Clemson will do battle with one of two team’s on their schedule with comparable raw talent on their roster: Florida State. As such, we’ve brought back the Depth Chart Analysis to help us preview the game.
If you haven’t read one of our Depth Chart Analyses before, please check out the methodology and disclaimer below before jumping in.
Methodology & Disclaimer:
We’ve divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, starting O-line, and 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. Star-ratings are from Rivals.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over/under perform their star ranking (e.g., Hunter Renfrow). This is exception rather than the rule, and as such, these rankings are useful as one of many analytic tools to help us breakdown the upcoming game.
The most glaring difference in the chart above is at QB, but the 0.40-star gap in the starting offensive lines may be even more explanatory. FSU’s O-line has been bad for the past two years. At 3.8 sacks allowed per game this year, they’re tied for 124th nationally. Part of that can be attributed to their turbo-level tempo that creates more snaps and thus more opportunities for sacks, but even in the most optimistic light they’re having trouble protecting their QB. Here’s how Jon Marchant of Tomahawk Nation explained it in our Q&A:
“...there are just going to be some teams that FSU won’t be able to block up front, and Clemson is one of them. So to you guys the Seminole offensive line may not look very different. The long answer is that they have definitely improved…some. Briles brought with him offensive line coach Randy Clements, who has done a remarkable job improving the base play of this unit, especially in the run game.”
I expect DC Brent Venables to dial up the pressure to try to expose this weakness in pass protection. It’s one of Clemson’s biggest advantages in the game.
As you can see in the offensive chart above, FSU still has skill position talent in spades. This is especially true at RB where both backs in the two-deep (Cam Akers and Khalan Laborn) are former five-star recruits. Their rushing attack has been much improved from last season. Cam Akers’ YPC is up from 4.4 to 5.1 this season. FSU will run tempo and RPO. If they can get Clemson’s defense tired and pound them in the running game, they’ll be thrilled. Of course, this will be dictated by the defense on RPO calls. Nevertheless, FSU will be happy to give it to their talented backs and avoid having Blackman and/or Hornibrook stand in the pocket nervously as Venables sends pressure in the most creative ways possible.
At QB we have Trevor Lawrence versus James Blackman. Lawrence has been good, but not out-of-this-world outstanding this season. He has a 61% completion percentage and a 8-5 TD-INT ratio. Matt Connelly recently noted that he has been playing through a minor shoulder injury. Maybe the bye week will do him some good.
For FSU, James Blackman is returning after missing the NC State game with an MCL sprain, but Wisconsin-transfer Alex Hornibrook performed so well that they plan to find spots to use him too. Both are completing 69%+ of their passes. They’re good when they’re not getting hit.
Clemson has averaged 7.1 yards per play on offense compared to FSU at 5.9. That’s 1.2 more yards on every play for Clemson. That 5.9 figure for FSU isn’t bad. It’s 0.04 yards per play better than Duke and 0.14 yards per play worse than Texas A&M. They’ve scored 31 points or more in four of five games (Clemson’s only done it in three of five). The Seminoles passed for 316 yards and scored 31 points despite getting sacked eight times against NC State.
If Clemson has defensive lapses, FSU can capitalize, but Clemson will make life miserable for their QBs and put them in tough spots to keep drives alive.
Whoa... I did a double take and a double check as I looked at this chart after doing all the number crunching.
Both teams are very talented on the defensive lines. Clemson has two five-star players (Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry) and four four-stars while FSU has one five-star (Marvin Wilson) and five four-star linemen. Clemson’s pass protection must be better than it was in Chapel Hill as FSU is vastly more talented than UNC. Marvin Wilson is a top 10 NFL draft pick kind of talent. Clemson’s O-line needs to rebound from their last performance.
At linebacker, Clemson doesn’t have any five-star players. In fact, the two-deep is mostly comprised of three-star guys. Their superb performance to date is a testament to the talent selection and development that goes on at Clemson. Isaiah Simmons, for example, looks like a five-star, but was only three-star recruit (Arkansas didn’t want him). Florida State has more raw talent at linebacker with a five star and five four-star players in their two deep (none of the linebackers in their two-deep had fewer than four stars).
Clemson has two former five-star recruits playing cornerback (AJ Terrell and Derion Kendrick), but they also have two former two-star recruits at safety (Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson). Those lightly recruited veterans are trustworthy contributors now so Clemson’s deficit in the secondary is less that recruiting metrics may indicate. FSU has plenty of talent here though and while their defense has not been great, they’ve been better since former Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt joined the staff. With a little more time together over the bye week, they may have taken strides.
FSU is giving up a ton of yards - 447 yards per game. That’s 110th in the nation. They play that up-tempo offense though so it is very misleading. When you look at it on a per play basis they’re only giving up 5.4 yards per play which is better than South Carolina, Wake Forest, and the team that just held Clemson to 21 points, North Carolina. Last weekend, they held Virginia running backs to 2.7 YPC, Louisville running backs to 2.4, and NCSU running backs to 4.8 YPC. Travis Etienne hasn’t had a 100 yard game since GT, and FSU won’t make it easy.
While FSU’s defense will be a challenge, Clemson’s defense will present a bigger one. The Tigers are allowing just 3.94 yards per play (7th best nationally).
Finally, let’s zoom out and look at it all a little more broadly. In the comments section of our last Depth Chart Analysis, some readers requested a breakdown using the four decimal 247 Composite scores. The methodology on this chart is a bit different (and simpler). This is a straight average of the 247 Composite Score. It includes the same players as the above charts, but it weights all offensive players equally. The same is true of defense. The overall bar is a straight average of the offensive and defensive averages (your feedback on this chart in the comments section would be much appreciated).
Although the simplest, this may paint the clearest picture. Clemson is a little more talented on offense. You see it at QB, OL, and WR. Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, and Jackson Carman stand out as difference makers FSU doesn’t have. On the flipside, FSU has the raw talent edge on the defensive side of the ball. Marvin Wilson on the DL and the depth of four-star guys in the back seven give them that advantage. Overall, the teams are about dead even on recruited talent.
While the recruited talent is even, the results haven’t been. The records and the stats behind them obviously favor Clemson heavily. The Tigers own a four-game winning streak in the series and are 26 point favorites in this contest.
It is unlikely Kendall Briles, even with all his creativity and tempo, finds a way to keep his QB upright. I expect to see a lot of hand-offs and roll-outs. Their shaky O-line combined with Clemson’s penchant for aggressiveness doesn’t bode well for their offense.
FSU certainly has the talent to make this a four quarter battle. To do so, they must find consistent success on the ground, which is certainly feasible with Cam Akers considering Charlotte and UNC found running room. They also need to continue the success they’ve had in recent games stifling their opponents running backs.
Unfortunately for them, I sense this being a “leave no doubt” situation for Clemson. All the negativity from the media and the juicy UNC film to build from during a bye week should have Clemson refocused. They’re back on the ROY (“Rest of Y’all”) bus!
Coach Swinney passionately insisted that Trevor Lawrence’s potential shoulder injury was not impacting his performance, but either way, it should be healed up following the bye week. I expect Lawrence to have his best game of the season. Adjustments to more aggressively attack the middle of the field were likely made by the coaching staff, which will help that cause.
FSU is getting better and will certainly perform better than they did in last year’s 49-point blowout. That said, a refocused Clemson team is good enough to win by 21+ anyway.