- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEMSON, S.C. -- It had been 12 years since Florida State won in Death Valley, but Jameis Winston insisted that didn't matter. This was a new Seminoles team, and they weren't interested in the past.
After No. 5 Florida State's 51-14 dismantling of No. 3 Clemson, however, comparisons to the past seem entirely appropriate. The Seminoles look to be every bit as good as they did in their 1990s heyday, and Winston is on a Heisman pace that mirrors the campaigns of Charlie Ward or Chris Weinke.
It was a dominant performance all around, and Florida State now appears firmly in the BCS championship mix.
It was over when: Winston drove Florida State 42 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter. The Seminoles had all the momentum to end the first half, but just hadn't driven the final dagger through Clemson's comeback hopes, but a long kick return by Levonte Whitfield and a personal foul flag gave Winston a short field, and he delivered quickly. The touchdown put FSU up 34-7, and Clemson showed little life afterward.
Game ball goes to: Winston is the easy choice, but it's impossible to ignore the impact cornerback Lamarcus Joyner had on this game. He forced three turnovers, including a fumble on Clemson's first offensive play. FSU turned that into a touchdown to set the tone for how the rest of the game would unfold. Another forced fumble on a sack of Tajh Boyd led to a field goal, and Joyner added a pick at the end of the first half to complete the hat trick. For good measure, he shadowed Sammy Watkins for much of the game, and Clemson's passing game was effectively shut down throughout.
Stat of the game: 444. That's the number of yards Winston threw for against Clemson on Saturday, to go with three passing touchdowns and another on the ground. Winston has now played in four ACC games, and he's topped 300 yards and three scores in each one. There were plenty of other numbers worth noting -- FSU created four turnovers for the first time in two years, Boyd had perhaps the worst start of his career -- but Winston was the showstopper. His Heisman campaign is gaining steam with every game.
What Clemson learned: The Tigers aren't the class of the ACC. Perhaps it's unfair to judge Clemson too harshly here. Florida State is obviously a great team, and the momentum shifted in Florida State's favor so quickly that the Tigers had little chance to recover. Boyd struggled badly though, and whether it's fair or not, his long and successful career will certainly be remembered, in part, by his inability to beat Florida State during his final two seasons in Clemson.
What Florida State learned: The Seminoles' defense is really good. After a rough start to the season in which the unit looked shaky against the likes of Bethune-Cookman and Boston College, there were legitimate concerns that new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had installed a scheme that simply wasn't going to work with FSU's personnel. Turns out, they just needed a little time. Pruitt's 3-5-3 scheme worked to perfection against Clemson's spread offense, and Joyner, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones led the charge in a dominant defensive performance against one of the nation's elite offensive units.
What it means: Florida State is a legitimate national-title contender. It's tough to predict what the BCS standings will look like when they come out for the first time this week, but the Seminoles have easily the most impressive win of the season in college football, and they've rolled both of the ranked opponents they've played. Winston may be a Heisman favorite, the defense is clicking on all cylinders, and the Seminoles have now topped 40 points in every game this season. It's a resume that stacks up nicely against Oregon and Alabama.
2dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon