Florida State is having a rough year, ravaged by injuries and coaching turmoil. FSU is also stocked with some of the best athletes on the planet, this is one of very few programs Clemson hasn’t been able to out recruit. Almost every loss has come in a close game. This is a young team in a season no one expected or wanted. They’re doing some soul searching right now, and this youth movement could be a pain for years to come if Jimbo Fisher can right the ship. Expect the conservative to a fault Fisher to empty the playbook. Expect FSU to be focused. Orange pants are out, championship is on the line.
FSU runs a lot of 11, 21 and 12 personnel this year. They’ve alternated between shotgun, pistol and under center. They feature quite a few bunch formations and go unbalanced pretty often.
Meet Cam Akers, he began the season as the backup, but he’s the best freshman running back FSU has had since Dalvin Cook. Akers might even be better. He’s going to be a problem for a while. His vision, acceleration and cutback ability make him especially dangerous on zone runs.
Jacques Patrick, who drew rave reviews in fall camp, began the season as a starter before a knee injury forced Akers into the starting spot. Patrick’s return provides hard nosed running, solid pass blocking and receiving ability out of the backfield, and an upperclassman presence on a young offense. Amir Rasul would not be a third string back anywhere else.
Looking at the offensive line FSU has NFL size and Sun Belt quality. They struggle to run the ball consistently, in short yardage, and with pass protection.
As a bonus, though this is everyone’s fault, FSU at times cannot buy a touchdown in the red zone. The sacks are also somewhat three star freshman (and not early enrollee) quarterback James Blackman’s fault.
Here's the problem, Clemson might not have Dexter Lawrence or Kendall Joseph, and if it does neither will be at full speed. This is going to free up FSU to double team Christian Wilkins. FSU has the tight end and FB talent to make things difficult for the defensive ends as well. The NC State offensive line is better than the FSU offensive line, but we’ve already seen Clemson’s undersized backup defensive tackles struggle against the run. FSU is geared up for this, and may have learned from earlier losses to NC State and Alabama to not abandon the run.
Twenty-one (21 21) passes is the magic number. If FSU has been able to keep Blackman from throwing the ball more than twenty-one times they’ve won, if they haven’t they’ve lost.
Boston College was able to keep this offense to three points by doing three things well. One, they shut down the run. Two they did so by playing aggressively, jumping on the short passes that James Blackman uses as outlets.
Three, when forced into third and long, they bet they could beat the FSU passing game while Harold Landry watched from the sideline. They were correct. They were very correct.
James Blackman is limited (though improving) and surrounded by receiver injuries. Things are so bad Ermon Lane (a former five star receiver) is splitting time at WR and safety. Auden Tate is FSU’s best receiver but has been and will be hampered by injuries. Nyqwan Murray is an explosive, inefficient receiver who is probably targeted too much. They’ve tried just handing the ball to him, but that hasn’t gone well. Blackman is seemingly pathologically incapable of getting the ball to his tight ends, but Ryan Izzo is solid. Blackman is a significantly better passer from the shotgun or pistol than under center. For all his faults (turnovers, sacks, completion percentage) Blackman has a strong arm and nice touch when given time in the pocket.
His receivers (or safeties) can make plays with the ball in their hands. No one on the field forgot how to be talented, program malaise just happens.
If FSU is going to win they’ll need periodic explosive plays from the passing game and a reliable running game. They have the tools to do that and will be emptying the playbook. This is a young team that is geared up, they could surprise everyone. Clemson isn’t going to blow FSU out.