Tigers Escape No. 19 Florida State

Aaron Kelly

CLEMSON – With the Clemson offense missing-in-action during the second half, it was the defense that proved why it's expected to be one of the best in the ACC.

Time and time again, whenever a big play needed to be made, it was the defense that stepped up.

None was bigger than Phillip Merling's sack of Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford on fourth down in the closing minutes deep in Clemson territory.

From there, the Tigers were able to essentially run the clock down and prevail for the 24-18 victory over the No. 19 Seminoles Monday night in front of a packed Memorial Stadium.

The sack by Merling prevented Florida State (0-1, 0-1 ACC) from mounting a huge comeback.

"We came out ready to play," Merling said. "We just had to crush their momentum and come away with the win. It was a little more difficult in the second half than it was in the first half, but we still came away with a win. A win is a win is a win."

CUTigers.com Coverage
* GRADES: Clemson 24 FSU 18
* Recruits at the Game
* PHOTOS: Tigers 'Beat Noles
* NOTEBOOK: Injuries Mount Up
* BOX: Clemson 24 FSU 18
* CUTigersTV: Phillip Merling
* CUTigersTV: Tommy Bowden
* CUTigersTV: Bobby Bowden
* CUTigersTV: C.J. Spiller
Clemson's defense held the Seminoles to just 256 yards of total offense, including just 62 yards in the opening half. The Tigers also held Florida State to just 3-for-17 on third down conversion. Starting quarterback Drew Weatherford was also sacked five times.

All game, the defensive line and the occasional blitzing linebacker or defensive back were in Weatherford's face. He was constantly flushed out of the pocked and harassed.

Clemson bandit Ricky Sapp said he wasn't shocked at how easy it was for the defense to get into the Florida State backfield.

"I'm not surprised," he said. "We worked so hard during the off-season. We put together a pretty good package and we just got after them pretty good tonight. … The biggest thing is we showed the whole nation that we could beat them."

As well as the defense played, the offense and special teams left a lot to be desired.

The Tigers mustered just 82 yards of total offense in the second half, including just six yards in the third quarter. For the game, they had 292.

Also, the offensive line struggled to keep pressure off of quarterback Cullen Harper even when the original starting unit was in there.

That's a major reason why the Seminoles were able to make this a ballgame after Clemson had surged to a dominating 24-3 halftime lead.

"That's a great defensive front we were going against," Harper said. "I think they just came out pissed off in the second half."

The special teams didn't help the situation, either. The kickoff coverage was very good, but the punting had its problems.

First, new punter Jimmy Manners had a punt blocked in the second quarter, which led to a Florida State field goal. Then in the third quarter, longsnapper Colin Leonard sailed one over the head of Maners, who picked it up around the 11 and ran it through the back of the end zone for a safety.

Though it made it only 24-5, the play gave the Seminoles momentum.

"I was hoping they would quit," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said of the Seminoles. "But I knew it was too good to be true."

Florida State created some very anxious moments up until the end in a game that seemed like it would be a blowout. However, that's when the defense stepped up and made the big plays.

"I thought our team did a good job of regaining the momentum at the end of the game," Bowden said. "I think our defense has a chance to be pretty good."

Despite the win, Bowden had a message to his team, fans and media following the game.

"The thing we've learned is beating Florida State doesn't have anything to do with winning a conference championship," he said. "We've done it two years in a row and didn't win a conference championship.

"I think we've got to be careful how we respond to this win. We're going to try to see if we can be a little more level headed. Obviously it was a good win, but there's 11 games left. You'll really find out how insignificant the first game really is. I'm sure Florida State will use that. It's not a big deal."

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