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Straight From the Armchair, QT’s Take: Clemson Trounces Seminoles

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NCAA Football: Florida State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Glorious.

In 2013, Clemson (ranked #3 overall) and Florida State (ranked #5 overall) played in a nighttime, primetime matchup that felt like it had national title implications. FSU entered Death Valley with a redshirt freshman in QB Jameis Winston and completely obliterated Clemson. It wasn’t close. It wasn’t competitive. FSU fans stormed the field and met in the middle on the paw. It was embarrassing, but it really stung because Clemson had beaten Georgia to start the season and at 6-0 it felt like the team was progressing into elite status (putting behind the Orange bowl debacle from two years prior). Gameday had done an excellent job in presenting the Clemson experience and Clemson felt fresh. It felt like it finally belonged again

That all came crashing down. I remember the feeling that night of realizing Clemson wasn’t close to FSU and it seemed like Clemson might never be able to overcome the talent differential. Between Winston carving up the secondary and Mario Edwards picking up a scoop and score, it was brutal.

Clemson has now won 5 straight against the Seminoles.

Back in 2011 it was hard to call this a true rivalry. It was more a rivalry for Clemson fans that FSU tolerated through the waning Bowden years where Tommy Bowden won more games than he probably should have. In 2014, when Clemson literally fumbled the game away in Doak the overall record stood at 20-8 in favor of FSU. The overall record is now 20-13, but this is now a true rivalry.

All of that is to say that it felt extra special when Clemson could have easily scored to make this a 52-14 game (and it could’ve easily been 57-0 if the starters played the entire way, which dates back to the 1993 debacle in Tally). Florida State media and punditry didn’t predict a win or anything this year and most were very realistic heading into the matchup (unlike last year when someone even predicted FSU would win). However, most of these folks have never known FSU to be a bad team in their entire lives and certainly not a team that gets blown out during consecutive years.

It also doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Like I outlined in the last article, the best players on this team are gone after this season with Akers, Wilson, and perhaps Nasirildeen heading to the NFL and no recruited talent coming to step in and provide immediate help on the offensive or defensive line. When FSU put in backups to keep the starters fresh, Clemson shred those defensive lineman. Their current recruiting class has some decent skill players (wide receivers and cornerbacks), but the line play will continue to struggle without some serious transfer portal help. Terry is a weapon, but Blackman is still going to be the QB.

I don’t want to sound condescending here, but FSU had some chances early in the game. The pass Hornibrook threw to Muse was open to Harrison. Two passes to Akers could’ve gone for big gains. The defense forced two redzone stands with a goal-line stop of Xavier Thomas. FSU also really missed Robinson in the first half who has been a major contributor and their best pass rusher this year.

But Clemson was humming.

OFFENSE

Lets take a look at our laundry list of things to correct from the UNC game.

  • Play with a bit more tempo. Check.

Lawrence was able to get into a better rhythm and the offensive line plays better with a bit of tempo to slow down some of the more exotic blitz packages.

  • Don’t let the defense always dictate the play with numbers (i.e., sometimes just run the ball with ETN despite what it looks like in the box to keep the defense from cheating). Check.

We committed to running the ball despite FSU having the beef inside. We tried to run initially with outside runs and then pounded it inside once Cooper and Wilson were tired. YES!

  • A few more horizontal plays. Check.

Hey, look at that! When you hit Rodgers on a jet sweep every now and then for an easy 4-5 yards on first down, it gets the linebackers thinking more. Rodgers was also a broken tackle away from breaking one of those.

  • Use the middle of the field and add more variety to the route tree and play calling overall. Check.

Using more play action on early downs really helped here. Dabo called the first two plays. A play action shot down the field to Tee and the ETN RB throw. I’m not a fan of fake plays when you have a talent advantage (ever since Sammy Watkins threw away momentum with some ducks), and wouldn’t advise we do this again, but that throw was a great spiral thrown on a rope from ETN. I agree with Dabo about needing to inject some more fun and energy into the offense as well.

I liked how the offensive line responded. A few procedural penalties that have to get cleaned up from vets, but overall really good push from the interior. Cade isn’t the answer at center, but I thought Pollard had a real good bounce back game. Carman probably had his best game to date and handled FSU’s defensive ends. Manhandled. Now—FSU wasn’t sending the kind of pressure that UNC was sending that confused the oline, so that will be a continuing question, but they did really well in this game against a good front. Glad to see Bockhorst pulling more snaps, primarily at right guard. He is one of the more physical players on the entire oline. He was the ACC player of the week.

It was especially satisfying to see Putnam enter the game and get a healthy amount of reps. FSU absolutely needed Putnam and Davis last season—Clemson took both at the very end of the recruiting season.

Also liked how Clemson was using the tight end position and getting some easy releases for Chalk. Chalk was more physical in the run game. Glad to see more Davis Allen who continues to progress. I said in the lead up to camp he was the guy to watch, even after his injury setback. He should continue to see the field more.

Trevor Lawrence was seeing the field and making great reads for most of the game. The wide receivers also stepped up. Overton! Ross finally seemed to break out of his sophomore slump (although he did drop a TD in the endzone, maybe two) and looked healthier coming off the bye week. Still another level he needs to reach. Rodgers was moving much better after a subpar UNC game.

EFFICIENCY! With Explosive Plays! That is the Clemson offense we saw down the stretch last year that was lethal.

ETN was getting chewed out over the bye week, specifically for playing with poor technique and some effort in pass pro (but I maintain that a good bit of it was the offensive line not giving him any help and not sliding protection when they could have). He laid some FSU LBs out. FSU doesn’t blitz particularly well from the LB position, but still good to see. What I did like was ETN running with more toughness and showing more violence. He was out to make a statement and the offense ran for over 300 yards. Lyn-J Dixon also got more carries and showed his ability to bounce off of tacklers and gain yards. He is still running a bit too high at times with his pad level, but needs to have the additional carries heading into next season. I like what I see from Chez Mellusi. One cut runner, but he has a bit more burst than expected.

A bit disappointed in the backup offensive unit. They didn’t look as crisp as they have in the past. Lyn-J fumbled and Chase had some miscues.

DEFENSE

Glorious performance. Like I said before—there were a few open plays for FSU that they couldn’t execute—Muse was late on the interception, Akers could’ve had two long gains out of the backfield, but the starters were dominant.

Simmons makes this defense work. He had 8 tackles, a sack, a FF, credited with a Fumble recovery, and 2 TFL’s. That makes 51 tackles and 4 sacks on the year. He was often lined up in the slot on Helton who had previously eaten up opposing defensive backfields. Helton’s injury was significant for that team because he was easily becoming their second best receiver after Terry.

Tyler Davis had a bounce back game and got a lot of penetration against a weak offensive line. Jordan Williams had one of his better games with the interception deflection and some good pressure. XT is starting to come on and if he can’t go against Louisville it will be a significant loss because he is starting to separate from the other DE’s.

FSU targeted Derion Kendrick more than other teams. DK had a nice pass block against the fast and talented Terry (you saw him burn Sheridan Jones on a simple slant where the safety couldn’t get over in support). DK will be tested again against Louisville. I was again impressed with Andrew Booth. His closing speed is elite.

Skalski also had a good game, diagnosing plays quickly. He reacted and wrapped up much better than in past games. His play with Chad Smith will be really important if Louisville starts using more option principles and 12 personnel to run the ball. Smith got the interception and was getting off blocks in this game. Kane Patterson, who we were higher on than many others during his recruitment, played really well. Venables went down with hamstring injury and is out for Louisville, giving Kane more chances to see the field.

Backups were a bit disappointing, especially with the Laborn run and score. Charleston needs to fit that run and Spector needs to keep his feet. Williams couldn’t get off his block at corner. Still, overall this was a great performance. This spread offense is what this defense is designed to shut down—and it did with ease.

SPECIAL TEAMS

No problem with sending a message to Potter. He needs to make layup kicks. Wish we had the same intensity with punting. Started the game with another twenty something yard kick. Spiers did land a couple of punts within the five yard line, however, and that is awesome to see. Really like DK back returning kicks. Watch out for Louisville’s returners next week, they will bring it out of the endzone, but, to date, the kick coverage this season has been excellent.