twice in the last 3 games and had none at UNC a couple weeks ago. Myles Murphy had one of his best games with 2.5 sacks and a blocked PAT, which turned out to be huge late in the game, giving the Tigers a 4-point lead instead of 3. They also did a great job against the FSU backs, who were each averaging over 7 yards per carry coming into the game. FSU was held to just 65 yards rushing and 1.9 yards per carry. Having DT Tyler Davis fully back had a lot to do with that! He made his early return from a torn bicep last week at Pitt, but the staff limited him to just 25 snaps to be cautious.
There was one coverage bust on the first-down wheel route that went for a 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but the offense responded with a huge 83-yard touchdown drive to regain the lead. Last week, the defense was unable to get Pitt off the field in the 4th quarter to give the offense a chance to cut into the 10-point deficit. In fact, the offense had just one possession in the 4th quarter at Pitt, and it was a touchdown drive led by DJ after coming back from being benched. This time, however, the defense was able to force a punt with under 4 minutes left, and the offense responded with the game-winning score by Shipley. It was one of the few times this season that we've seen real complimentary football from this team, and it was great to see the offense come through in the clutch when they had to have a score. And, of course, the crazy score by freshman Barrett Carter with no time left was just the icing on the cake! The biggest disappointment, other than the long touchdown, were the offsides penalties in the first half. We haven't seen it much from the defense this season, but it was very similar to the NC State game, in which a couple big offsides penalties on 3rd down led to an NC State touchdown and probably cost them the game. It seemed like Jordan Travis was doing a good job getting them to bite on the hard count. I asked Venables about it after the game and could tell that he was very upset about it, but fortunately, the defense came through in the end and won the game.
Obviously, it was a rough game for BT Potter, who was 8/9 on field goals after making a 47-yarder for the first score of the game. After that, it was like he forgot how to kick. He hooked a 49-yarder badly, missed a 37-yarder barely wide right and then shanked a 30-yarder off the goal post. Dabo said after the game that he hit his foot in the ground on that last one, but obviously those misses nearly cost the Tigers the game. I'm sure Dabo was relieved that Shipley scored that touchdown so he didn't have to decide whether to run Potter back out there or backup Aidan Swanson to attempt a game-tying field goal. Potter has been incredible all season and is the main reason the Tigers were able to beat Boston College, so I'm happy for him that the team was able to overcome his off day. I expect he'll be able to put it behind him quickly and return to the reliable kicker we're used to!
It was a fantastic day in Death Valley, and I'm sure Arch Manning (seen below) enjoyed his visit. I know he and his parents received the Orange Carpet treatment from Dabo and the staff! It was also great to have Tommy Bowden back in Memorial Stadium for the first time since he was the head coach in 2008. Clemson paid tribute to his father, the late, great Bobby Bowden, who passed away from cancer over the summer, and Tommy received a nice standing ovation from the Clemson faithful.
The Tigers have won 6 straight over FSU (7 if you count last year's forfeit), which is the most by any ACC program, and the nation's longest active home win streak is now 32 games! The Tigers' 10-win season streak of 10 years is still hanging in the balance. They have to win out in the regular season and either win the ACC Championship or a bowl game in order to keep the streak alive. I know many Clemson fans have given up on a 7th straight ACC title, but it's not over, folks. With NC State's loss at Miami last week, the Tigers are still very much alive. They will have to win out, of course, but it's very possible State could lose another game, perhaps to UNC. And if Wake loses to NC State and Clemson, that would mean a 3-way tie in the Atlantic. I did some research, and in the 15 years of separate ACC divisions, 14 teams have won their division with 2 or more losses. Two of those were Clemson, in 2009 and 2011. Four teams have won their division with 3 or more losses! So don't give up just yet! If the Tigers will finally stop losing players to injury and continue improving on offense, it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Much crazier things have happened!
Be sure to check back on Sunday evening for our Zoom call with Dabo. Post-game interviews, highlights and notes are below!
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