Clemson vs. Florida State: Complete Game Preview
Move over, Bowden Bowl. Things just got real.
Fourth-ranked Florida State comes into Saturday with its highest ranking since 2005. And 10th-ranked Clemson returns with Sammy Watkins and a recent hex over the Seminoles.
Yes, two ACC teams are in the Top 10.
And ESPN's Gameday will be there.
Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney have brought their programs back from tumultuous times. The road to relevance has been bumpy for each squad, but the Atlantic Coast Conference finally has a stake in the national title race.
The Seminoles had a chance to prove their return in front of a Gameday crowd last year when they took on the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. A rash of injuries and inexperience cost the Seminoles that day, , but Clemson's visit offers FSU the chance to return to the limelight against a conference rival.
Titans will collide in an epic battle of the agile Clemson offense versus the vaunted Seminoles' defense.
So move over, SEC.
This week it's our game.
Lee Corso is as Seminole as they come. But last year he sadly picked Oklahoma over the Seminoles in a manner that was, as he put it, "strictly business." I could understand. Bob Stoops own non-conference games. I don't see why Corso would pick Clemson this year based on FSU's defensive prowess. Still, I plan on being in the Gameday crowd, so I hope to see you there!
Who: Clemson at Florida State
When: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST
Where: Tallahassee, Fla.
Stadium: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300)
Radio: Sirius XM (among others)
Locally: Check out Seminoles.com's listing to the left
Internet Stream: Not applicable
Depth Chart for Florida State
According to orlandosentinel.com, the only injury of consequence was to wide receiver Jarred "Scooter" Haggins, who is expected to play despite his undisclosed ailment. Offensive lineman Garrent Faircloth and safety Justin Bright (along with four backup defensive linemen) are out for the game.
But several Seminoles return from injuries, including offensive lineman Menelik Watson, tight end Nick O'Leary, offensive lineman Bryan Stork and defensive tackle Anthony McCloud.
Depth Chart for Clemson
Clemson gets a great boost with star wide receiver Sammy Watkin's return, but the Tigers have averaged more than 500 yards per game without him. The rushing game has also improved with rushing force Andre Ellington. This team boasts a complete offense.
What Happened to the Seminoles Last Week
Florida State crushed the of-late pesky Wake Forest Demon Deacons 52-0. The Seminoles dominated most facets of the game, but the pass protection was somewhat lax and allowed undue pressure on E.J. Manuel.
While the Clemson front seven is not that intimidating, neither was Wake Forest's. FSU will have to keep Manuel out of trouble to ensure another victory.
What Happened to the Tigers Last Week
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins returned in surprising fashion. He decided to run the ball for 58 yards against Furman. Granted, Furman is an FCS school, but Watkins' explosiveness has yet to wane.
Overall, Clemson had a concerning performance. The Tigers did prevail, 41-7, but they gave up 352 yards in the process. Furman gained 110 yards rushing.
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables has yet to sew up last year's leaky unit that yielded 70 points to West Virginia. Clemson likely can't turn around their defense in a week. The Seminoles should be able to exploit Dabo Swinney's porous defense on the ground.
What It Means to Both Teams
The stakes for the Atlantic Coast Conference are great in this game.
The ACC has leveraged a deal with the Orange Bowl and will retain influence in the upcoming playoff series thanks to the semi-induction of Notre Dame. With Florida State hosting Clemson in a Top 10 matchup, the conference has a chance to establish a national football presence.
Each program wants to live up to the expectations. Should Oregon fall, Florida State is a favorite to play in this year's BCS National Championship game. Most people, though, know little about this FSU team. The Seminoles have played only three games, and two were against FCS cupcakes.
FSU wants to prove it should not be taken lightly, and that last year's 9-4 record was just a speed bump on the way back to national prominence.
Clemson won its first ACC championship in two decades in 2011. Unfortunately, most people remember the Orange Bowl debacle when Clemson allowed a bowl-record 70 points to West Virginia.
Head coach Dabo Swinney promptly fired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, but Oklahoma's Brent Venables hasn't proved much yet.
Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier was abysmal against Clemson in the opener, but the Tigers still barely won. Giving up roughly 350 yards to Furman is not that comforting either.
Maybe the Tigers were looking forward to FSU, but Clemson wants to prove it can win dangerous road games.
Whomever wins is in the driver's seat of the ACC Atlantic Division race. If Florida State wins, the Seminoles should be able to get through their schedule relatively unscathed and could play for it all. Even with a win against the 'Noles, Clemson would still be a dark horse for the national title, but anything's possible.
Key Player for Florida State
Defense wins championships. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. E.J. Manuel is FSU's pivotal player.
No matter how many times you say them, there is a reason cliches are true. If Manuel can pass against a secondary as atrocious as Clemson's, the Seminoles should comfortably cruise to a victory.
Chris Thompson is a close second in importance for the 'Noles, as he establishes the rushing game. But Lonnie Pryor, Debrale Smiley and Devonta Freeman can also easily be the workhorse against the Tigers. After all, Clemson just surrendered more than 100 rushing yards to 0-3 Furman.
Key Player for Clemson
If you'd asked me last week, I would have chosen Andre Ellington as Clemson's player of the game. Being able to move the ball on Florida State's tenacious defense has proven to be a challenge for everyone.
Sammy Watkins, though, told reporters how the coaching staff plans to use him in the rushing game. Having an extra explosive running back in the fold will create headaches for the veteran Seminoles' defense.
Florida State Will Win If...
1. E.J. Manuel gets adequate pass protection.
2. It uses all its running backs to make the rushing game a Swiss knife that cuts through the Clemson defense.
3. It avoids field goals. You can't beat Clemson with that strategy.
4. It has Xavier Rhodes and the FSU cornerbacks play zone defense. The Seminoles will eventually get burned by Watkins if they play man.
5. It turns loose defensive ends Bjoern Werner and "Tank" Carradine to rush Tajh Boyd.
Clemson Will Win If...
1. Tajh Boyd doesn't have ridiculous turnovers.
2. It throw to Sammy Watkins (duh).
3. It uses the option with its running backs. An option pitch to Watkins could go for six.
4. It forces E.J. Manuel into throwing the ball deep (he's inaccurate beyond 10 yards) and doesn't hurt Manuel and force the pass-happy backup Clint Trickett into the game. He will demolish Clemson with his arm.
5. It plays for field position. You won't wear down the Seminole defensive line.
Florida State 35, Clemson 23
The Tigers will be explosive early, but Florida State will lead from the second quarter on, relying on their rushing game. Manuel will thrive off play-action passes, but will likely not complete half of them.
As a result, the game will slow down in the first half. But FSU will wear down the Clemson defense in the second half. However, the high-powered Clemson offense will keep its defense fresh enough to keep this from becoming an embarrassingly lopsided defeat.