Clemson wasn’t going to be the fifth undefeated team to lose on the road in Week 9.
The No. 3 Tigers responded to a No. 12 Florida State touchdown with 3:23 left for a go-ahead score to win 37-34 in Tallahassee on Saturday.
The win means Clemson remains as the only undefeated team in the ACC and will undoubtedly be in the top four of the first 2016 College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook put the Seminoles up 34-29 with his fourth touchdown of the evening. FSU missed the ensuing two-point conversion, meaning Clemson could take the lead with a score. And it did thanks to FSU’s inability to cover Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson found Leggett on three-straight completions after Cook’s TD and the tight end scored on a 34-yard touchdown catch thanks to a busted coverage by the Seminoles.
Florida State had one last chance to tie or take the lead, but its drive fell apart once it got into Clemson territory. The Noles were called for two pre-snap penalties with the clock stopped and the drive ended on the ensuing third and fourth downs thanks to sacks of FSU QB Deondre Francois.
West Virginia, Baylor, Boise State and Nebraska all fell from the ranks of the unbeaten earlier Saturday and Clemson looked at times like it was set to join them. Especially when Cook had the ball. The Seminoles’ star running back gashed Clemson for 169 yards on 19 carries. He found acres of space on the edges of the Tiger defense and had a 70-yard touchdown run in the second half.
Instead, Clemson survived. Again. And in a game that will likely be its toughest test until a potential ACC Championship Game. There are no more ranked teams on the Tigers’ schedule.
“We were at our best when we needed to be,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
The Tigers haven’t looked nearly as good as they did in 2015, but have figured out ways to keep winning. The fourth quarter resiliency is likely fostered from the experience the Tigers gained in 2015 on the road to the national championship game. The Tigers know how to win, even if it’s ugly at times. And in a season that suddenly has four fewer undefeated teams, it’s a skill that’s serving them quite well.
Watson kept himself in the Heisman discussion too despite a couple of ugly interceptions. He finished 27-43 passing for 378 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.