TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's 49-37 comeback win over No. 10 Clemson on Saturday night doesn't prove the fourth-ranked Seminoles are back.
All FSU's gritty, nationally televised victory over a high-powered Tigers offense does is keep the Seminoles' hopes of returning to national prominence in 2012 alive heading into this week's road game at USF.
Behind a career night from quarterback EJ Manuel, FSU rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to escape with its first win over a ranked opponent since the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl and its first victory over a top-10 foe since a 2009 drubbing of BYU.
The triumph in front of an electric, soldout crowd of 83,231 at Doak Campbell Stadium keeps the 'Noles in the national title hunt and puts them in control of the ACC Atlantic Division title. FSU is the conference's last undefeated team.
"We should win big games at Florida State,'' Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said after the teams combined for 1,093 yards.
Manuel said of the victory: "It's huge.''
FSU (4-0, 2-0 ACC) didn't seem ready to live up to the hype early.
Clemson (3-1, 0-1) immediately shredded a defense that entered the game ranked first nationally in five major categories.
Boyd, who completed 20 of 36 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns, launched a third-down pass deep to DeAndre Hopkins. The 60-yard touchdown catch 86 seconds into the game was the first TD allowed by the Seminoles all season.
It wasn't the last.
After FSU answered with a 13-yard touchdown run by Lonnie Pryor, Clemson's offense chipped away. The Tigers drove 79 yards in 10 plays, and Andre Ellington powered six yards into the end zone to hand FSU a 14-7 deficit.
The Tigers tallied more passing yards (123) in the first 11 minutes of the game than FSU had allowed in the last two games combined (92).
After giving up 310 yards through the first three contests of the season, FSU allowed 358 through three quarters Saturday night.
Special teams blunders made matters worse. The normally steady Dustin Hopkins had his first two missed kicks of the season, a 44-yarder and a 37-yarder at the end of the half.
Clemson faked a field goal in the first quarter to set up Ellington's fifth rushing touchdown of the season. And after FSU forced Clemson's second punt of the game, returner Rashad Greene fumbled it at the Seminoles 31.
The Tigers scored four plays later on a 17-yard pass from Boyd to Brandon Ford to take a 21-14 halftime lead.
"We kicked ourselves around a little bit in the first half,'' Fisher said.
The Tigers extended FSU's deficit early in the third quarter. Boyd threw a lateral to do-it-all sophomore Sammy Watkins, who fired a 52-yard touchdown pass to Ellington that gave Clemson a 28-14 lead three minutes into the third quarter.
But big plays and the best night of Manuel's career kept the Seminoles alive. A 64-yard pass from Manuel to Kelvin Benjamin set up a touchdown run by Chris Thompson.
After Clemson answered with a 50-yard field goal, FSU's Lamarcus Joyner ripped off a 90-yard return that set up a 9-yard touchdown lob from Manuel to Greene that cut the Tigers' lead to 31-28.
The Seminoles rolled after that. Manuel found Rodney Smith on a fade in the end zone for a 29-yard score that put FSU up by four and gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game. Manuel only needed the first three quarters to set a career high in passing.
FSU forced its second of three consecutive three-and-outs after its go-ahead touchdown. The Seminoles tacked on another score, thanks to a powerful, tackle-breaking 35-yard rush by Plant High product James Wilder. He finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown rush, his second of the night.
Nick Waisome's first career interception with eight minutes left set up a 27-yard touchdown run by Thompson and sealed the victory.
"The defense played lights-out in the second half,'' said Manuel, who had 380 passing yards and 102 rushing yards.
"It's just the fourth game. We've got to move on,'' Fisher said.
First downs 21 27
Rushes-yards 38-136 40-287
Passing 290 380
Comp-Att-Int 22-39-1 27-35-0
Return Yards 0 45
Punts-Avg. 7-41.0 3-35.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 3-30 11-81
Time of Possession 27:06 32:54
Clemson 14 7 10 6— 37
Florida St. 7 7 21 14— 49
Clem—Hopkins 60 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 13:34. FSU—Pryor 13 run (Hopkins kick), 10:54. Clem—Ellington 6 run (Catanzaro kick), 7:01.
FSU—Wilder 5 run (Hopkins kick), 14:35. Clem—Ford 17 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 10:06.
Clem—Ellington 52 pass from S.Watkins (Catanzaro kick), 11:48. FSU—Thompson 9 run (Hopkins kick), 10:09. Clem—FG Catanzaro 50, 7:07. FSU—Greene 9 pass from Manuel (Hopkins kick), 6:15. FSU—R.Smith 29 pass from Manuel (Hopkins kick), 2:37.
FSU—Wilder 5 run (Hopkins kick), 13:25. FSU—Thompson 27 run (Hopkins kick), 8:34. Clem—Ford 3 pass from Boyd (run failed), 2:11. A—83,231.
RUSHING—Clemson, Ellington 14-55, Boyd 18-44, S.Watkins 5-37, McDowell 1-0. Florida St., Thompson 15-103, Manuel 12-102, Wilder 9-65, Pryor 3-20, Team 1-(minus 3).
PASSING—Clemson, Boyd 20-36-1-237, S.Watkins 1-2-0-52, Benton 1-1-0-1. Florida St., Manuel 27-35-0-380.
RECEIVING—Clemson, S.Watkins 6-24, Hopkins 5-88, Ellington 4-87, Ford 4-69, Ja.Brown 1-14, Cooper 1-7, D.Smith 1-1. Florida St., Thompson 8-79, Dent 5-72, Greene 4-36, O'Leary 3-48, Benjamin 2-71, R.Smith 2-48, Shaw 2-17, Wilder 1-9.