Greetings, Tiger fans. Here we are coming off a very rare regular season loss for the Tigers. It was an epic battle in South Bend as a short-handed Clemson had the game nearly in hand before seeing Ian Book and the Irish offense do just enough to send the game to overtime, then again to double overtime, before hanging on. Any loss sucks, but there are a lot of positives to be taken from two weeks ago.
Several young players were thrust into the major limelight and will no doubt see their growth sped up as a result, both from the good and the bad that went down. Clemson fans know now, without question, that the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence is a guy who will keep the Tigers in competition for national titles going forward. Now we will hopefully see a healthier lineup heading into Tallahassee as the Tigers look to secure a spot in the ACC title game, most likely to get another crack at Notre Dame.
Florida State remains a shell of its former self in the first year with Mike Norvell. Norvell has helped improve the Seminole offense from the mess we saw last season, but the defense has become one of the worst in the ACC. To make matters worse, some key talent has been lost for the season for various reasons, including Marvin Wilson and Tamorrion Terry. FSU showed some signs of life upsetting then-#5 UNC and giving Notre Dame a battle for a half, but has since been embarrassed by Louisville, Pittsburgh, and NCSU by a combined score of 127-55. While the Noles still have some high level athletes sprinkled across the roster, they are a long way from being a good football team and would need more help than UNC gave them to make this game competitive. Clemson has to worry about Clemson and cleaning up some of the problems that finally bit hard enough for a loss two weeks ago.
Clemson offense vs. FSU defense: The Tigers welcome back Trevor Lawrence this week. While DJ Uiagalelei performed incredibly well, he was not 100% by any stretch, and is not on Lawrence’s level of recognition of defensive fronts for run game adjustments. The game within the game is an area where experience really matters, and Lawrence is on his own level as a third-year starter. The offensive line needs to perform a lot better, as we all know, but we should see Lawrence help that as well with his pre-snap reads and ability to run himself as a healthy body.
One of the biggest positives from the last two weeks has been Cornell Powell. Powell stepped his game up another level in the wake of injuries to Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, adding explosive plays to his already solid resume of possession catches and blocking. I know I have a lot more confidence in #17 winning one-on-one opportunities to take some pressure off of Amari Rodgers, and his own confidence has to be through the roof at this point. I feel the beams of QT’s smiles all the way in Mount Pleasant.
Clemson has to get the run game working, at least to decent level, before the larger tests in December. Florida State’s defense is not very good, and we should see much more success than the pitiful run performance in South Bend. The Tigers will face a much stiffer run defense with Pittsburgh, so lack of success this week will be an ominous sign. It appears the lineup will stay the same on the OL, but guys like Walker Parks and Mason Trotter are poised for increased snaps and hopefully added competitive pressure on the guys playing in front of them.
FSU does have a top level corner in Asante Samuel, Jr. It will be interesting to see how they choose to deploy him this week. Do they shadow Rodgers with him or just let him take a side? Perhaps he is given Powell exclusively? It should be a good battle to watch whatever happens.
This is a defense that is giving up 188 yards a game on the ground at 5 yards-per-carry. The yards-per-carry is the worst in the ACC. If the Tigers cannot rip some good runs off this week, I will become a lot less optimistic that this team can eventually win the national title no matter how good the QB and RB are. The staff has had two weeks to make some tweaks, and we should see some results.
Clemson defense vs. FSU offense: It is not uncommon to see struggling teams play musical chairs at quarterback. Florida State has been doing that for two years now. Initial starter James Blackman lost his job and has decided to transfer. Jordan Travis has been a spark plug for the most part, but he gave way to Chubba Purdy against Pitt and then NCSU after having a concussion issue. Travis is a very good runner, and has made several big plays with his legs. Clemson obviously struggled with scrambles by Phil Jurkovec and Ian Book the last two games. The Tigers could really use Tyler Davis back in the lineup and there is a chance we will see that this week. Purdy made some plays against NCSU, but quite frankly that Wolfpack defense hasn’t been very good. Now the news has come out that Purdy is out for the season with an injury. The Tigers should be looking to dominate the line of scrimmage after a week of losing that battle against the strong ND front.
Mike Jones, Jr. is also on track to return this week at SAM. His absence allowed Trenton Simpson to get a lot of snaps. We saw what made Simpson such a highly rated prospect, but we also saw signs of the inexperience at times as well. If nothing else, the team should feel better about the depth at SAM going forward once Jones is able to play. James Skalski is still out for this week. Brent Venables identified Skalski and Davis as the “alpha dogs” of the defense, so their absences have been an issue for sure. The fate of Justin Foster remains a clouded mystery, as he isn’t even discussed in the press conferences these days. It is looking like Foster will be out the entire season at this point.
Clemson needed the secondary to flat out win last week vs. Notre Dame. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as the Irish made several contested plays at WR during the contest. Any one of those going the other way could have changed the outcome. That allowed the Irish to enjoy enough offensive balance to convert a high percentage of third downs. The Tigers will be looking to getting back to dominating third downs this week.
Florida State is down their most dangerous WR and best OL for this game. There isn’t much reason to think the Tigers won’t dominate, although a guy like Travis could pop a big play here or there.
Special Teams: Clemson’s kicking game was good enough to win in South Bend. Spiers pinned the Irish deep with his final punt that should have been enough to seal the game. The return game started off poorly with Lyn-J Dixon bobbling the catch and getting a poor return, drawing a tongue lashing from Dabo and subsequent benching for the rest of the night. Travis Etienne nearly housed a “kick six” at the end of the first half but couldn’t juke the last defender, actually trying to hurdle him vs. cut back inside. Potter made his kicks and the protections were good.
Florida State has had some bright moments here. The North Carolina upset featured a big blocked kick. Unfortunately for them, Marvin Wilson is out. He was one of the biggest forces inside on their special teams. Usually upsets feature something wild in this phase, so if Clemson can just stay solid that will greatly reduce FSU’s chances of making this competitive.
Overall: It is hard for a guy like me who grew up in the 80s and was there for a lot of L’s delivered by Florida State in the 1990s and 2000s to see a huge line like the one for this game. I’m not sure what the biggest line was during the Hatfield-Bowden years, but I seriously doubt it approached the 30s where this one sits. Simply put, the Seminoles have fallen farther than the Tigers did post-Danny Ford. I don’t feel bad for them, though, and look forward to a “get right” game with Trevor back in the saddle.
Clemson 48-FSU 16