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The Clemson Tigers finally outrun Florida State

No team led by Dabo Swinney could ever stop moving, no matter which way it needs to move.

1. There is no illusion here. Dabo Swinney hauls ass on that run off the hill. He half-steps at first, which is only prudent since he's going down a slippery grass decline in front of 81,500 people and millions watching at home. He's careful for something like 30 feet, then goes into a full sprint something like 15 feet from the bottom.

He is not just trotting out. He is sprinting. He is in full fight-or-flight mode, doing exactly what you would do if you had a few thousand pounds of football player bustling behind you. He is running like a man about to be trampled or a man about to trample someone.

2. The last time Florida State went to Clemson. Oh, that was a bad thing, a game in 2013 starting with two undefeated teams and the best team the Tigers had in years and the worst thing of all: Legitimate hope to win the ACC and plan for a national title run. That was a real thing until Jameis Winston's first pass landed in the arms of Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown, and then another, and then there's No. 3 Clemson, losing 51-14 at home to a freshman quarterback and blowing up again under the national spotlight.

There was a word for this once, for this particular team and that particular phenomenon. If you say it here, you will get cut.

3. So there's Dalvin Cook, too, the blippy, two-cut Florida State tailback whose 1-yard runs turn into 3-yard runs, and whose 3-yard runs turn into 7-yard runs, and whose 7-yard runs can turn into 75-yard touchdowns.

This happened exactly 45 seconds into the 2015 game. A linebacker nudged right when he should have nudged left, someone left a crack in the fence and that was all Cook required to go untouched. He's a human light leak in a dark room, even tugging at a sore hamstring.

4. Seeing a running back like Cook fighting his own body and still putting up 100 yards in a quarter. One of the best things you can say about an athlete is that he or she has the ability to create both exasperated and delighted profanities on any play. Hopefully, that would be exasperation for the opponent and delight for your team. Cook keeps the attention span at a constant boil, and the noise made when he hits the stove top is always the same: Oh, shiiiiiiiit.

5. There was Clemson's offense, which, despite moving the ball, couldn't convert third downs consistently in the first half. This all looked bad, bad, bad, the kind of badness Florida State needed.

"We were missing layups," Swinney said in postgame, another way of saying that on a third-and-3, quarterback Deshaun Watson missed an open receiver for a conversion, or that on another third down, he held the ball too long. The Seminoles did not force a turnover, but they did force hesitation, indecision and the kind of arrhythmia that forces field goal attempts. Watson missed a wide-open and streaking Jordan Leggett down the middle for a huge gain; he spiked the ball on third-and-goal at the end of the first half.

Despite Florida State starting Sean Maguire for the injured Everett Golson and Cook playing on half a hamstring, the Seminoles led 10-6 on the road.

6. Pardon Clemson fans for the hindsight, since now it seems obvious. Now that you can see that Clemson ran 85 plays to Florida State's 59 and had 29 first downs to Florida State's 14, now that you watched it all. You have a nice stat sheet to point to, but nowhere on that sheet will you find the kind of existential dread you get when, after losing to Florida State three times in a row, you trail. Remember the 2014 game?

It seems obvious now. Watson rushed back into the game, scrambling for first downs before passing for more. Clemson ratcheted up the play count, nibbling away until the inevitable breaking point. A screen pass broken for a Deon Cain touchdown in the third quarter to take the lead; a field goal in the fourth to take it again. Wayne Gallman breaking tackles for a game-clinching touchdown with 2:34 left? It came through a Florida State defense running several millimeters below empty.

7. Watson will devour you by the forkful or in hunks. Choose one. It doesn't matter. The Seminoles flustered him looking downfield in the first half, so he started the second by running. When Florida State covered the run, Clemson worked screens and the short game. Watson was malleable, the kind of quarterback happy to win the game he has to win on that particular night.

8. From this point forward, the Tigers get to use the big utensils for Saturday lunches and dinners. The remaining schedule is fat eating: Syracuse, Wake Forest and one of the worst South Carolina teams in recent history. Beyond that is the ACC Championship, and if they move past that, the Playoff. Two years after getting repo'd on its home field, Clemson has a manageable path to a national championship. You can say that without a hint of curse on the lips or a superstitious flinch in the direction of a football deity.


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The Tigers are here; and the "there" they need to get to is close.

9. If you are in Memorial Stadium, do not stand between the masses and their beloved, sprinting leader. The fans sit within literal spitting distance of both teams, and the ribbon of turf between them and you is so narrow, the buggy-mounted boom camera sends cheerleaders, sideline officials and rando sideline badge-holders scrambling when it rolls downfield after a first down.

Clemson never makes any attempt to keep its fans off the field. If you happen to be standing on the sideline when the game ends, when Clemson beats Florida State 23-13, they are coming over that wall. At that point you have two choices: Attempt to swim upstream like the loneliest salmon in the world and get body checked by five tiny Clemson ladies in orange body paint, or run to the middle with everyone else.

I ran for my life to the middle, and the entire stadium flowed downhill into a bobbing ball of body heat, football players still in full pads stranded in crowds of back-patting smaller humans, camera people elbowing to get through the ring of stadium security and state troopers swarming Swinney in the middle.

Dabo started the night sprinting and ended up stranded in a horde of hooting orange and white and purple. For a second, the only thing that could move was the overhead camera. It glided along on wires to pan down on Swinney, and then rose silently into the dark.

Images via ABC and Streeter Lecka, Getty