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November 12, 2005

Meltdown in Clemson

Box score

With a spot in the ACC Championship game locked down, there was nothing really at stake for Florida State in the matchup against Clemson Saturday afternoon - and they played like it.

With the 35-14 setback, the 'Noles fell to 7-3 on the season and suffered their third loss to an unranked team this season - the first time that's happened since Bobby Bowden's first season in Tallahassee. Also, with the lopsided final result combined with the late season slide, FSU could be unranked when the polls are released on Sunday.

"They had the guns out and ready," Bobby Bowden said of Clemson. "One of the big differences I think is one team had a four-year starter at quarterback, and with our young guy you could tell the difference."

The Seminole offense and defense came out flat while the Tigers, who were trying to get bowl eligible, came out of the gates on fire scoring touchdowns on their first two drives. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst led the hometown Tigers straight down the field to start the game completing 5-for-6 including a 22-yard touchdown strike to Chansi Stuckey.

Meanwhile, FSU, who came into the game with the No. 1 ranked offense in the ACC, struggled all day moving the football and failed to score a single offensive touchdown against the 8th ranked defense in the league. The Seminole quarterbacks were under a heavy rush all day, which only got worse after Clemson went back up by 14 points in the third quarter.

Drew Weatherford continued his late season slump completing only 12 of 27 for 117 yards, and threw two costly interceptions. He has now thrown 11 interceptions over the last five games.

Even though Clemson dominated on both sides of the football in the first quarter, the 'Noles made a game of it with a strong second quarter. The defense held the Tigers to two total yards, and Gary Cismesia booted two field goals to cut the margin to 14-6. The big play, and really the only highlight of the day for FSU, came late in the second quarter when Lawrence Timmons blocked a punt which was recovered by freshman Geno Hayes in the endzone. Weatherford then hit De'Cody Fagg in the back of the endzone for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14, which was the score at halftime.

The second half was all Clemson.

Weatherford continued to struggle in the third quarter throwing two interceptions, and the Tigers took advantage of each miscue. Following both FSU turnovers, Whitehurst engineered touchdown drives to put the Tigers back in the lead for good. All in all Clemson reached the endzone three times in quarter three while FSU's offense failed to answer each time.

"Anytime they get up two touchdowns if you aren't careful it will take you right out of your gameplan," Bowden said. "We wanted to run the ball and throw it today. We felt like we needed to be balanced to finish up these last four ballgames which are very difficult. You can't do it when you get behind because you have to catch up. We tried but they had our number."

With the score 34-14 going early in the fourth quarter, Weatherford was finally benched in favor of Xavier Lee. The freshman from Daytona Beach was just as ineffective although Greg Carr dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the game. For the second straight week, Lee struggled coming off the bench completing only 1-of-7.

While FSU didn't have any offensive playmakers, Clemson had a breakout performance by Chansi Stuckey. The junior wide receiver earned game MVP honors after reeling in 11 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

After a strong start to the season, Mickey Andrews' defense has given up 20 or more points in each of the last six games. The 35 points surrendered on Saturday is the most given up by the Seminoles since a 50-44 shootout win against Philip Rivers and NC State back in November of 2003.

"We are pretty beat up anyway but when you lose a guy like [Kamerion] Wimbley, you lose your best pass rusher and your best defensive end," Bowden said. "We aren't the same team that we were at the first of the year."

More bad news could be on the way on the injury front. Starting left tackle Cory Niblock went down with a knee injury on the final play of the game. According to Bobby Bowden in his post-game radio show the junior tackle will be evaluated for a possible ACL injury.

Surprisingly, the 'Noles were slightly more effective on the ground out-rushing the Tigers 102 to 85. Lorenzo Booker led the way for the Tribe racking up a season-high 112 yards rushing on 16 carries.

The Seminoles will have an off week before closing out the regular season at Florida on November 26th.

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