The juices are flowing as the season really begins for both Clemson and FSU. With the added publicity of Gameday this will be a statement game for whomever wins and will most likely be favored to win their remaining games. This game should decide the Atlantic division champion and is the toughest game on our schedule when you consider that VT, GT, and USCjr are all at home.
Florida State is a 14 point favorite. Clemson has won 6 of the last 9 and were only favored to win one time during that span, a 41-24 finger pointing, shoulder separating victory (how I miss DeAndre McDaniel). But lets not kid ourselves, this is not the same over-hyped, overrated Seminoles team of the past six years and homefield advantage at Doak still means something. Wake Forest is still a team with Tanner Price, Josh Harris and Campanaro on offense and out of the 52 plays Wake ran--27 were for loss. Werner with a leading 6.5 sacks has shed some weight in the off-season (10-15 lbs) and, as opposed to our defensive ends, looks lightening quick. This will be a tall order for Giff or Shaq Anthony at RT. Brandon Jenkins is out for the year with a foot injury but Carradine was equally dominant against Wake. DT's are much better than Auburn and I have been very impressed with the development of Jernigan and McCloud in the middle. This defensive line has a legit NFL caliber 2-deep. Its an embarrassment of riches when you add in arguably the two top defensive line recruits last year in Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards.
Can the Noles' line which has only played probably 2.5 quarters of football so far withstand Clemson's tempo and not wear down like they did last year? FSU is likely to play a lot of press coverage (they did last year and against Wake) so will the Offensive line give Boyd enough time to establish a vertical passing game and stop FSU from dominating the line with only a four man rush?
Dabo was able to speak Tuesday after losing his voice at halftime against Furman 'talking' to the team.
When you consider that Jimbo in his press conference said that our offense is similar to Wake except with more bells and whistles, Dabo was very measured and reasoned during his media time. Everyone should be healthy and he expects that our offensive line will be the same five who started against Auburn. He qualified that by saying they all needed to earn it during practice but it should be the same. He did a good job of simultaneously building hype and deflating expectations in this response:
Question: Can you avoid talking about the stakes of this game with your team?
Swinney: "These guys aren't isolated in a cave. They understand. This is a huge game. But you have to be careful to make this game something … it's the fourth game. Our next goal is to win the division. It is a big game? You better believe it. It's not over for anybody. You can't make this bigger than it is. What about playing Boston College and Georgia Tech? It's a long season, guys.
The coaches and team will certainly be playing the underdog, disrespected by the world card but publicly this is what is coming from Swinney.
Question: Do you get the feeling that there is a lack of respect, considering you've beaten them and won the division?
Swinney: "I don't know how to answer that. All I know is we're not a great football team right now. If I were on the outside looking in, I'd probably pick them, too. I'm on the inside, though. And I like where I'm at. I think people look at it from the outside and they think they're a really good team. But outside of Alabama and LSU, who would be favored?"
Other points: Dabo liked what he saw out of Steward but says he still needs to learn more about the defense. This is the third straight year that Venables has been facing Florida State so their is no lack of familiarity. He expects to see FSU use Manuel as a running threat and during Wake I noticed the speed option being used for the first time in awhile. This is pretty much the only thing that worked against our defense the last time we played in Doak. They marched down the field and scored because we just couldn't defend it. Coach V said that he doesn't expect FSU to 'nickel and dime you' but to go over the top in the passing game. Venables also answered a question about playing time with Rashard Hall and Brewer:
I don’t know what he did or didn’t do in his first three years. Brewer kind of earned his way by being more consistent in what we’ve asked him to do. Rashard has played more and more each week. The proverbial rust is knocking off. He hasn’t played in quite a while. It’s one thing to have your head in the playbook and watching film. You’ve got to go out and actually do it. Brewer’s had three months of work, drill work and practice. He’s been better than Rashard. Why? He’s been a little bit better and more consistent. I’ve seen a trend where he’s [Hall] playing more and more, and we’re finding ways we’ve got to get him more involved.
I really wish that we decided to move Blanks to safety already and would be happy to see both Hall and Brewer get less playing time. That means more confidence in Christian however.
Reasons to be optimistic heading down to Tallahassee: Chad Morris, Sammy Watkins, and an improved offensive line.
Remember that Chad Morris and the staff went to Oklahoma State, in part, to learn how to get the ball to Sammy in a variety of ways like Ok St. did with Justin Blackmon last year. Sammy said that during the Furman game they didn't run many plays for him but Morris has a list of plays that will go specifically for Watkins. Morris just knows how to talk about football:
They've already been labeled a national-championship contender. They've only given up three points. We've got our work cut out for us, there's no question. And that's OK. Heck, that's what it's about. Man, I'm fired up. I'm excited. Our guys will be ready. We'll be excited and ready to go. ... We've got great respect for them and their program, but we'll be there.
Can the Tigers stay out of 3 and outs, especially early, so that they can establish the needed tempo to wear down the defense? I think an important part of this game will be putting points on the board early. We saw for the first time this year Boyd pressing slightly at the end of the Furman game and throwing balls into tight spaces that could have easily been picked off. If we fall behind in a hostile road environment will Boyd show that he has developed the maturity to not press. Werner would love another defensive TD.
One last area to highlight that isn't getting enough attention is the punting game. We both have good kickers (although Catman cost us the game last time in Doak and I still have nightmares of the 55 yarder) but both teams have relatively unproven kickers. Will we get the 50 yard or 30 yard punting Benton? The punt formation still scares me and our punt coverage team hasn't proven much and FSU has a deadly return game. The question for our punt return team is whether or not someone will actually field a punt.