CLEMSON – Defeats are never easy, but Clemson’s three consecutive losses against Florida State have been particularly perturbing.
Each of the losses have come in distinctly different ways – a blown lead in 2012, a blow out in 2013 and a blown opportunity in 2014.
All were painful, Clemson senior guard Eric Mac Lain admits, but the 2013 game in which the Seminoles rained on the Tigers’ College Gameday parade to the tune of 51-14 is the loss that has lingered longest for him.
“The home loss was the worst,” Mac Lain said. “That was obviously an embarrassment to Clemson Nation. We just weren’t ready for that game. There was so much energy, so much passion around it that I think it got to be a distraction for us.”
On the other hand, last year’s overtime loss in Tallahassee, Florida, still stings for Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
“That was a tough one,” Venables said. “We had our chances, we just weren’t good enough. We gave up an explosive play for a touchdown. It was a heck of a game, though – heck of an environment.”
Here’s a capsule account of what has gone wrong for Clemson in its last three games against Florida State:
–2014: No. 1 Florida State 23, No. 22 Clemson 17, OT
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the game after making “offensive and vulgar” comments earlier in the week, but Clemson came up just short while trying to make a statement of its own.
Backup quarterback Sean Maguire passed for 305 yards in his stead, but it was Clemson miscues that ultimately led to defeat.
The Tigers had a bad snap at the Florida State 1-yard line, missed two field goals and fumbled the ball away with 1:36 left while driving deep in Seminoles’ territory.
In overtime, Swinney passed up a 33-yard field goal and running back Adam Choice was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-one play, opening the door for the Seminoles.
“Fourth and a foot – that’s on me,” Swinney said. “We didn’t come here to play patsy. We missed a couple of kicks, and obviously that had something to do with it.”
Two plays later, the Seminoles’ Karlos Williams scored from 12 yards out, keeping Florida State unbeaten and extending its winning streak to 19 straight games.
–2013: No. 5 Florida State 51, No. 3 Clemson 14
Winston threw for 444 yards and two touchdowns, but Clemson was its own worst enemy, turning the ball over four times.
Tight end Stanton Seckinger was stripped on the first play of the game, and two plays later Winston connected with Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
It only got worse from there.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd turned the ball over on a fumble on the Tigers’ next possession, then later was intercepted twice.
The Tigers were outgained 565-326 and converted just 5-of-15 third down opportunities.
“We know we’re better than how we played, but nobody cares about that,” Swinney said.
–2012: No. 4 Florida State 49, No. 10 Clemson 37
Clemson went from the penthouse to the outhouse quickly in this game in Tallahassee. The Tigers were seemingly in command with a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter, but the Seminoles promptly went on a 29-3 scoring binge.
“We couldn’t stop the run,” Swinney said.
Or the pass.
Quarterback E.J. Manuel threw for a career-high 380 yards to complement a 287-yard rushing attack. The Seminoles finished with 667 yards, including 211 in punt and kickoff returns.
The best thing about defeats, regardless of how they unfold, is that they can provide lessons and impetus for bouncing back.
Venables said he’s enjoyed watching how the Tigers have responded since last year’s loss at Florida State.
“We didn’t let it crush us,” Venables said. “You’re going to have adversity and failure along the way, and that game was a good lesson. And we’ve won 17 of 18 since that game.”
Clemson, which is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff poll, will attempt to make it 18 of 19 on Saturday when its hosts Florida State at 3:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
And this time, Mac Lain believes, the outcome will be different.
“I think with the leadership and maturity we have on this team now, there’s no situation that I think will be too big for this team,” he said.