I could write a piece that glowingly basks in the joy of toppling our division foe for the fourth straight time, handing FSU its worst home loss at Doak Campbell ever (tied with a 49 point shutout loss to UF in 1973, curse you garbage time TD!!). I could write about how Clemson and FSU are now actual rivals (Clemson leads 10-6 in the past 16 games, but FSU leads 20-12 overall), rather than Clemson wanting to be perceived as FSU’s rival, constantly chasing. I could gloat about pay back for the 51-14 Death Valley home loss in 2013 (the worst loss of the BV defensive era).
But watching this game made me realize that this team has bigger fish to fry, larger competition to focus on. This is the deepest and most talented defensive line in the Dabo Swinney era (no offense to legends Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley). This team has an explosive RB and gobs of WR talent. It has an emergent 5* freshman QB who can sling it in such a manner that even Brock Huard was effusive with the ooh and ahh’s watching the young prodigy. I’m sorry, but with all this talent I’m focused on building towards Bama/playoff competition.
FSU was never going to beat Clemson in its current state. Just too many unforced and forced errors. This offense looks like Babers first year at Syracuse and Brent Venables feasts on RPO spread systems that are vanilla schematically. Babers completely revamped his system and I don’t think Willie T has that kind of reinvention in himself as a coach. But to FSU’s credit, the first quarter is illustrative of the kinds of challenges Clemson needs to overcome to play championship football.
List of FSU errors
- So many penalties, especially the false starts and the formation penalties this late in the season (unforced, unless you count our Dline intimidation)
- Samuels roughs the kicker after Huegel missed it, giving the offense a new set of downs that leads to a score (unforced)
- DJ Matthews muffs a punt, setting up a Clemson score (unforced)
- Punches (unforced)
- Targeting on Hamsah Nasirildeen, one of FSU’s best and most physical secondary defenders (unforced)
- Snap over Francois’s head, eliminating all of the FSU rushing yards (unforced)
- Tre Lamar interception (forced)
- Dropped passes, a lot of them... (mostly unforced)
- That backpack, aptly called the ‘Dora the Explorer backpack’ by Antonio Cromartie (unforced)
- Etc etc.
I just point this out to say that Clemson was aided by a lot of errors and miscues.
No turnovers from Trevor Lawrence and no fumbles. The RBs are doing a great job of not fumbling and TL does not put balls in jeopardy.
The offense struggled in the first quarter. Particularly the run game and the interior offensive line. The game was knotted at 0-0 at the end of the first quarter with Clemson struggling to run the ball and handle the interior pressure. Massive man Robert Cooper (6’2, 375) was stuffing the run and getting pressure on Trevor Lawrence. Christmas and Marvin Wilson were also getting pressure at DT.
Lets start with the positive. The Oline did a really good job of pass blocking and not busting or giving free releases. The first two drives were a bit sketchy, but Brian Burns is a handful and the Oline performed admirably. I thought this was one of Mitch Hyatt’s better games and Anchrum got tasked with Burns much of the day. They lined up Burns on Anchrum and despite a couple of false starts, he settled in.
I also really loved the velocity on the snaps from Cervenka. TL got the ball out fast and when everything was covered he did a better job of getting out of the pocket and throwing the ball away. This helped the pass blocking. I also didn’t see any major communication issues with the line where guys completely busted on protections. Defensive players were getting passed off with line stunts. Congrats to Cervenka on his first career start.
Jackson Carman continues his progression and at this rate he should be ready to compete for and take the starting role next year. Still needs some work on his steps in pass pro at times, but once he sheds that last ten pounds he has a higher ceiling than Mitch.
Run blocking needs to improve. Against NC State and FSU, large DTs have completely clogged the A gap running. Two straight games. I know Falcinelli and Pollard were out, but Cervenka has been a de facto starter/rotating player at RG and Cade Stewart was a starter earlier in the season. Run blocking is their specialty as well (making their pass blocking in this game all the more positive). I agree with Swinney that on the first two drives ETN was missing some small creases, but he needs more space. We went from 300 yard running game monsters with ETN as a Heisman candidate to barely scraping together three yards a carry. The BC line will be another test (we should be able to run the ball with ease against all the remaining defensive lines).
Trevor Lawrence starts games too amped up. He missed long and high on a couple of deep balls to begin the game. On his first deep ball he had Tee Higgins wide open on a play action and missed it by a good five yards. On the third down he skied the ball over the head of Ross.
But TL is starting to see the field even better. He is starting to command the offense, distributing the ball, and the coaches are also learning what he likes to do. Still needs to improve the deep ball accuracy in games, but it will come (because he hits them in practice with regularity). I wouldn’t mind seeing three straight deep balls in a row against Louisville just to iron out the timing.
I’ve said this before but note the velocity and speed on the balls to the flats that make the RPO machine go. Quick reads and balls getting out at warp speed make the offense click (as opposed to FSU where the reads at QB are slower or Kelly Bryant’s ball getting to WRs much later). WR’s don’t have to hold blocks as long and they don’t have to worry about getting hit before the ball arrives or just as it arrives.
Through some conversations I’ve had it is clear that Kelly Bryant might have done this team a favor. Again, everyone should honor and respect Kelly B, but has enough time passed so that I can say that this was one of those blessings in disguise? The WR’s on the team are certainly not looking back. The team has completely rallied behind TL.
Perhaps my favorite moment in the game was seeing TL clapping a bunch with a devious smile on his face when Nasirildeen was kicked out for targeting after tackling with the crown and getting extra tangled with TL. That is the competitive Christian rock side of the TLaw. The Oline quickly had TL’s back.
When Nasirildeen got kicked out and LB Jackson went down to injury, things started to unravel quickly for the defense. It obviously got ugly once TL took over.
Florida State was extremely chirpy and increasingly chippy as the game progressed. Clemson has developed its own brand of attitude over the past couple of years. Clemson won’t initiate, but we doesn’t back down at all. This week will be on tape for the ACC refs to see, so Clemson needs to be careful, but can’t say I mind it at all. Wallace didn’t back down to Akers, Ferrell and Bryant got on Wilkins for helping Francois up, Wilkins was at it all game, the team backed up TL after Nasirildeen wouldn’t let go. Mark Fields probably should’ve been given a personal foul too with Murray (but I’m actually surprised at Fields level of restraint). I saw Eberle trying to rough up Spector late in the game.
Garrett Williams has supplanted Milan Richard as the starter. I loved his H-back handoff at the goal-line. Can we run that as a regular play once a game? GW can run the ball, he did it really well in high school. Love rewarding the FSU legacy.
The only player other than Lyn-J Dixon (65 snaps) who needs to see the field more (pretty much on the entire team), is Braden Galloway. Galloway only got 12 snaps in the game and sits at 68 for the season. As a true freshman burning a redshirt, he needs to get over 100 snaps, but if we want to use him as a post season weapon then he needs those snaps with TL. Chalk is at 63 for the season and had 14 in this game. Galloway did drop a ball, uncharacteristically, in this game that would have been a nice gain over the middle of the field.
Christian Wilkins is currently our most efficient RB on the roster. He is 1/1 catching the ball with a TD and has yet to be tackled as a ball carrier this season. Seriously though, I love this variation of the super jumbo package. Wilkins was two steps in the endzone before he jumped on some FSU defenders.
You know Wilkins will pass the ball sometime soon, but give me the super beef package with Wilkins on short yardage. You hear me Bama??
The wide receivers on this team are stepping up. Justyn Ross has been dealing with a hamstring, which is why he didn’t try to beat FSU’s DB Meyers to the endzone.
Tee Higgins have yourself a game. I was most impressed by his YAC yards and effort to carry defenders. That toughness is key. In the four wide sets Tee got matched up against Safeties in the red zone. Good night. Great passes and touch by TL. Also loved Higgins showing some shake in the open field, making FSU defenders look silly.
Amari Rodgers showed his speed and why we were so high on him coming out of high school. He tracks the ball much better than former ‘2’ WRs at Clemson and catching the ball in stride, full speed finally shows some of that ability. Rodgers is faster than he plays on some of the jet sweep action. Good to see his confidence return and the chemistry with TL continue to emerge. That throw from TL is what the kids call a frozen rope I am told.
Congrats to Florida native TJ Chase on his TD catch.
That bunch formation just isn’t going to cut it against BV. Simmons throws McKitty to the side to attack Murray on the second play of the game and a TFL. Set the tone (along with all the QB hits).
Shoutout to Albert Huggins who made some money this week for his future NFL career. He has largely kept his head down and worked despite being a reserve for almost all his time at Clemson (and he came in as a big time top 100 recruit we courted down to the wire).
Jordan Williams with a sack. Love getting him these reps.
XT is special, but his sack per snap rate is getting ridiculous.
Tanner Muse with the best gut shot to a QB I have ever seen—just try and flag that!! Wallace shouldn’t have been flagged because he made initial and primary contact to just above the groin.
Congrats to Tre Lamar on the interception. Showed some nice speed on the return. Increasingly he is going to have a decision to make at the end of the season about potentially leaving for the NFL.
A few negatives to think about. Francois is just inaccurate, but there were passes to be completed and a bunch of balls were dropped by FSU WR’s who were open (Murray and Gavin both had throws go right through their hands in the first Q that should have been first downs). FSU WR Terry, in particular, was able to get more receptions on Mullen than any other WR he has faced all year.
Those windows need to get even tighter against a team like Bama who has three super elite WR’s, a pass catching athletic TE, and a QB behind a great Oline that is very accurate and spreads the ball around to whoever is open. But I think the gameplan involved making sure there were no explosive plays over the top given up since FSU couldn’t sustain any drives.
Overall, yet another blowout has been great for keeping the team fresh. Reserves are starting to hit that 100 snap mark. Nolan Turner had 50 snaps in this game (I did a double take). In the first half FSU averaged 1.7 yards per play.
Kickoff coverage was on point. XT is a cheat code. Anthony Grant took the original punt out of the endzone and was swallowed up. FSU thought twice before doing that again (and FSU isn’t bad at returning kicks). Every week I am really happy BT Potter is on our team.
Hope Huegel is completely fine after getting run into. I’m sure that brought back some bad memories. He did get back in the game. BT Potter stepped in and performed just fine.
Fourteen yard punt?? Really? Spiers looked better with the rugby punt.
Rodgers and DK are starting to excel as returners. I was going to pick on punt return team players giving free releases, but I will save it.
Louisville should be a 40 point victory. Everybody stay healthy.