Florida State University (4-4 overall, 2-3 ACC) comes to town this weekend for a 7:45 start in the Valley. This is a critical game for both teams, as Clemson controls its own destiny within the division and FSU is still in the Atlantic race, but cannot afford to drop another conference contest. This series has become increasingly competitive over the past 5-10 years, and I expect about the same out of this week's contest.
This program is experiencing some transition pains as the 'Noles are creeping closer to the end of the Bowden era and beginning of the Fisher era (beginning on or before next January). On top of all this, long-time defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has announced this will be his last season with the Seminoles, as he is retiring at the conclusion of this season. Further excitement lies in Bob Bowden being keen on making the Andrews replacement hire. As you can see, there is a lot going on with this team.
On to the game. Florida State is what I would call a completely polar team, with their offense extremely positive and defense extremely negative. Florida State's offense has experienced nothing short of a resurrection since Jimbo Fisher has come on board. The 'Noles have one of the best quarterbacks in America in Christian Ponder and have done a fine job up front, giving Ponder time to throw the ball all year. Ponder has some great targets to throw to, as the 'Noles have been flat out killing it through the air this season.
(Thanks to Tomahawknation.com)I really like watching the Seminoles passing attack. It is precise and generally lacks stupid mistakes (when the receivers hold onto the football). Christian Ponder has thrown three picks on the season, with one on a desperation heave against UM in the season opener and the other two on tipped passes. Ponder puts the ball where it needs to be each and every play, and in such a fashion that only his receiver will have an opportunity to come down with the football. The Junior signal caller does not force the ball and does a great job moving through his progression and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. CP is normally a pretty mobile guy, but may be hampered by a rib injury that came about last week against NC State. His comfort and ability to move will play a major factor in Saturday's game.
While many folks like to dog the 'Noles rushing game, I tend to take the opposite opinion. While Florida State's rushing game brings in an attack that has generated just1100 yards on approx 250 carries in eight games, I do not believe these numbers are a fair assessment of the ;Noles ground game. These stats are misleading for several compelling reasons.
First and foremost, FSU's defense has been so poor this season that the 'Noles have been forced to throw the ball an excessive amount this season. FSU's weekly shootouts don't give the offense the opportunity to establish a consistent rushing attack. The other piece of evidence that excuses the 'Noles rushing game is the large quantity of screen passes attempted each week. One could easily argue that these plays are near equivalents to rushing plays, and thus take away from team carries. FSU has competent backs (Thomas and Jones) and has a pretty good offensive line. As with most all zone blocking schemes, you won't see people getting blown off the football in rushing situations but will see good technique and position out of the FSU offensive front. FSU has also frozen opponent's second level defenders all season with play action, showing me that others respect their ability to be dangerous on the ground also.
Florida State's defense has been a real disappointment. The Seminoles rank near the bottom in the nation in most categories. I have never seen, nor never thought that I would see a Mickey Andrews defense that was this inept week in and week out. Mickey has always been known as an aggressive, hard nosed guy who was able to aptly utilize talent and scheme to confuse and dominate opposing offenses. This year, nothing could be further from the truth. All Florida State has done to this point is give up points and yards (you know you are in trouble when you give up 28 to Boston College and 27 to North Carolina. There are too many faults here to beat around. All I will say is that I expect this defense to give up a cuople of big gainers this week. I will be interested to see if Andrews retirement news earlier in the week will create an emotional charge for this group this weekend.
Clemson's D will have its hands full this weekend. I fully expect a shootout in the Valley Saturday night if Ponder is healthy (along those same lines, the game-time over/under should be right around 60). This week will really show us how good the Tiger defense really is, and will give McDaniel ample opportunities to prove he is the premier safety in the ACC.
We will be watching the front four, as CU will need to pressure Ponder and keep him bottled up. Clemson will really miss Bowers this week. While there is adequate depth behind Bowers, he has been a beast all season and has shown why he was so highly ranked coming out of Bamberg. Sapp, Alexander, Cumbie, Branch, etc...will need to keep the motors running all night.
Jimbo Fisher will provide Kevin Steele with the best chess match he will see all season. FSU is so skilled offensively and has instant scoring capabilities that will hinder the aggression shown by the Clemson defense. Clemson needs to tackle well in the open field, considering FSU's wide array of screen passes and elusive receivers. There will be a lot of pressure placed on the Clemson secondary all night, and I am not expecting a gift interception.
Offensively the Tigers need to assure that the backs and TE's are involved in the offense. Hopefully some of the younger WR's gained some valuable experience and confidence in last week's garbage game, and will hold onto the damn football. Otherwise, I would expect Napier/Swinney to do everything in their power to get #28 the football. This is a prime opportunity for Spiller to show out against a less than stellar defense. Spiller should have a nice game this week IF CU gives him the 25-30 touches that has to have to keep Clemson in the track meet we will see Saturday.