This game is everything. This is the game to which I peeked ahead all year no matter what players and coaches said. You noticed I included a lot of FSU film in my previous opponent previews, not coincidentally. Sure, the Seminoles offered the closest representation of Clemson's talent against our common opponents, but I looked ahead because FSU is in my head. They're on top of this league until we do something about it. THIS IS THE BEER TRUCK GAME AND IT IS EVERYTHING.
DABO GETTIN' OFF THE BUS AND COMIN' DOWN THE HILL LIKE STONE COLD IN THE BEER TRUCK Y'ALL.
NOLES CARRYIN' THE BELT AROUND BUT DABO IS STONE COLD FORGET DRIVIN' THE BEER TRUCK THROUGH A WALL I'LL RUN THROUGH IT MYSELF HEADFIRST.
With more rain in the forecast, I want to plug my reaction to the atmosphere vs Notre Dame. The Tigers need another earth-shattering environment from you, and after your all-time performance in a much worse storm on October 3rd, I know you won't disappoint. This game is everything, and it's in Death Valley.
In my September preview of the Louisville game, I outlined the Louisville offense under the direction of anticipated starter Lamar Jackson, not Kyle Bolin. Bolin got the start and played almost the entire game, leaving my preview utterly useless. Jimbo Fisher played the same game this week, and we likely won't know the starter until Saturday. I won't fall into that trap again, and want to show you how Fisher adapted (read: handcuffed) his offense to accommodate Everett Golson's slow learning curve versus how the offense looked last week against Syracuse with Sean Maguire at the helm.
Georgia Tech's middling defense held FSU to one touchdown. How?
First of all, The FSU offensive line had another bad night. Multiple penalties in the form of false starts, holds, and hands to the face in addition to the busts inexperienced or unready linemen often make. Golson felt hurried even when the pocket was relatively clean. This is probably every Seminole's biggest concern against Clemson: if GT's front and crowd were so problematic, how can they possibly handle Clemson's?
.gifs courtesy of ESPN and YouTube users GT Bob and Cine Funk Media.
Adam Gotsis lived in the backfield, Golson couldn't do much but scramble or throw quick checkdowns, and Dalvin Cook wasn't 100% healthy. FSU's only touchdown against GT came on a 2 yard drive after an interception return.
Additionally, you must forgive the coachspeak but Fisher really simplified the offense for Golson. He is an outstanding scrambler and throws with excellent velocity, but lacks accuracy and awareness on downfield throws. His pocket presence is shaky, meaning he is easily flushed or rushes his throws in anticipation of pressure.
It was clear he could not process FSU's traditional offense in one summer like Maguire did over time (more on him later), and the progressions with Golson at QB are limited to one side of the field or single reads. Thus, FSU's passing game with Golson is far more horizontal and intermediate; evidenced by Golson's 6.76 air yards per attempt -- a number inflated by longer throws over the first 4 games. This is why Golson has all but eliminated the turnover woes from his time at Notre Dame, but if he is asked to throw downfield against Clemson, the Tigers have to like their chances.
Above, a glimpse at the simplicity of FSU's passing game with Golson. After one downfield read, there's a quick check, which GT was all over. Notice Gotsis abuses the center here as well. Below, another single downfield read before an immediate check to Cook. You can see that Golson only looked to patterns on his left, when he had a tight end open for a possible first down on his right.
Below, Golson attempts a downfield throw, but you'll notice it is his primary read the entire way. The post route is open, but Golson throws high. Clemson's safeties are too good for Golson to get away with locking on one downfield receiver or an inaccurate throw, not to mention both on the same play like he did here.
With Golson, the offense is strategically handicapped. They'll run plenty of inside zone and stretch plays regardless of quarterback, but unless the initial deep read is open and Golson can hit it, the Noles passing game will mostly consist of underneath and intermediate attempts to stress Clemson's linebackers in space -- which happens to be the weakness of this defense. But is that enough to beat Clemson and the elements in Death Valley?
Maguire provides the typical FSU passing threat, but can he survive Clemson's pressure?
Golson missed last week's Syracuse game with a concussion, so Maguire started and performed well just in time to necessitate a quarterback contingency plan by Clemson's defensive staff. The offense was beautifully balanced, with strong runs from Jacques Patrick (a violent momentum runner like Wayne Gallman) and deep play action off of it. This was the best the Noles downfield passing game looked all year, and it is clear Fisher trusts Maguire to operate his system after multiple years in the program.
The drawback with Maguire? He can't scramble like Golson can, so the offensive line problems are far more, well, problematic:
The left guard got matador'd and nearly got Maguire killed. After struggling to bring down Jacoby Brissett last week (but still sacking him 5 times) Clemson's front 7 would smell blood in the water with Maguire standing behind this offensive line.
On the other hand, Golson hasn't shown this sort of downfield accuracy: What's more, Maguire stood and took a shot upon delivery. His pocket presence is much better than Golson's; he climbs in the pocket and delivers his passes without letting the rush bother him before the hit arrives.
Above is another example of Maguire's effectiveness in the pocket. Golson likely evades the rush and scrambles for a few yards, but Maguire keeps his eyes downfield for a chunk play.
FSU went deep early and often against Syracuse, with great success. Before you think Maguire will light the world on fire, his second TD was a complete bust in quarters coverage by the Cuse safeties.
Nevertheless, Maguire saw it and delivered an accurate deep ball. Golson has yet to do either consistently.
Which Quarterback should Clemson want to face?
There are pros and cons for both Golson and Maguire. Golson is more likely to improvise effectively when FSU's offensive line breaks down, but the offense may become one dimensional without a consistent passing threat. Maguire's cognizance and ability as a distributor gives the Seminoles balance and make him the clear choice with a better offensive line, but what can he do without adequate protection against incessant pressure and a good secondary?
I feel Maguire gives FSU the best chance to win, simply because Clemson is too athletic and well-coached in the secondary to give Golson the openings he needs to hit receivers downfield. The Tigers' front 7 would chase Golson down more often than not. Clemson will focus first on stopping the run no matter the quarterback, but Maguire gives FSU a chance through the air that Golson does not. Maguire is not the second coming of Jameis Winston and will take some hits, but the passing threat should make it easier to run and thus make his life easier in the pocket.
Before concluding, a few tidbits on what to expect from FSU's defense. Josh Sweat vs Mitch Hyatt will be a crucial matchup for years to come, and Charone Peake vs Jalen Ramsey in the boundary may be more important for Clemson's running game than the passing game. Both players excel at perimeter blocking and fighting off blocks, respectively.
Contrary to the way most teams handled Clemson's offense thus far, I expect FSU to load up against Gallman and our running game more than we've seen from opponents this year due to their faith in the secondary. FSU is weaker up the middle than outside, so the Noles will probably try to compensate for it with numbers in the running game.
Past opponents feared Watson and our receivers, but FSU has the athletes out wide to match us downfield. The emergence of the Clemson running game is something of a revelation and defenses have slowly adapted to try and defend it, which allowed Deshaun Watson to recently look like the Heisman contender we all expected. He must deliver against an FSU defense which will dare our receivers to beat their corners.
As usual, the more balanced team will win this game. This bodes well for the nearly flawless Clemson offense of late, but FSU has athletes all over the field and it is unreasonable to expect the same production we saw against Miami and NC State. Watson will have his opportunities if FSU offers Gallman the respect that I anticipate they will, but if Gallman finds yards anyway, buckle up. For FSU, balance is likewise the key. Golson likely won't provide much without help from Clemson mistakes, and Maguire is limited by the offensive line.
In a game in which both teams need balance to sustain success, you have to like Watson's efficiency over either FSU QB, and Clemson's OL more than FSU's (never thought I'd say that, ever). Patrick is more than capable if Cook is not at full strength, but like his quarterback, needs someone to block consistently. Clemson has been the better team all year, this time mistakes won't cost them the chance to prove it head-to-head.
The number 1 team in America runs down the Hill Saturday afternoon. Greet them appropriately. This game is everything. BEER TRUCK.