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Clemson CB exploits return coverage

As swirling winds made kicking difficult, Justin Miller breezed past Florida State's return team and almost single-handedly kept Clemson in the game Saturday.

The cornerback set an NCAA record with 282 kickoff return yards and tied another with two return touchdowns.

"Every team is going to put their fastest guy back there, but that guy, his vision was unreal," FSU kicker Xavier Beitia said. "He saw all the holes."

Beitia placed much of the blame on himself, saying oft-changing winds that reached 15 mph sent kickoffs away from the intended location and teased FSU's kick coverage.

Miller ran 97 yards untouched up the center of the field for his first touchdown.

"It's not like I can say I kicked it where it needed to be," said Beitia, a Jesuit grad. "Right when I kicked it, I knew it was all on me."

The second touchdown return was for 86 yards and was aided by a misplaced Beitia kickoff. Bryant McFadden was the only Seminole to touch Miller _ near the goal line. Miller, who totaled six returns, almost broke free on two others, tripping in the second quarter after running 39 yards and getting tackled near midfield on a 35-yard return in the third quarter.

The Seminoles knew Miller, who had a 69-yard punt return against Wake Forest this season, was a threat.

"I told them a thousand times last week that (Miller) is dangerous," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Every time he comes out of there with a punt or kickoff, he comes out of there with the thought of going all the way. That's exactly what he did today."

Even when the Seminoles tried to avoid Miller, they made mistakes. Barry Wright committed a personal foul by making contact with the returner on a short kick that put the Tigers at midfield. Clemson turned it into a touchdown.

The Tigers got a safety by blocking a third-quarter Chris Hall punt. It set up Miller's second touchdown.

"Today you saw kicking neutralize a football game for three quarters," Bowden said.

Yet special teams did enough to preserve the FSU win.

After Miller's second touchdown return, Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was stopped on a two-point conversion try that would have tied it at 24.

Late in the third quarter, with Clemson down by nine, Pat Watkins downed a Hall punt at the 2-yard line. The Tigers were unable to get near midfield and punted.

"I hate that we couldn't have done anything where that could have shone and been magnified a little bit more," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "It was a great individual performance by a player who just refused to quit."