On Saturday we witnessed Clemson’s most satisfying win of the season thus far, as the Tigers manhandled NC State 41-7. Clemson has an excellent chance to build upon that win this Saturday when they travel to Tallahassee. If they defeat the Seminoles this weekend, the chances of a 4th-straight playoff becomes incredibly favorable. Despite the low public opinion of Florida State’s play, the Seminoles are actually 4-3, and improving. Florida State has also always traditionally out-recruited Clemson, so the Noles have the talent to potentially challenge the Tigers.
Even so, for FSU to keep it close they’ll have to have numerous things go their way. If Clemson wants to avoid a close game against their rivals, and possibly even dominate them on the road, they’ll have to win 3 key matchups.
Clemson’s Tackles vs. Brian Burns
The offensive line’s pass protection has been shaky at times this season. If Clemson wants to consistently move the ball against this defense, it will have to be able to throw the ball. Both Mitch Hyatt and Tremayne Anchrum need to limit the damage that Brian Burns can do while rushing the passer. So far this season, Burns has been an absolute terror, ranking second in the nation in sacks, and leading it in QB pressures.
Brian Burns increased his lead over the rest of the nation's edge defenders in terms of most total pressures this past weekend pic.twitter.com/ctfu9cm2pm— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 24, 2018
Jeff Scott stated earlier this week that Burns was the most explosive pass rusher Clemson has faced since Jadaveon Clowney. That’s an indication of how much respect the coaching staff has for Burns’ ability, and you bet they’ll game-plan to mitigate his impact on the game. With former 5-star DE Joshua Kaindoh out for the first half after a targeting call, the pass rushing workload will fall almost exclusively on Burns. The long, but skinny Defensive End gave the Tigers issues last season, and will likely do so again after having 1.5 sacks or more in 5/7 games this season. Trevor Lawrence will need to be especially alert on Saturday, and the Tackles will have to hold up in pass protection to protect their true Freshman Quarterback.
Clemson’s Defensive Line vs. FSU’s Offensive Line
You couldn’t really think up a much bigger mismatch if you tried. Clemson returned all 4 of its starting Defensive lineman from last season, and has been hyped up as one of the greatest college defensive lines of all time. Meanwhile, FSU’s Offensive line is maybe the worst in the Power 5. It’s been so bad in fact, that the talent FSU actually does have on offense has zero opportunity to shine or succeed. Superstar recruit Cam Akers is averaging a mere 3.75 ypc this season when you take away his one 85 yard run against Virginia Tech.
The Offensive line has long been an issue for FSU, but this season the problem has reached its peak. Going into the year depth was already razor thin, but then over the course of their opening games more lineman were lost to injury. However, as bad as FSU’s Offensive line has played so far this season, this week will be the first time that the Noles have the same set of 5 Offensive Lineman start back to back weeks.
Whether that brings this unit more confidence or not probably doesn’t matter, this is a matchup Clemson needs to ruthlessly exploit. The talent advantage is absolutely massive, and if Clemson’s Defensive Line can control the game, it will make for a comfortable afternoon. It is hard to imagine FSU having much success blocking Clemson’s line, and so the Tigers have few excuses to not generate sacks this weekend. Odds are not looking good Francois’ jersey stays clean.
Trevor Lawrence vs. FSU’s Secondary
Usually a Florida State strong-suit, the Nole secondary has not performed up to par at all this season. FSU is currently 105th in total passing defense, 97th in passing TDs allowed (15), and 113th in passing yards allowed per game (271.3). Over the last 2 games Trevor Lawrence has really come along as a passer, throwing for his first 300 yard game against NC State. This weekend, he will have his first huge road test as a true starter. Although they have been weak as a unit, there is still talent in that Seminole secondary that Trevor must be wary of. If and when FSU creates pressure on Saturday, Lawrence must be careful to be ruthless, but also careful with the ball.
If Lawrence is kept clean, and plays like he did against the Wolfpack last weekend he should have a big day through the air. One matchup in particular he should look for is whenever one of his boundary receivers are lined up opposite of Levonta Taylor. Despite his talent, the cornerback stands at just 5’10, and can be abused by taller pass-catchers such as Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross. Florida State can’t allow the true Freshman to have as much time as he did last weekend if they want to pull off the upset. Clemson has mismatches on the outside and its receivers will be able to get open, Lawrence just has to get the ball there and not make mistakes.
This is a game the Tigers should win by more than one score. Even though FSU has a lot of talent on its team, and is playing in Doak, Clemson is still a far more complete team at this moment. Florida State has a lot to figure out, and although they’re improving, are playing a team with superior talent in the most important matchups on the field. Clemson is very likely the 2nd best team in America right now, and unless Florida State shows us something completely different than what they’ve shown us so far, it should be a fairly easy day for Clemson.