Much of the credit for Florida State's thrashing of Clemson Saturday night in Death Valley will be attributed to freshman sensation Jameis Winston and for good reason.
The most impactful performance in this contest, however, may very well have been turned in by teammate Lamarcus Joyner, who forced two Clemson fumbles in the first quarter and intercepted Tajh Boyd in the second to spark the Seminoles' taking a dominating 27-7 lead into halftime.
The Tigers weren't able to solve the mysteries of Florida State's after intermission, eventually losing 51-14. The 51 points were the most ever surrendered by Clemson at Death Valley.
The showdown between the No. 3 Tigers and No. 5 Seminoles was billed by some as the biggest game in ACC history. While Clemson celebrated with pre-game pageantry, the Seminoles' senior defensive back quickly silenced the passionate crowd forcing a fumble on the first play from scrimmage.
That play, and Joyner's two other turnovers, are broken down in more detail below.
At just 5-foot-8, 190-pounds, Joyner will initially be a tough sell for scouts but it is easy to fall in love with the preseason all-conference pick's instincts and toughness, traits he developed while starring at strong safety for the Seminoles each of the past two years.
While obviously undersized, Joyner doesn't shirk from contact. He welcomes it, in fact, and possesses excellent diagnosis skills, as well as the balance, agility and speed to handle coverage duties. Defensive backs' coaches in the NFL will appreciate Joyner's versatility, as he's logged action against legitimate competition while lining up outside, inside and deep. Joyner currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 3 free safety but a creative defensive coordinator could use him in a variety of roles in the NFL.
Joyner signed with Florida State initially as a highly regarded prep cornerback and logged his first action there in 2010, posting 23 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception as a true freshman. He returned to the edges as a senior, where he starred Saturday against the Tigers and Boyd, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated senior quarterback.
Joyner's three turnovers demonstrated his unique brand of toughness, closing speed and awareness.
- Joyner's first forced fumble of the game came after Boyd hit wideout Stanton Seckinger for an apparent first down. Joyner and linebacker Telvin Smith, another undersized by dynamic Seminoles' defender, closed quickly to hit Seckinger from both sides. Joyner got his right arm inside Seckinger's, ripping the ball free to give Winston and the Florida State offense the ball at the Clemson 34-yard line. Winston hit Kelvin Benjamin for FSU's first score just three plays later.
- It didn't take Joyner's second forced fumble that long to result in points for the Seminoles. Down 10-0 but with Clemson appearing to gain back some momentum after an 18-yard completion to star wideout Sammy Watkins, Boyd faked a handoff and drifted left. He appeared to see a blitzing Joyner dashing towards him but was nonetheless surprised by the defender's closing speed. Joyner exploded into Boyd just as the athletic quarterback raised the ball to pass, dislodging it. Three Florida State defenders were in position to pick up the fumble (including Joyner) but 6-foot-3, 277-pound defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. snatched it up instead, returning the fumble 37 yards to give Florida State a commanding 17-0 lead.
- It was not only athleticism but remarkable awareness that resulted in Joyner's third turnover of the game. As he did when forcing his second fumble of the night, Joyner initially lined up on the line of scrimmage, just off the hip of pass rusher Ukeme Eligwe. Joyner was there early and Boyd recognized the threat of the blitz, delivering a strong, accurate pass that almost surely would have been caught by wideout Adam Humphries. A split second before the snap, however, Joyner scrambled back, dropping into the gap that Humphries was running toward, completely fooling Boyd to make the easy interception at approximately the 7-yard line. The interception occurred with 5:23 remaining in the half and with Florida State already ahead 24-7, erasing what had been one of Clemson's few productive drives in a nightmarish game.