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Blue Chip Depth Chart Analysis: Florida State at Clemson Preview

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Clemson is a win away from their third-straight Atlantic title.

Clemson v Florida State Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Clemson heads home following a gutsy Textile Bowl victory as 18-point favorites over rival FSU. Florida State is ultra-talented, but has not converted that talent into many wins as they sit at just 3-5 with victories over Duke, Wake Forest, and Syracuse (last week). Florida State has a 35-year bowl streak on the line. A loss to Clemson would be their sixth of the season, and with a cancellation of their contest against LA-Monroe that streak can end. The Noles won’t roll over.

Before we delve into our analysis of the contest, here’s our usual explanation and caveat:

We've divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the two-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 two-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, Eric Dungey) as well as those who underperform their star ratings. Additionally, there are occasions where the less talented team wins (e.g., 2017 Clemson v. Syracuse), but there are exponentially more examples where the more talented team wins (e.g., 2009-2017 Clemson vs. Wake Forest). As such, this is only one portion of the analysis we will publish on the upcoming game, but we hope it’s an especially informative one.

I was pleasantly surprised to see for the first time since we’ve published these articles that Clemson holds an advantage on either side of the ball. It speaks volumes to how far Clemson has come (and to a lesser extent, how FSU has faltered a bit).

Coming into the season, we saw some weaknesses along FSU’s line and with their WRs. These weaknesses have been exposed more than we could have ever imagined. Clemson has allowed 18 sacks this season. A bit disappointing. It ties them with Texas Tech and a few others for 69th in the country. Florida State is dramatically worse though. With 25 sacks, they’re 119th in the nation in total sacks (despite cancelling a game, they’re also 119th in sacks allowed per game).

Surely the blame isn’t only on the O-line. Receivers need to get rid open quicker and Blackman needs to make quicker decisions, but that’s just atrocious and the biggest problem statistics reveal about FSU. Interestingly, Clemson and FSU each average 3.60 starts along their O-line. This really underscores just how crucial it is to recruit depth along the O-line. There are just so many highly recruited offensive lineman that don’t seem to transition well to the next level. We’ve had our share. FSU is the point and case about recruiting numbers on the O-line, a mantra of STS writer QuackingTiger that has become largely shared among all our writers.

Florida State averages just 193 passing yards per game, which puts them below LSU and BYU. They’re going to beat you with Cam Akers if they are going to win. He went off for 199 yards in a win over Syracuse last week. Shutting him down will surely be the focus of Coach Venables’ game plan. If Clemson’s defense can put FSU in obvious passing situations, they should be victimize the porous ‘Nole O-line with a heavy dose of blitzes.

I hesitate to cite the S&P+ again, because their rankings don’t pass the eye test right now, but FSU ranks just 108th on offense and that passes the eye test.

Their defense ranks 27th (S&P+) though and it’s extremely talented:

It’s still Florida State after all. The talent didn’t suddenly disappear. Derwin James leads an incredibly talented defensive backfield for the Seminoles. Last week against Syracuse, he showed blitz near the line of scrimmage, then bailed out to cover a receiver and snared an interception. He is one of four (!) former five-star recruits in the two-deep of their secondary. This is the recruiting area where Clemson is still catching up and it’s obvious by the chart.

Florida State’s defense, despite the talent, is not as good as Clemson’s by any measure. The Tigers allow 305 yards and 15.1 points per game compared to 362 yards and 24.3 points per game for FSU. The Tigers are second in the nation in team sacks while FSU is 86th.

Boston College completed a grand total of 7 passes in a 35-3 demolition of the Seminoles a few weeks ago. FSU has an immensely talented secondary, but their defensive front couldn’t stop Boston College RB A.J. Dillon.

As expected, Clemson has looked better running the ball than passing so this matchup bodes well for the Tigers. Let Feaster and Etienne attack this defense. On the flip side, Clemson’s pass defense looks a bit weak as three cornerbacks are less than 100%. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Seminole’s offense isn’t built to attack this potential weakness.

While Clemson must improve their passing offense and passing defense (i.e., get healthy) to accomplish their biggest goals of the year (ACC and National Championships), this week, to clinch the ACC Atlantic, a ground and pound attack coupled with their usual run stuffing defense should be enough. Clemson may not cover an 18-point spread, but they should collect their third-straight win in the series.