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Clemson at Florida State: Depth Chart Blue Chip Preview/Analysis

Once again, we compare the original recruiting ratings of our opponent’s depth chart to our own for a perspective into this weekend’s matchup.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, we've divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the 2-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the 2-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating regardless of scheme.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over-perform their original star rating (e.g., Hunter Renfrow, Lamar Jackson) and as well as those who underperform their star ratings. As such, this is only one portion of the analysis we will publish on the upcoming game, but we hope this is an informative one.

There are only two games on Clemson’s 2016 schedule in which they don’t have a decided advantage in recruited talent. The first was a week one trip to Auburn. Fortunately, the Plainsmen hadn’t figured out their QB situation and the ACC Tigers, despite some sluggishness on offense, made the plays necessary to get a road win against a talented SEC foe.

Now the Tigers will go to Florida State, a team with great skill position player talent and a boat load of top notch recruits in the secondary and on the D-line. We’ll break down each position group, but first let’s look back to last week and see if there is anything we learned from the Tigers ugly win against NC State that may apply this week.

One advantage we highlighted in Clemson’s matchup with NC State was Clemson’s D-line vs. NCSU’s O-line. To some extent, we saw this come to fruition as NC State had almost no time when dropping back in the pocket, but an overall excellent game plan from NCSU OC Eliah Drinkwitz negated much of that advantage. The Wolfpack relied on uber talented RB Matt Dayes to stretch runs outside and find cutback lines. Their QB took quick easy outside throws before the Tiger D-line could make an impact.

Matt Dayes is an elite RB. I said that a week ago and caught some flak for the assertion, but I think you’d have a hard time finding five RBs you’d rather have. That said, one of those five would be FSU’s Dalvin Cook.

NC State found some room to run on stretch plays. While few running backs have the speed/power/vision combo Dayes has to take it outside or find the cutback lane, Dalvin Cook may be one of the few who has it in spades. Even against Clemson’s excellent defensive line, a player like Dalvin Cook is scary. So with that said, let’s take a look at each offense:

Both teams have talented, but maybe under-performing offensive lines. Clemson has the advantage at QB, though both were 24/7 4-star recruits. The skill position talent is about even, especially when you consider Hunter Renfrow is listed as a 2-star, but plays far above that level. If he was listed as a 3-star, the skill position talent would be dead even at 3.80.

Oddly, Florida State's offense has performed a bit better so far this season. FSU is #8 in the S&P+ offensive rankings while Clemson - thanks to turnovers - is down at #24. The Tigers have lost 8 fumbles this year which ties them for 116th in the country. FSU has only 5 lost fumbles. The Tigers have 8 interceptions while FSU has just 4.

That said, there is reason Tiger fans should feel optimistic when comparing these offenses. While FSU has torched some bad defenses, against the three decent defenses they faced (Louisville, Miami, and Wake Forest) they haven’t topped 20 points. Additionally, the Tigers are converting at a nice 49% clip on third down (45% for FSU) and are averaging nearly the same yards per play (6.2 for Clemson, 6.3 for FSU). While it’s somewhat disappointing that Clemson has sometimes struggled to put up eye-popping numbers against mediocre defenses like Troy (S&P #36) and Georgia Tech (S&P+ #42), I think it’s more concerning that FSU has stumbled against all three respectable defenses they’ve faced.

Now, on to the defense:

The Tigers are more talented on the D-line, while FSU has recruited a bit better at LB and a good bit better in the secondary (note: FSU secondary ratings include 5-star Ermon Lane who was moved from WR to S mid-season). Credit to Florida State, they’ve really strung together some amazing talent from Xavier Rhodes to Jalen Ramsey to Derwin James.

Alex Craft will be publishing a must read film analysis article on their defense later this week. It’s a fascinating case, because they’ve largely struggled their way to a #46 ranking in the S&P+.

The most interesting matchup may be the Tigers skill players going up a talented, but underperforming FSU secondary that will again be without all-world safety Derwin James.

The Tigers come in with a bevy of playmakers who have seemed to get over early season issues with drops. Now they’ve found a new issue with fumbles that they’ll need to solve, but are making plays when they absolutely have to be made. The sliding TD catch by Artavis Scott in overtime against NC State was a classic example of making a big time play when we absolutely had to have it. Expectations are so high we almost don’t notice those plays, but they’re still there.

FSU’s secondary had some big struggles early on, but have been better lately since simplifying some of their schemes and utilizing more man coverage. They have the raw talent to run man defense against anybody and that’s probably their best bet against the Tigers. We saw Auburn do it to decent success (excluding Mike Williams winning on back shoulder throws). That said, man defense could allow Watson to find some open grass to run with DBs not keeping an eye on the QB. Maybe this will be the first game this season in which he exceeds 100 yards rushing.

Clemson’s skill players seem a bit closer to "clicking" than FSU’s secondary, particularly with the injuries the ‘Noles face on defense. FSU may slow down the Tiger running backs, but Watson is primed to beat them through the air if they play zone or on the ground if they play man. Couple that with having the the more dominant defense line, and I like Clemson to get their first win in Tallahassee since 2006, 28-20.

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Clemson [Grilled Shrimp Sliders: shrimp, avocado, mango, paprika mayo, scotch bonnet hot sauce, brioche roll]