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2012 Clemson @ Florida State--Game Preview

CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 24:  Clint Trickett #9 of the Florida State Seminoles is sacked by the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC - SEPTEMBER 24: Clint Trickett #9 of the Florida State Seminoles is sacked by the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Getty Images
School Florida State
Nickname Seminoles
Athletic Website
2012 Record 3-0
2011 Record 9-4
Conference ACC
Head Coach Jimbo Fisher
Game Time 8:00 EDT
Television ABC
Radio 104.9 WCCP
Home Stadium Doak Campbell
Offense Multiple
Offensive Coordinator James Coley
Defense Multiple
Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops

The statistics (courtesy of ESPN).


As always, our sister site, Tomahawk Nation, is an excellent source of information for all things Florida State. Head on over there and ask Bud and his crew anything you wish regarding FSU and I am sure those guys will thoroughly answer your questions.

FSU leads the overall series 17-8 and holds a 10-3 advantage in games played at the Doak. Much of the FSU series dominance can be attributed to the 'Noles first decade in the ACC. Clemson football was mediocre at best in the '90's and FSU was a juggernaut. Clemson was finally able to get an ACC victory over the 'Noles in '03 and the Tigers have not suffered a home loss in this series since, winning 6 of the last 9. Clemson's three wins in Tallahasse occurred in '76, '89, and '06. Memorable games that stick out to me include the '88 Puntrooskie game, the '89 massacre at Doak, '92 (first ACC matchup and a night game in Death Valley for the frst time in years), '99 Bowden Bowl, '00 Weinke play action, '03 Tom Bowden saved his job, and when Clemson finally won in Tallahassee in '06. Last year's game was a high scoring affair that saw the Clemson offense shred the vaunted Seminole defense. This game is developing into a legitimate rivalry and I only see this heating up more over the years. Its very likely that the Atlantic will be decided tomorrow. I have a feeling the winner of the Clemson/FSU game over the next couple years will be at least the Atlantic Champ and likely will represent the ACC in BCS play.

Florida State is a little harder to read this season than they were last, mainly because of the teams the 'Noles have faced to date. Two cupcakes and Wake Forest are the opponents we have to judge FSU's play against. You really just throw the Murray St. and Savannah St. performances out the window because neither of these teams even competes with a low to mid-tier 1-A team. Their shellacking of Wake Forest got my attention but FSU wants to win more than the ACC Atlantic. So far they look like a MNC contender but the 'Noles' inconsistent performances under head coach Jimbo Fisher must leave you to wonder if FSU can play at a high level each and every week.

There is no doubt the Seminoles are flush with talent. They have recruited well for nearly half a decade now. They are also highly hyped by the general public. I'll admit, last season I was one of the people out there predicting greatness for Florida State only to shake my head after suffering quite a few losses early on, including the inexplicable loss to Wake Forest. I understand this was a team a year ago that suffered quite a few injuries but a 2-3 start (including drilling two cream puffs to start the season) certainly wasn't the start I expected.

Again, Nolefans will tell you '12 is different than '11, over and over again. They don't play Oklahoma and don't have the injuries. So far, I will agree as they kicked the crap out of the Salem Demon Deacons last week and have an arsenal of weapons available. Manuel will be ready to go and the Seminoles look to be healthier both in the secondary and up front. As much as we've heard Nolefan cry about the loss last year, and how ACC refs f'd them, and we understand their plight, we also realize that Trickett played well and the Seminoles were in position to win. I don't want to hear a bunch of excuses. We will move onto the meat of this week's contest, starting with general info then working into game-specific items (with more general information at the bottom of the post).

We discussed Jimbo Fisher's biography in detail this time last year, so I won't regurgitate everything discussed then but will direct you to last season's preview. For those of you who don't click over, here is the quick and dirty: Fischer came up the coaching ranks as a quarterbacks guru and ultimately caught on with Nick Saban at LSU. He stayed on with Les Miles and showed that, as an offensive coordinator, he was an excellent tactician and a master at maximizing his chances for success by identifying strategical defensive weaknesses then using his players' strengths to attack those weaknesses.

I (again) highly encourage you to check out an article Dr. B put together several years ago. Dr. B saw a lot of Fisher's offense in his time at LSU and I would highly encourage you to check out his post from the 2009 season on this topic (click here). Again, here is a summary of that article:

The Fisher offensive system is a pro-style spread, in that sense it's the same as Clemson's (at the time in 2009), but this is a catch-all term. It is a system that uses considerably less pre-snap motion and more personnel groupings than what Clemson does. It is more multiple in formations: I-formation, offset I, Ace, Jumbo Ace (2TE-1RB-2WR), 3/4 wide shotgun, pistol...with liberal use of the H-back or a 2nd TE. Its not a system that is designed to dink & dunk you in a West-Coast style like Miami, but attacks all levels of the defense. He always took what the defense gave: if they can run, he'll run it. They'll throw it deep, intermediate, and short. Fisher did not run quite as many screens at LSU in my recollection, but it has been developed into a heavier screen offense to keep pressure off Ponder and force the defense to make plays in space.

When Florida State has the football, expect to see some of everything. FSU will place Manuel under center, out of the pistol, out of the gun. He will operate in various two-back, one-back, and empty sets. Receivers and tight ends can be anywhere on the a nutshell, they can (and will show) most all formations that an average football fan will find familiar..

The Seminoles appear to have a solid rushing attack led by a stable of solid backs. Chris Thompson is the starter and is sporting 14.1 ypc on 18 total carries for three TDs. Most of that work was done in a little over a quarter last week against the Winston Salem Deacons. Freeman has 147 yards on 23 carries and Wilder Jr. 220 on 32 rushes. Their offensive line was unimpressive/garbage at times last season, so to say it is better this year is true but not as big of a compliment normally associated with such a statement. FSU looked good up front through their first three games--though against bad football teams. Manuel is also a valid threat rushing the ball. Look for him to run on designed draws, inverted veer, and zone read type plays in addition to using his legs if his protection breaks down. Two years ago in Tallahassee, the primary plays he hurt Clemson with (aside from two bomb completions) were the QB Power, QB Trap, and Speed Option to Christian's side.

This is bad news for a Clemson defense that has been crap against the run to date. If Clemson cannot do better both up front and at the linebacker position, FSU may as well just line up and run all over us. The linebackers have again been disappointing for our Tigers this season, constantly out of position, in the wrong gaps, washed out when they are, and getting sucked out of plays--especially misdirection rushing attempts. I look for Florida State to come out and try to establish the run early. Jimbo Fisher is smarter than Gene Chizik and will not be foolish and allow his team to quit running the ball if they can get steady yards early, but sometimes does get a bit pass-happy. From what I've seen so far, Clemson could easily get into trouble if they are not substantially better this week than they have been so far. Additionally, FSU has every reason to try and establish the run and keep the clock moving to keep the ball out of the potent Clemson offense's hands, and keep their defense rested. Last week most of what they got on WF's undersized front was outside stretch zone plays (which AU hurt us with), and they'll use our overpursuit problems to attack there again.

Florida State is also dangerous throwing the football. What you will see out of this offense is an organized, layered attack that is capable short, intermediate, and down the field. FSU likes to get their receivers into crossing routes and will have, on all plays, three threats (one deep, one at 9-14 yards, and something in the flats). It is up to Manuel to make proper reads and move through his progressions to get the ball to the open receiver. Manuel this season has been rather dependable throwing the football, completing over 71% of his passes for 8.9 yards per attempt for 525 yards. Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin lead the team with 10 catches each and each has 140 or more yards with two TDs. Rodney Smith has six grabs for 100+ yards and two TDs, though one of his catches went 61 yards and skews the average.

Like the run, FSU's passing attack vs Clemson's defense scares me. Our front has generated little pressure. FSU's OTs were beaten by WF a few times, so there is hope for improvement here. Our secondary play has been pitiful to this point and I wouldn't blame FSU if they just lined up and heaved bombs down the field. If the play we saw the first three games was an indication, most passes would either (A) be completed against blown coverage or (B) result in a pass interference penalty. Either way, these guys will attack Clemson's safeties (especially Brewer) and I suspect will hit up a big play or two (or more) throughout this game simply because of their talent and our apparent ineptness covering the forward pass. The coaches discussed Rashard Hall at times last week. Venables commented along the lines that he was rusty from time off recovering from his off-season surgery but steadily earning more PT. I am not sure his return would completely shore up the issues we've seen in the secondary, but is surely couldn't hurt. Hall still doesn't physically look like the player he was before the injury. That was a bad injury and it would be unrealistic to expect such a quick recovery. We do know he plays smart and knows what he is doing and blown coverages have been tough on the Tiger defense so far.

We watched the Oklahoma performance (1 video is below) against Florida State to have an idea of what BV would bring to Tallahassee. He's faced them several times now and stifled their offense. Last year, FSU could not run the ball inside well at all. They didn't do a good job of it against us, and seemed to have struggled with it over a few years. Those great teams of the 90s could always kill you with a Draw or off-tackle run, but JImbo's teams haven't shown that they can kill us with it. They certainly didn't against OU last year, running for 26 yards on 27 carries. OU's LBs were all over the place, and when FSU gave up running it, Venables blitzed the hell out of Manuel. FSU fans will constantly remind you that Manuel went down, but the score was 13-3 OU when he did.

Most of the pressures were fire zones and regular M2M blitzes, with primarily C3 behind them. This is not inconsistent with what Clemson has shown as its base defense this year, though we have not shown a large variety of zone pressures. That will change.

When FSU sticks in the base personnel groupings, i.e., 21/22 sets, then Clemson will line up just like last year: the Under front. Otherwise expect to see us in our G-front Stack sets and walk Christian out. Christian had a good game last weekend, and we expect him to play more this week, and at the same level. We will need the 3rd LB in there because of the running threat Thompson poses. When they spread us out with 10/11 personnel, we'll play Nickel.

Will Manuel be able to read the defense and make the accurate decisions? That is really the question. Clemson is going to stack the box on early downs: we've had 8 or 9 in there at times so far. If FSU can run the ball against that, it won't matter what Manuel does. If they cant, then we aren't certain he can read a defense well enough to win it with his arm.

On the defensive side of the football, I will again refer you to the expert analysis at Tomahawk Nation. This is a good item crafted prior to Stoops' first season in Tallahassee and is very thorough. This article is best summarized via the following:

If I could summarize Stoops defensive philosophy, it would be to be extremely assignment sound by virtue of stressing fundamentals and details. The defense will concede short passing gains on early downs and will endeavor not to allow the big play. Stoops wants to force teams to consistently execute with precision down the field over and over again (not allowing the big play). Stopping the run is the focus on early downs. The goal is to play with great leverage and force the offense into unfavorable leverage situations. On "passing downs" expect to see some form of pressure with zone coverage behind it, forcing the quarterback to think instead of react.

As we've discussed previously, this is a defense that bases out of a stacked 4-3 set, and is predominantly Cover 2/3-based. FSU runs alot of Over and Undershifted fronts, but they do not blitz as often as the old Andrews' defenses did. They aren't necessarily read and react either. We expect to see a mix of coverage this week, and FSU has plenty of defensive talent to implement a wide variety of strategies. To say that their defense is "multiple" would be correct but, like their offense, be prepared to see all sorts of looks and packages. The amount of talent at Stoops' disposal pretty much lets him call what he wants with (seemingly) limitless creativity. The one binding factor for Stoops is that Clemson's spread formations and fast paced offensive attack will force him to keep the fifth defensive back on the field at all times--like all of CU's other opponents. Their goal will be to limit the big plays out of Clemson and make this Clemson offense and Tajh Boyd drive methodically down the field. You'll recall that they gave up quite a few points to our Tigers last year but were extremely successful the week prior to that game against a talented and upbeat Oklahoma offense.

Florida State is very talented defensively--nothing earth shattering about that statement. They have completely shifted away from the defensive fiasco we saw in Andrews' last seasons (and, to be fair, a lot of that crap wasn't Andrews fault but guys like Chuck the Chest showing out and getting his guys away from good fundamental football) and are playing detailed, (mostly) zone-based schemes but have the ability and have been coached to show tons of looks and implement many items. We will see Saturday just how good this widely praised defense really is when it faces this explosive Clemson offense.

Last season FSU inexplicably stuck with M2M C1 and C2 against us, despite being zone-based. They went back to zone in most of the subsequent games and tightened up a lot. This season, against 2 patsies and WF, they've also shown more man coverage. You can play man against patsies who have no weapons to test your coverage, so we expect them to go back to zone.

But if Mark Stoops wants to play C1 and C2 man against Clemson we have one thing to say: Go right ahead Buddy.

FSU up front is pretty doggone good--likely the best we'll see this season. Clemson had an effective outing against a good Auburn defensive line and, to be successful, we'll need similar success. Florida State, however, is much better at this point than Auburn. Auburn's DTs did not push the pocket when the Ends got too much depth in the backfield. FSU end Bjoern Werner is leading the nation in sacks at this point. Against AU, Clemson looked better run blocking than protecting Boyd but the AU front was gassed in the 4th quarter. I am not sure what to take from Furman/Ball State because they are simply not big time football good. We discussed the OL participation to date and will be watching to see just how much confidence the coaches have in the reserves this week. The staff played the starters all game against Auburn and I am betting on more of the same tomorrow. All starters are healthy and will play.

Swinney on Timothy vs Werner:

"You have to put yourself in good position, first of all. Landon (Walker) did a decent job with him last year, but he was a very experienced, knowledgeable player and he kept himself in position. And that's the first thing you've got to do. If you hesitate or you're late off the ball, don't kick properly, you're in trouble with a guy like that. That's where it starts, just really being sound technically and staying in position to execute.

"And we've got to do things to keep him out of rhythm. If it becomes a game where they can just pin their ears back and go get the quarterback, it's probably not been a very good day."

Clemson has to give Boyd time to throw and will be pressed by the FSU front four plus a a blitzer occasionally, but they are primarily going to rely on just the down linemen. How the offensive line responds here will largely dictate how big of a day Sammy and Nuk have. Regardless, Clemson should be able to establish the run, either inside or outside on sweeps and misdirection. It'll be tough slogging either way. In addition to being better at run blocking up front in limited action this year, Clemson features Andre Ellington whose praises I've been discussing here for years. Give Andre even a slight crease and he will make you pay.

The X-factor in the run game will be Tajh Boyd running the ball and Sammy Watkins on fly sweeps. Boyd has been effective running it so far, and thats a weapon that defenses do not account well for. If the defense backs up in zone, he could be able to get a few yards in crucial situations. Also, if we can set the edge on the perimeter or slow down the pursuit of the linebackers with misdirection, Sammy can take one to the house. Clemson has adopted the West Va. fly sweep play that is actually a pass instead of a handoff, and look for its usage much more this week.

Depth and range are two words I've heard this week regarding the FSU defensive backfield. This group has been largely untested to date and that should change if Tajh gets time to throw the football. Corner Xavier Rhodes and Safety Lamarcus Joyner are the two names that stand out on everyone's radar. These Juniors have been battle tested and will get tested again this weekend. An interesting note is Free Safety Terrance Brooks. Neither he nor Joyner breaks the 200 lb mark which, intuitively, makes me think a couple things. Yes these guys are more nimble (not sure that is the best word for a football player, but whatever) so they should be able to cover more ground (hence the range portion of the equation). The give away has to be in run support and flat out laying the hammer to the opposing player. I've been told this is not the case and will watch to see how physical these guys are all game long. The depth portion is the item I'll question. FSU lost cover CB Greg Reid prior to the season and has a lot of youngsters (Fr. and So.) in the two deep. Now I will not argue that Reid was a jam-up, jelly-tight corner, but I will say that he was a starter (well, projected starter) this season for a reason. This loss, at least early on, should tax the younger guys (I believe his replacement is Nick Waisome (So.) whose backup is Ronald Darby (Fr.)).

How FSU chooses to cover both Watkins and Hopkins will be interesting to watch. Maybe FSU is just so good up front that they can play dime and bracket them both. That is not how I think it will play out, though. Thus, we will likely see more zone in an attempt to keep their DBs from getting into situations where they are on an island with either of these guys. Somebody like Martavis Bryant could really take the top off and free things up, if he comes ready to play and be physical this week. Brandon Ford could settle in behind the underneath coverage and pick things up, but I think experience shows that Jaron Brown will be the Man over the middle.

Clemson piled up 86 plays for 455 yards, 26 1st downs, and was 9/17 on 3rd down at home last year. We probably won't repeat that, but that Seminole defense was well thought of too. We're not scared. AE is fully healthy, he wasn't last year. The OL blocks better inside. Boyd has seemingly matured as a passer. We'll have more window dressing for this game but its still old fashioned power football. Run the ball, hit Sammy, get a few shots deep.

Our tempo is going to be the #1 weapon. No matter how we look at it, it comes back to this. If FSU can't sub, then they will get tired, but we can't have 3 & outs.

We consider the special teams for both sides to be advantage: push. Both are good, and with kickoffs now seemingly useless, its hard to judge the coverages. We're confident in Clemson's punting and placekicking, and they should be just fine there too. Pinion can punt a ball 50-60 yards and we've seen Benton hit 61 on a FG, plus Catman hasn't missed anything. Punt returns could decide one TD in this game, and that would be big for either.

Folks, this is one that you point to as a make or break game for one team. I will be honest, I am not surprised that Clemson is the dog this weekend in Tallahassee but am surprised the folks in Vegas opened this thing at CU +13 and it has risen to CU +14.5 at the time I typed this (odds link, in case you are interested). This seems like a sucker bet to me (as I wouldn't give up 14 points here) but that isn't the point of bringing this item out. What this really says is that Vegas collectively thinks that Florida State's defense will be effective enough to limit the Clemson offense (likely through dominance up front) and Clemson's defense is pure garbage and will get shredded by the 'Noles. Let's hope the guys in the desert are wrong this week.

Surely Cimarron must be worth a TD though right? The homoeroticism alone must intimidate opponents to protecting their asses more than attacking FSU. Perhaps Vegas is taking this into account.

Here is more basic information regarding the two teams, series history, and this matchup courtesy CUAD.


2012 Wake @ Clemson

2011 FSU @ Clemson

2011 FSU @ Oklahoma