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Game 3 Preview: Clemson Hosts Florida Atlantic in Primetime

Night games are always fun!

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hello again folks. It’s certainly more fun to write these after wins, even if it was just Charleston Southern. After an embarrassing first quarter marred by two really bad mistakes by Cade Klubnik, the Tigers actually played a pretty complete game from then on to win handily. However, the pollsters reacted to the start of the game in predictable fashion and dropped the team. I’m actually all for that early in the year hoping it will light even more of a fire under the team. We all know disrespected Dabo is generally the best one we get.

The Tigers now face their last tune up game, so to speak, before the epic opportunity at redemption against what is sure to be a top 5 Florida State team. This year’s schedule, and the improvements by teams like FSU and Miami along with what appears to be an even better Notre Dame team than the one who whipped Clemson last year, definitely allows Clemson to get back in the national picture if a winning streak can be put together. That is a big if at the moment, but hopefully this weekend will give fans more hope that the talent this team has can put it together when it really matters.

Florida Atlantic is where former hot coaching commodity Tom Herman has landed after his Texas tenure ended badly. He’s hoping to use this top to relaunch his career the way Layne Kiffin did. The Owls will certainly offer a more formidable roster than Charleston Southern did a week ago, but the Tigers simply need to play clean football the way they did from about mid-second quarter on last week to handle this game easily. Of course, as we have seen already, there is “many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

Clemson Offense vs. FAU Defense: Will the real Cade Klubnik please stand up? We’ve seen him look great against UNC last year and for stretches of last week’s game. We’ve also seen some mind numbing mistakes that have really been problematic for the team. I’ll admit to being spoiled by former phenoms like Watson and Lawrence who were spectacular pretty much from the jump. Even those two experienced some lulls in their second full years that came with being young players figuring it all out. I’ve seen enough to believe that Cade is going to be good, but when that becomes the norm and not a sporadic flash remains to be seen.

I was encouraged by what I saw from the WRs last week, except for the premature showboating from Beaux Collins on his TD, and the running game is on point through two games. If the WR can build from last week (make those routine plays routinely, and pop the occasional big one), then Cade’s advancement will happen much, much faster. We saw Tajh Boyd take off in 2011 after a bumpy start to that season, but his skill players also produced at a very high level to augment that improvement. Not to say we have anything like Sammy Watkins or Nuk Hopkins out there right now but the WR/QB play is going to make or break this team in 2023.

FAU has been better defensively than offensively so far this season. They have surrendered 18 points per game so far in their 1-1 start. Clemson’s offensive line has been better to me than a lot of people have given it credit for that I’ve seen. Blake Miller had a bad game at Duke that offset what was otherwise a solid performance.

FAU, much like Duke, returns a lot of starters from 2022 and have to be disappointed with dropping that game to Ohio in week 2. The Owls defense features a mammoth NT in 6’3” 356 pound senior Evan Anderson. Clemson has traditionally had issues with a team putting a big dude over the center, but hopefully Will Putnam will be up for the challenge. If they can keep the inside from falling apart, the offense should be able to continue to generate a positive run game (though not with the ease we saw in week 2). I actually like this progressive step for the Clemson offense ahead of facing FSU. If Clemson struggles offensively here then I would really worry about the prospects against the Noles. On the flip side, good offensive success in this game should be a solid indicator of a unit that is finding its footing.

Duke’s blueprint defensively was to keep everything in front of them and tackle. Clemson would have had a very high completion percentage in that game if the drops didn’t happen. I’ll be very interested to see how FAU plans to defend with their 3-3-5 base defense. They might be more willing to challenge the Clemson WR with more aggressive coverages, which will present the chance to see if the Tigers can better attack those looks than in the last two seasons.

Above all else, Clemson has to flip the script on the ball security front. Hopefully, the negative wave will turn and the team will get back to protecting the ball the way last year’s team did through the first 7 games.

Clemson defense vs. FAU offense: Clemson’s defense really played dominant football last week. Obviously the talent mismatch was extreme, but other than a couple of bad fits against some option stuff, CSU couldn’t do anything on offense at all and really only mustered 3 points that the Clemson offense didn’t gift them.

FAU obviously offers a stiffer test and bring two time transfer QB Casey Thompson (formerly of Nebraska and Texas) to lead their offense. Tom Herman is an offensive coach and you would expect them to know what they are doing on that side of the ball.

Ohio totally stuffed FAU’s run game and really made life difficult on offense last week. Clemson will look to do the same and try to get after Thompson and create mistakes and negative plays.

Slot WR LaJohntay Wester is probably their most dangerous skill guy and already has 17 catches after two games. He was about the only thing FAU had going for them last week vs. Ohio. You like Clemson’s ability to match on the perimeter with Wiggins, Jones, and the emerging Lukas, but slot guys will draw Clemson’s safeties and linebackers. That will be something to watch for sure. We will see if Andrew Mukuba is back for this game after missing last week.

FAU will have to figure out some way to run the ball to hope to spring an upset in this game. Clemson needs to show that it will dominate your run game because teams like Florida State, UNC, and especially Notre Dame will all hurt you really badly if their run games are working. Then it comes down to Clemson’s pass rush and coverage and sometimes teams will make some plays there but you have to take your chances that way. The night game plus what promises to be cooler temperatures should lead to a good crowd and the type of noise the Clemson defense typically enjoys at home.

Special Teams: Better, but still a work in progress after last week’s game vs. CSU. Robert Gunn made his kick attempts but while his leg is undoubtedly strong, he isn’t as quick to the ball as B.T. Potter was and his kick trajectories need to improve. Clemson also gave up an onside kick where the upbacks didn’t make sure the ball got kicked deep before turning to run back in coverage. In all honesty, I actually like that teams like CSU pull that stuff because it allows the staff to address and correct in a game where those things don’t hurt you ultimately. The margin of error shrinks this week and then really, really shrinks after that. I know Clemson fans love what they are seeing from Tyler Brown at punt return. He has been decisive to the ball (an area where Antonio Williams had some issues), and flashes superior physical power to go with his speed compared to Williams. Antonio is such a huge part of the offense that you like punt return potentially getting taken off his plate. As I have said before and will again, upsets are born from turnovers and special teams stuff, so you have to hope the Tigers are sharp here to avoid setting up an upset situation.

Overall: I’m really encouraged by the youth on this team, particularly the freshman class, and I feel this team will be really good at some point due to that infusion of talented depth. You just hope that doesn’t happen after 2-3 losses in the next few weeks. Handle this game like you should, then take advantage of the massive opportunity next week to shift the narrative back in a positive direction. The 2011 team really took off around this time that season after some very spotty play to start the year (fortunately for that team they didn’t face a road game against a veteran team like Duke the way this one did). I’m going to be positive on this one and hope I don’t get burned!

Clemson: 40
FAU: 13