It was hard to know what to expect from the Seminole offense Saturday night. The first three weeks saw Florida State look sloppy at times, but in reality the offense could call whatever it wanted an succeed with prolific numbers.
What the Seminoles featured in a 49-37 win over Clemson was balance, meaning that the rushing attack that was scant in 2011 announced itself again in September.
Florida State rushed for 287 yards overall on 40 carries, good for a 7.2 per carry average. Two Seminoles - seniors Chris Thompson and EJ Manuel - rushed for over 100 yards. Five times the offense reached paydirt on the ground. And in several key moments in a wild prime-time matchup, running the ball produced the results the Seminoles needed.
"It was great," said Thompson, who rushed for a team high 103 yards. "We knew the way that Clemson runs their offense that they were going to score a lot. We knew as an offense that we had to pair up with them as far as touchdowns go."
Although the Seminoles came up short of keeping pace in the first half, the second half produced 35 points and 157 yards rushing. Thompson, Manuel and James Wilder Jr. took turns with the ball behind an offensive line that took another impressive step forward from a disappointing 2011.
"They've all been going out there and working their butts off and making sure we get five yards past the line of scrimmage before we get touched," Wilder said.
"They do a great job," added Thompson. "I mean it's week in and week out, it's every day in practice. I really appreciate those guys for what they are doing because it is making our job as running backs a lot easier."
More than just running backs, Florida State got key yardage via the legs of its quarterback. Manuel rushed for 102 yards Saturday night, becoming just the second Seminole quarterback to throw for 300 and rush for 100 yards in one game (Charlie Ward, 1992).
"I'm going to call C. Ward," Manuel said. "I talked to him last night. He told me to go out there and take what they gave me. That's a huge accomplishment."
And if the rushing game continues on the path it has headed for the first four games? There may be more accomplishments ahead.
Young corners grow in wild atmosphere
The numbers aren't the prettiest - Clemson threw for 290 yards and four scores - but Florida State learned a bit about itself at the corner position Saturday night.
There's no doubt that sophomore Nick Waisome, freshman Ronald Darby and sophomore Tyler Hunter had their feet put to the fire against Clemson's receivers. But on a night that saw a few busted coverages, it wasn't the younger players that bore responsibility for a handful of Tiger big plays.
"They were confident," said Xavier Rhodes, the veteran of the segment. "They played with a lot of confidence and they made plays when they needed to make plays. So, I'm proud of them"
No play was bigger for the younger group than Waisome's fourth quarter interception of Clemson's Tajh Boyd. The sophomore picked off a scrambling throw just moments after the Seminoles turned the ball over in Tiger territory.
"I felt like I kind of sealed the deal," Waisome said, laughing. "But it was a lot of fun. I was just trying to get out there and make a play and I felt good about it."
One play later, Chris Thompson scored a rushing touchdown to put the game out of reach.
After a first half of making what he termed "mental" mistakes, Waisome said the secondary focused in harder in order to quell the potent Clemson offense. After allowing 194 passing yards in the first half, the Seminoles gave up just 96 in the final 30 minutes.
"We tightened that up in the second half and just executed," Waisome said.
Manuel's 380 passing yards were a career high. The senior was sacked just once the entire game.
If return yards were added into the equation, Florida State amassed 878 all-purpose yards.
Clemson's 21 first-half points snapped an 11-game streak in which Florida State held its opponents to 19 points or fewer.
Fullback Lonnie Pryor's rushing touchdown in the first half was his 14th career score on the ground and 19th overall career touchdown. Pryor leads all active Seminoles in the category.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed a pair of field goals in the first half from 44 and 37 yards.
Safety Terrence Brooks shattered his previous career high of four tackles and led FSU with 12 total tackles.
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