TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Earlier in the week, there might have been some nerves. Nick Waisome oozes confidence, but even he's not above the realization that he was about to face the biggest challenge of his young career.
Waisome would be starting just his fourth game, but he would be tasked with shutting down All-American Sammy Watkins. He'd gotten plenty of advice about playing physical and disrupting Watkins' routes, but in the end the game plan was simple.
"Confidence," said Xavier Rhodes, Waisome's roommate and fellow cornerback. "That's all it's about."
By Saturday morning, any butterflies that might have fluttered through Waisome's stomach earlier in the week had disappeared. Waisome and Rhodes laughed and joked and didn't mention Watkins or Clemson until they arrived at the stadium. As it turned out, there was no reason for Waisome to be nervous.
The sophomore cornerback, who was thrust into the starting role less than two months ago when Greg Reid was dismissed from the team, blanketed Watkins throughout Florida State's 49-37 win over Clemson. Watkins finished with six catches but just 24 receiving yards -- with no reception going for more than 12.
The capper on the performance came midway through the fourth quarter, when Clemson QB Tajh Boyd challenged Waisome one last time, looking to convert a second-and-9 to his top receiver.
Instead, Waisome stepped in front of the throw, picked off the pass and returned it 19 yards to the Clemson 27.
"If somebody had snapped a picture, my eyes probably would've been popping out of my head," Waisome said.
The interception was the highlight, and it essentially secured the game for Florida State. It came just two plays after the Seminoles had turned the ball over, and it was followed just one play later by a Chris Thompson touchdown run.
But the real measure of Waisome's breakthrough performance came in the little things.
If somebody had snapped a picture, my eyes probably would've been popping out of my head.
”-- Seminoles CB Nick Waisome, on his game-clinching interception
Watkins' speed is world class, but he found nothing downfield. In last year's Clemson win, Watkins racked up 141 yards against FSU's secondary -- 105 of which came after the catch. He had just one fewer catch this time around, but Waisome never let Watkins slip by for a big gain.
"That's the thing, is securing the tackle, making sure you're not just going for the ball," Waisome said. "You've got to be able to position yourself, take the right angle and come down with the tackle."
The fundamentals were big, and Waisome followed advice and played physical against Watkins, too.
The key, however, was just as Rhodes had promised.
"I saw a guy not being timid," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "Sammy Watkins is a great player, but he's just another player. ESPN, the fans, outsiders hype him up. But at the end of the day, he puts his pads on like you, so cover that guy. Nick Waisome went in there with that mind-set, and he did a great job."
The starting cornerback job fell to Waisome by default during fall camp, and freshman Ronald Darby still got his share of work. But Waisome's performance couldn't help but feel like a turning point.
He treated Watkins like any other receiver, treated this like any other game. That's the motto everyone, including his coach, had preached.
But when it was over, even Jimbo Fisher had to admit this was different. Watkins isn't just another receiver. He's an All-American, and he managed just 24 yards against a little known sophomore whose future now looks a lot brighter.
"It's huge," Fisher said. "And when you play against the caliber of the guy you just played against, and he got you but you got him, too, that lets you know, you can play. I think it'll be a big boost, and he'll build off it."