The Tigers are headed to Tallahassee to battle the Florida State Seminoles Saturday night at 7:50pm (coverage starts at 7:30) on ABC. Between 1992 and 2014 the Tigers lost 11 of their 12 trips to the Sunshine State’s capital city, but they won in 2016 and 2018 before 2020’s infamous last-minute FSU cancelation. Clemson looks to make it three-in-a-row in Tallahassee and seven in a row overall, but an improved Seminoles team could offer stiff resistance.
Ryan: It was an absolutely gut-wrenching loss in Raleigh last weekend as FSU had 387 total yards but only 17 points — all coming in the first half. Everything seemed to be pointing up for Florida State this season, but now they’ve suffered back-to-back losses and have Clemson coming to town. Do you still feel good about the general direction of the program? Is there a risk that a third loss in a row could torpedo the season and the broader momentum the program seemed to be building?
Perry: This could absolutely be coping, but I still have faith in this staff and what’s being built. Heading into the season, 4-3 was sort of a slightly best-case scenario when looking at the schedule. Wins against Louisville and LSU (however fraudulent that pair of teams may turn out to be) went a long way in setting up this season as another step up. It’s not exactly time to pop the bubbly, seeing as two weeks ago, there was a legit (not huge, but plausible) shot that FSU vs. Clemson could determine the top seed in the Atlantic, and despite the actual context, an 8-win season in Tallahassee in historical context is nothing to throw a parade over. The overall direction still is trending up, but the last two weeks have shattered the illusions of an offseason overhaul to an insta-10 win season.
Ryan: The Seminoles held NC State to 2 for 13 on third down and allowed just 19 points. NC State played very conservatively, but that’s still a strong showing for the defense. They also held Wake Forest — a dynamic offense — to 31 points which is better than Clemson did. What do you expect from them against the Tigers?
Perry: If Florida State is healthy along the line, then it can compete with the best the conference has to offer on offense. You can see a little bit of the lack of depth at defensive tackle starting to show, with Fabian Lovett having missed three straight games, but a less-than-100 percent Jared Verse has still been absolutely dominant at end. Linebacker Tatum Bethune, who transferred in from UCF this offseason, has really elevated the defense as a whole since the backers have been so average in the past, and his fellow linebacker Kalen DeLoach taking a step up has also been huge.
That said, it really looks like DJ Uiagalelei has shook off some of his youth and is finding a nice groove, and even above-average quarterbacks are able to move the ball with relative success because of some inconsistency in FSU’s secondary. FSU showed up in the second half vs. Wake, but in the first, they were unstoppable on third down (usually third and manageable), a result of the Seminoles’ hesitancy to give up the big play. I think FSU can hold its own, but also think that Clemson is going to be able to get the yards and points it wants — and needs.
Ryan: Florida State scored just 21 against Wake Forest and 19 against NC State. They seem to move the ball but stall in the red zone. What’s been plaguing them?
Perry: There have been a lot of short-yardage situations throughout the year for FSU, and while they date back even to Week 1 against LSU (the fake Tigers with the fake Death Valley, am I right?) they’ve mainly started to pop up as of late because of the team’s distrust in the kicking game. Against NC State, instead of winding down the clock and playing for a field goal, there was an unfocused attempt to get points that led to a forced fade throw on second down, leading to an interception.
Some of it has been playcalling, some of it has been execution, some of it personnel (the offensive line has had to mix in a few different combinations due to health), but there has been a consistent issue this season with pulling off a big play and getting no points from it.
Ryan: What matchup or position group concerns you most heading into this matchup?
Perry: Clemson’s defensive line is my number one fear, just because of the havoc that they can initiate just from the jump. FSU’s offense vs. the Clemson defense overall is gonna be a great matchup, this stat from David Hale showcases that best — Clemson has allowed just 4 explosive run plays this year, while FSU has reeled off 32 of them.
Ryan: What is the biggest X-factor that Florida State needs to break their way to pull off the upset on Saturday?
Perry: My last answer is what the folks in the biz call foreshadowing because FSU getting those explosive plays and finishing in the red zone is going to be the key. FSU is top 10 in explosive play differential (that also from David Hale) but throwing out the opener vs. FCS Duquesne, FSU is converting just 68 percent of red zone attempts. Clemson has built its bread and butter on not allowing big plays — if the Seminoles can throw off that approach and manage to finish drives, we might see a fun game heading into the fourth like last season (which is a nice switch up from garbage time starting in the third quarter.)
A big shout-out to Perry for bringing a fresh perspective to Shakin’ the Southland. They in turn invited STS writer Will Harper to their podcast which should go live soon, so be sure to check that out in the coming days.