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Clemson Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Florida State

Eric SteitzAnalyst IIIOctober 29, 2016

Clemson Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Florida State

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    College football’s most intriguing game in Week 4 is an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup between No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson (AP Rankings). With national title implications this is a must-win for both programs. The Clemson Tigers will need to do these five things in order to secure the driver’s seat in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

    FSU (3-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) is outscoring its opponents 176-3 this season, en route to the undefeated start. Clemson (3-0, 0-0) is no slouch with a 119-53 scoring margin, including a seven-point win over Auburn in Week 1.

    Florida State has hopes of a national title in 2012. Clemson looks to put a blemish on that record and make its own claim for national title contention Saturday.

    With the volatility seen in the polls in the first three weeks of the season, losses to quality opponents appear to be harder to come at a price. In Week 3, then No. 2 USC lost to No. 21 Stanford, 21-14, and fell 11 spots.

    A week earlier, No. 8 Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe and fell out of the polls.

    The SEC holds the top two spots in the polls (Alabama and LSU), but the ACC wants in on the action. Saturday’s prime-time matchup of two top-10 teams will be the ACC’s best chance to show the country they have contenders.

    A quality football game is even more important for the ACC after Virginia Tech’s loss to unranked Pittsburgh last week. Now, the ACC has just Clemson and Florida State in the top 25.

    It’s the marquis game on the College Football slate, hosting ESPN’s College Game Day. Clemson needs to do these five things to shine under the bright lights in Tallahassee.

This Is Not the Typical ‘One Week at a Time Game’

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    Coaches and players use various forms of the just taking it “one game at a time” sentiment. While it’s the classy thing to say, in college football, there is no such thing.

    Saturday night’s contest is a big game and Clemson needs to prepare that way. They rose to the occasion in Week 1 against Auburn on national television. Fortunately for Clemson, that was a neutral site, non-conference game.

    This one isn’t.

    Clemson has to travel to Tallahassee to face arguably the most dominating team in college football thus far. These ACC rivalry games are tough enough. The implications surrounding this contest make it even tougher.

    With the volatility in college football polls and the importance of an unblemished record, Clemson needs to understand this isn’t just another game. This could very well be the only chance to prove the Tigers are national title contenders.

    This game shouldn’t have a “one week at a time” mentality―this is the season.

Be Disciplined

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    The first point Tigers coach Dabo Swinney teaches in his youth football camps is discipline. His Tigers will need to be disciplined if they are going to be smiling late Saturday night.

    Clemson is currently tied for 19th in the country in turnover margin (1.33). Florida State is tied for 48th with a 0.33.

    In emotional ball games like this, the more disciplined team is often the more successful team. Clemson has been penalized 16 times in three games this season for 167 yards (T-54th in the country). FSU has been penalized 10 times for 103 yards (T-13th).

    With the explosiveness of these two offenses, penalty yards could be a big factor in this game. Turning a 3rd-and-2 into a 3rd-and-7 due to a false start can change the complexion of a game.

    Being disciplined on every snap is crucial for the Tigers. This will be a physical and emotional game. Tempers will be flaring. The Tigers cannot allow themselves to get a personal foul penalty against a very talented FSU team.

    Limiting penalties and mistakes will help the Tigers knock off the Seminoles.

Tajh Boyd, Heisman Trophy Candidate

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    Clemson junior QB Tajh Boyd is starting to earn votes from the ESPN experts for the Heisman Trophy. Boyd currently sits 11th in that ESPN poll and will have his second opportunity to captivate a national television audience’s attention against FSU.

    Boyd is off to a strong start this season, completing 73.3 percent of his passes. He is currently rated 22nd in the FBS in passing efficiency (166.92). He is also 35th in the FBS in total offense.

    Fortunately for the Tigers, they haven’t needed him much these last couple weeks. The Tigers blew out Ball State (52-27) and Furman (41-7) their last two weeks.

    Still, Boyd has thrown for 747 yards in three contests this season and is on pace to set career marks in yards, completion percentage and interceptions. Against Auburn, he threw for 208 yards and completed nearly 71 percent of his throws.

    With sophomore WR Sammy Watkins shaking the rust off and junior DeAndre Hopkins emerging as a star, Boyd has weapons to throw to.

    The last time these two teams met, Hopkins had five catches for 78 yards and Watkins had seven for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Boyd had a not-so pedestrian 344 yards and three touchdowns without an interception to lead Clemson to a 35-30 upset.

    Boyd will need to prove he is a legitimate Heisman candidate this weekend against an FSU defense that has given up three points all season. If he has a great day, the Tigers should be in good position to pull off an upset.

Clemson's Passing Game Against Florida State's Secondary

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    Clemson's passing game was the deciding factor in last season's 35-30 upset of FSU. The Tigers took the lead early in the first quarter on a touchdown pass, extended the lead with a one in the second quarter and put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter with another.

    As a freshman, Sammy Watkins had seven receptions for 141 yards and two of those receiving touchdowns. QB Tajh Boyd went 22-for-35 for 344 yards. DeAndre Hopkins turned in a five-catch, 78-yard performance.

    Clemson averaged 9.8 yards per catch in that contest and outgained the Seminoles by eight yards through the air.

    Last season, the Seminoles were 2-1 heading into the contest and ranked 11th in the country. Clemson was 3-0 and 21st.

    This season, the major playmakers return and the stakes are even higher.

    Florida State’s pass defense finished 21st in the FBS last season, giving up 192.75 yards per game, according to Rivals.com. In 2012, FSU boasts the top-rated pass defense in the country, giving up less than 70 passing yards per game.

    Clemson counters with a pass offense that hasn’t been used much in their first three contests, but he has the ability to put up big numbers.

    FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher knows that all too well. He has high praise for Watkins, according to the Florida Times Union.

    “He’s just a phenomenal player,” Fisher said. “The most impactful freshman, maybe since Herschel Walker. Sammy made that kind of impact the day that he came in.”

    Watkins also creates problems with the attention he draws without the football. That allows other players on the Clemson offense to hurt FSU.

    “Great talent, off the charts,” Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “You just can’t zero in on him, their other guys can hurt you in a minute.”

    Clemson is going to need their passing game to be in top form Saturday night. Boyd has been efficient, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes, but Clemson’s pass offense is only 23rd in the FBS. The Tigers average 298 pass yards per game.

    Big plays in the passing game will be key against FSU.

Defense and Special Teams

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    With two high-powered offenses battling it out, defensive stops will be at a premium Saturday. Holding the opposition off the scoreboard or to a field goal could make the difference in this highly-anticipated matchup.

    Clemson has a slight edge in the turnover battle this season. They have forced six turnovers (five interceptions, one fumble recovery) and turned the ball over only twice. FSU has forced four turnovers (three fumble recoveries, one INT) and given the ball up three times.

    Ball security and turnovers could be the deciding factor in this one. Last season, the teams played even with one turnover apiece. FSU threw a pick and Clemson lost a fumble. Turnovers should be hard to come by, making special teams even more important.

    Let’s say this isn’t an offensive showcase and the defenses shine. If that’s the case, playing the field-position game gets put on the forefront.

    The edge goes to Clemson in the punting game. The Tigers are averaging 43.85 yards per punt. Florida State averages 39.63.

    FSU has the edge in kick-return coverage, giving up just 15 yards per return. Clemson gives up 19.75 yards per return.

    Both teams have explosive returners with Clemson sophomore Martavis Bryant and FSU senior Lovell Jackson.

    Any time the special teams can give their respective offense an advantage, that bodes well for success. Coverage teams can’t give up a big play that could cause an insurmountable momentum shift.

    Clemson will have to perform well on all three sides of the ball to be successful, especially since they are 14.5-point underdogs (via ESPN).

    The last time these two teams faced each other as top-10 teams, FSU won 54-7. ESPN’s Phil Steele is calling for the Seminoles to win this Saturday by four touchdowns.

    The Tigers have the talent, but can they knock off one of the most dominant teams in the country this season?

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