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Game 7 Preview: Clemson Travels to Face Florida State

Another Huge Conference Battle Awaits!

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week’s game went about how I thought it would. Clemson started slowly, particularly on offense, but eventually pulled away from an overmatched BC squad. The defense actually outperformed my prediction which was good to see. Offensively, I was close but the dropped Collins TD pass and the missed FG was the difference there. A letdown of sorts was very likely and we saw that for a while, but the team got it together in the second half and left no doubt. The Tigers will need to ramp it up a notch or two this week in Tallahassee against a dangerous FSU team.

Clemson offense vs. FSU defense: The Seminoles have some of the best talent in the conference on this side of the ball so the Tigers will need to be sharp with the details. Jared Verse in particular has legitimate game wrecking potential off the edge. He has battled some injury issues but should be out there this week. I fully expect FSU to attack Blake Miller with Verse when they can. Miller’s run blocking is way ahead of his pass protection skills right now and the Tigers would be wise to account for that this week, particularly when they line Verse up over the RT. Linebacker Tatum Bethune has impressed me in the games I have watched FSU to this point. Behind him is arguably the best safety in the league in Jammie Robinson. While I wouldn’t rank this defense ahead of NCSU’s, they are not that far behind and are probably a faster group overall. Clemson will need to do a better job establishing the run this week vs. last week’s effort so that DJU can benefit from play action in the passing game.

It will be a loud and rowdy environment unless the Tigers are able to take the crowd out of the game. Seminole fans are understandably hungry for a return to relevance and this year’s team has teased them more than the last few. This is a pivotal swing point for their season after narrow losses to Wake Forest and NCSU, and I expect the atmosphere to reflect that. Clemson will need to be sharp in its communication and avoid pre-snap issues as much as possible.

While I felt Wake Forest was clearly the better team when they won in Tallahassee, it really felt like FSU blew the game last week in Raleigh. Losing a lead with Devin Leary knocked out of the game is a difficult pill to swallow for sure. The Seminoles are vulnerable to the run and both Wake Forest and NCSU exploited that in their victories. Clemson really needs to do the same thing this week. While Clemson’s pass protection has largely been excellent, it is a big risk putting them in obvious passing situations against what FSU can attack your QB with and a home crowd behind them.

Clemson needs to continue to take great care of the football. DJ did throw his second pick of the season last week on a poor decision, but overall you can’t ask for much better than what this offense has done taking care of the rock. We all remember how last year’s game got very dicey due to a turnover/score given up in the second half. Hopefully we look up late Saturday night and see some big numbers from Will Shipley, DJ, and Phil Mafah in the ground game.

Clemson defense vs. FSU offense: The Tigers defense is definitely rounding into shape. We (knock on wood) should FINALLY get to see the full Avengers cast available up front with Bryan Bresee set to return. Xavier Thomas made is long awaited season debut and was scary good considering it was his first live work since the injury AND he wasn’t even playing on his favorite side. Thomas was every bit the explosive force off the ball that he flashed as a freshman and provides an element not really seen since the days of Vic Beasley. Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro have been consistently disruptive and there have been very good flash plays from Peyton Page and Tre Williams as well. This is the best DL in college football and the rest of the defense is finally complementing it.

Florida State’s run game can be a serious problem and is the absolute lynch pin of what they do. While Jordan Travis and his WR can definitely make some plays in the passing game, they really rely heavily on the run game setting everything up much in the way the Gus Malzahn-type systems do. Clemson’s run defense has been superb, but this will be the best run game attack it has seen this season by far. FSU’s top back Ward went out hurt last week so that bears watching, but his backups are very capable players. Trey Benson is a physical runner who can make you pay for not wrapping up and getting numbers to the ball. Obviously Travis is a very gifted athlete who can break huge runs on zone reads, QB draws, and scrambles. Clemson will need to be disciplined in its rush to not allow Travis to escape for off script plays.

NCSU’s defense shut Florida State’s run game down in the second half and that all but eliminated the Seminoles’ offensive punch save that final drive. It is amazing how different FSU looks when they can run vs. when they can’t. If Travis wins this game with 40+ pass attempts, I will tip my cap, but it is very unlikely that will be the case if the Tigers can force FSU to throw to win.

Special Teams: Clemson dodged two major bullets last week with muffed/botched punt returns. The first one was due to very poor communication that led to a collision with a blocker and Will Taylor. The second was just a flat-out muff. Taylor’s season has been underwhelming at best after showing promise last year before his injury. Antonio Williams has been much more explosive and dangerous in his return chances and really should be the call in a game like this. The Tigers blocked another kick which has been a very welcome improvement in 2022.

Florida State’s issues at kicker really reinforce how fortunate Clemson is to have B.T. Potter. FSU was in range to win last week with a FG but elected to try to score a TD on a fade throw that was picked in the endzone. There is no way they make that decision if they had real faith in their kicking game. FSU has had some really bad gaffes in the red zone, beginning with that fumble at the goal line that allowed LSU to nearly tie the game the first week. If it comes down to FG kicking, Clemson should have a significant edge. Aidan Swanson had a better week last week and hopefully he will build on that when called upon. Folks have been coming after him looking for a block and there have been some close calls.

Overall: This is a dangerous game because FSU has enough talent in the right places to bother Clemson for sure. Add in the road environment and you can definitely see how an upset could happen. Clemson will need to play a complete game, and it is great news that the defense will be nearly back to full strength. It is still strange for fans like me who are a middle aged to not feel like an underdog going into Tallahassee. Norvell has done a lot to get FSU back to a higher level, but they have yet to show that they can truly win a game like this. Clemson fans are certainly hoping that it won’t be this year. It really comes down to which team can run the football and I have to believe Clemson’s front 7 will do the better job. I do feel a four quarter battle is in store though.

Clemson 29-FSU 24