Meltdown mode

Meltdown mode

Saturday night was a complete-team meltdown by the Clemson Tigers. It was stunning to see, but it covered every aspect of the game against Florida State.

Blame the offense?

The defense?

The coaches?

Yes, yes and yes.

Saturday night was a complete-team meltdown by the Clemson Tigers. It was stunning to see, but it covered every aspect of the game against Florida State.

The Tigers made the mistakes they haven't been making this year with three inexcusable turnovers in the first half (and they finished with four). Florida State turned all of those turnovers into points, while Clemson couldn't do the same with the lone turnover it forced.

On the very first play of the game, Stanton Seckinger fumbled the ball after receiving a pass from quarterback Tajh Boyd. Instead of getting the Clemson offense off to a good start with a first down and getting that group into a rhythm, Seckinger's mistake set the tone for the entire first half and the game.

Boyd then fumbled when he was blind-sided on a roll out, and the Seminoles picked the ball up and returned it for a touchdown. That wasn't really on Boyd. He had no chance, but his protection let him down, and that was another theme of the night – atrocious offensive line play.

Florida State was more physical up front on both sides of the ball, and Clemson had no answer for that. That affected Boyd. It affected every part of Saturday's game as Florida State dominated up front and all over the field.

The final turnover of the first half, a Boyd interception, was likely the worst one. Boyd looked confused and lost on the play, and the Seminoles teased him into making the mistake.

All three turnovers proved critical as the Seminoles turned them into 17 points. That can't happen against a team like Florida State. From there, the Seminoles put on a show, and there was really nothing Clemson could do about it.

Florida State had better players, better coaches and better game plans Saturday night from start to finish. And the difference in all three aspects was glaring.

Not just the turnovers
The Clemson defense was just as bad as the offense. The defensive front couldn't get pressure on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, forcing the coaching staff to have to blitz.

But that didn't work either, and that exposed the secondary to the speed and physical play of the Seminoles' receivers. And the Clemson defenders proved they weren't up to either of those attributes.

Clemson's defensive backs have played well this season, but they haven't faced an offense like the Seminoles' unit. And that story line played itself out very clearly. The coverage throughout the game was awful with wide-open windows for Winston to throw into, and he took advantage of that.

The secondary Saturday night looked like the same one Clemson fans have seen for years. The veterans – Darius Robinson Bashaud Breeland and Garry Peters – are OK players, but they don't possess a ton of speed, and they just can't match up against a team like Florida State. Other ACC teams? Sure. But not a physically imposing team like what they saw Saturday night.

Quarterback showdown
All week the talk of this game was about Boyd vs. Winston and Winston vs. Boyd.

I love Boyd. He is a terrific player and will be a good pro. He will go down as one of the all-time greats at Clemson, but Winston totally outplayed him (granted with a lot of help from the players around him that Boyd didn't get, especially up front), and it wasn't even close. Boyd looked rattled and confused. He was off the entire time he was in the game, and he just couldn't do anything against the Seminoles' dominant defense. He didn't have much time to throw, and when he did, the Seminoles defensive backs and linebackers were just too good against the Tigers' receivers.

Winston was just the opposite. For a redshirt freshman, it's stunning how poised he is and how in control he is of everything that goes around him.

That said, he had plenty of time to throw, and his receivers were running open all night. I'd be surprised if he makes it to his junior season before he jumps to the NFL. He's that good, and he showed it again Saturday night.

Credit the Seminoles
And the Seminoles are really, really good as whole. As bad as Clemson was, Florida State was that good. That added up to an awful combination for the Tigers because the Seminoles were on top of their game and the Tigers were not even close. Florida State made a statement Saturday, and the Seminoles could be headed to a special season.

They will have to take on Miami in a couple of weeks in another conference showdown, but from what they showed Saturday, they will be ready for that and anything else that steps in their way.

They were faster, more talented, more physical and better coached than the Tigers, and it wasn't close. Florida State looked like a top-five team, maybe even a national championship team. Clemson did not.

The Tigers still have a good team, but they just are not close to being on Florida State's level. That came as a surprise. I expected the Tigers to be ready to play. They played well against Georgia in a big showcase game, but Florida State is in different world than Georgia… and Clemson.

Sammy is special
The one player who looked prepared to play for Clemson in this big-time game was Sammy Watkins. He made terrific catch after terrific catch, snagging the ball out of the air with his wonderful hands and saving Boyd on a couple of off-target throws.

Clemson fans need to appreciate Watkins and enjoy him for the rest of the season because he's going to be leaving for the NFL after this year. He showed again how good he is Saturday night and was the only player for Clemson who didn't look intimidated by the Seminoles.

Up next
The season isn't over. There are five games left in the regular season, and there is a ton left to play for.

There is nothing to be embarrassed about losing to a top-five team, a team as good as Florida State. Now, how Clemson played? Yep, the Tigers should be embarrassed by that. They didn't put up much of a fight, and that was a surprise.

They have to recover and not let this game beat them twice or even more. Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff have a big job ahead of them this week. They have a team that is beat up mentally and physically and have players who have to be wondering what went wrong Saturday. One hint: everything.

Swinney has been tremendous about getting his team to focus on what's next, and that has to be this group's mentality now. These players can't keep thinking about the loss to Florida State. There is nothing they can do about it now (and really nothing they could have done about it Saturday, either). They have to realize they just aren't good enough to play with the Seminoles right now and move on. Focus on what's ahead of them, and that's plenty.

Clemson could very easily win out (yes, even at South Carolina), and if the Tigers are able to do that, they'd still have a special season. Last year's Clemson team lost to Florida State, put it behind them (although it was much more competitive in that game) and went on to have a great season.

This year's players have to put this game behind them and be ready to play Maryland next week. If can't do that, and they let this game linger, things could turn sour quickly.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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