It wasn’t that long ago that the Clemson-Florida State game would be the primetime game of the week, often with national title implications. This year the game is probably of no consequence in the conference championship, much less the national one (but we all know how crazy college football can be). The Seminoles declined at the end of the Jimbo Fisher era in 2017 and have been off track since then. The decline of Clemson this year has come as a surprise to many, including myself. This season has rapidly become a real test of the players and coaching staff. Is this a program that Dabo has frequently said is built to be successful year in an year out? How much of Clemson’s considerable success in the last few years been the result of having generational talents in Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence? Whatever the reasons, this year has become a real test of the resilience of the program when faced with the lack of success on the field. And the next challenge was facing a Seminole team on a 3-game winning streak after an 0-4 start.
Clemson started at the 35 after the opening kickoff went out of bounds. The Tigers went backwards on the first play, and despite a nice catch and run by WIll Shipley on 3rd down, they couldn’t move the chains. The punt rolled to the Seminole 8. The Tiger defense had FSU deep in a hole on 3rd down after a TFL by LB Trenton Simpson, but consecutive offsides penalties gave the Seminoles the chance to keep moving. But the defense settled down and sent the FSU offense to the sideline.
The next Tiger drive started at their 24. D.J. seemed to settled down a bit and had nice throws to Joseph Ngata, E.J. Williams and Justyn Ross to move to the Nole 33. But on 3rd & 7 D.J.’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete. B.T. Potter came in and nailed the 47-yard FG to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead with 5:32 left in the 1st quarter. His kickoff sailed through the end zone and FSU started at their 25. The Nole drive started with a nice mix of runs and passes. Tyler Venables missed a TFL opportunity on a blitz and FSU picked up 24 yards on a run. FSU moved down to the Tiger 5 on another Tiger offsides, and had 1st & goal. On 3rd & goal, the Tigers jumped again. On the next play, FSU scored when Clemson had two defenders on three receivers. The extra point was blocked and with 19 seconds left in the 1st quarter, the Noles led 6-0.
The Tigers moved down the field on some good plays by Shipley, both running and receiving. The drive stalled when D.J. couldn’t connect with Shipley on 3rd & 7. Potter shanked the FG attempt. On a previous play, he scrambled and had two receivers in the end zone, but he got it nowhere near them. My thought at that moment was that Watson or Lawrence would have given their receivers a better than average chance. Plays like that here and there can have a huge influence on the outcome of a game. D.J. clearly isn’t as far along as the other too. I hope coaching and more experience can help him progress to making those kinds of throws. The Tiger defense held the Noles and gave the ball back to D.J. offense at the 23.
The Tiger drive started great with a beautiful arm-tackle-busting run by Phil Mafah for 63 yards. A couple of runs set up 3rd & 7 at the Nole 11. D.J. then threw a nice pass in the corner of the end zone to Davis Allen for the score. Potter’s extra point gave Clemson a 10-6 lead at the 8:33 mark of the 2nd quarter. The Noles responded with one of the craziest plays you’ll see this weekend. It was a routine catch, made possible by poor coverage, but an apparent tackle by the Tiger defender left the FSU receiver off the ground and he kept going for a 75-yard TD after other Tiger defenders let up. With 8:14 remaining in the half, FSU was up 13-10.
The Tigers responded with a great drive on more good running by Shipley and a nice catch by Ross. A Shipley run put Clemson inside the 5 with 1st & goal. A couple of plays later, he punched it in. The Tigers were back in front 17-13 with 3:40 left before halftime. The Tiger did a good job stifling the FSU offense, and a good punt return put the Tiger offense at midfield with about a minute and a half left. The 1st down screen play looked awful and the 2nd down pass was incomplete. On 3rd & 14, a draw play was horrifically blocked and lost 6 yards. Good call, bad, bad, bad execution. The punt was returned to the FSU 18. A sack ended the 1st half with the Tigers up 17-13.
FSU started the 2nd half with an ineffective drive that the Tiger defense ended with a 4th down stop. D.J. hit Ngata over the middle for a 29-yard gain. A couple of touches by Shipley set up 3rd & 5. D.J. scrambled but couldn’t connect with Ross in the back of the end zone. Potter then missed the FG attempt. It wasn’t a 3 & out, but the Tiger offense missed a real opportunity on this drive.
The FSU drive started productively but the Xavier Thomas chased down FSU QB Jordan Travis on 3rd & long to end it. The Tiger drive wasn’t any better. After digging themselves into a hole, D.J. underthrew Ngata who initially had a step on the guy covering him. That play is chock full of things that D.J. needs to work on, including using his eyes to move the safety out of the play and leading his receiver with a softer, longer throw when he has a step on the coverage.
FSU moved down the field and into Tiger territory but the defense held and forced a punt. It was nicely executed and put the Tiger offense at the 4. Despite starting in a hole, the Tigers climbed out of it on good running by Mafah and timely catches by Ross on 3rd down. But D.J. made another poor decision when his receiver, Williams, stumbled on a bubble screen. Instead of going to another receiver or throwing it away, he pumped and threw it to Williams anyway. Williams did catch it with a defender right on top of him and others right there, and the ball got stripped. FSU recovered it but fumbled it right back to Clemson.
The Tigers continued where they left off but got to 3rd & 9. A pass interference call moved the chains. Shipley picked up 4 yards on 2nd down but that was it for that drive. Potter came in and missed yet another FG. It was just one of those days for the normally dependable kicker.
FSU had a nice 24-yard scramble and pass on their drive, but the Tiger defense shut them down after that. Clemson responded by allowing a strip sack, scoop and score. With 7:39 left, FSU led 20-17. Poor offensive line play continues to haunt this team. I see that Arch Manning was in attendance. He can’t like what he saw from the guys whose job it is to protect the QB. Clemson’s succeeding drive was just more examples of how poorly the line was playing at this point. If there is one single problem that Dabo has to fix for the Tigers to truly be a program that is to be a year-to-year contender for the national championship, it is the offensive line. Every single success of an offense starts right there. Sure, generational talents at skill positions can lift you to the top, but if you expect to do it year in and year out, you have to have a dominant offensive line. Period.
On Clemson’s drive, I noticed something about D.J.’s running: he needs to remember that he is 6’4” and 250 pounds. He wants to try to escape tacklers. He needs to play to his strength and run them over. He did have a nice scramble on the next play and was hit late out of bounds. Shipley then ripped off a nice run to get into the end zone. Potter nailed the extra point and Clemson led 24-20 with 2:53 left. FSU took over to attempt a game winning drive, but the Tiger defense rose to the occasion with tremendous efforts by Thomas and Myles Murphy. The Tigers appeared to have recovered a fumble but the QB was ruled down before he fumbled. On 4th and 32, FSU punted and it rolled to the Tiger 30.
All the offense needed to do was run 1:26 off the clock, but the Noles did have two timeouts. They did use them after two Shipley runs. Another Shipley carry let the clock run and on 4th & 6, Clemson punted with 34 seconds left. Will Spiers’ punt rolled down to the Nole 9 with 23 seconds left. Travis scrambled and hit a receiver down field and it initially appeared that he was past the line of scrimmage, but he wasn’t. They went with a Hail Mary that Tiger defenders knocked down. Then they went with a hook and pitch and a bunch of laterals, but eventually the ball ended up in the hands of Tiger LB Barrett Carter and he took it into the end zone. After review, the game ended in a 30-20 Clemson victory.
There was a lot of ugly stuff in this game, especially from the offensive line, but there were also some positives. The Tigers put together some drives. The running game looked pretty good. I hope the coaches continue to lean on Shipley and Mafah. That is usually a good thing to do when your QB is struggling. D.J. still has some mental and mechanical issues to work through, but he found a connection to Ross today that has been missing. That bodes well for the Tigers. What do you think? Let’s discuss it below. Thank you for stopping by for today’s recap and look for more coverage over the next few days.