All eyes will be on Jimbo Fisher and Florida State when No. 10 Clemson invades Tallahassee in week 4's premier matchup.
Florida State has looked impressive in its three blowout victories to open the season, but there have been questions about the level of competition they have faced up to this point.
The answers to those questions will be settled when No. 10 Clemson visits Doak Campbell Stadium in this weekend’s most anticipated matchup.
Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles exorcised one of its past nemesis in last weekend’s 52-0 thrashing of Wake Forest, but the Tigers have been a thorn in FSU’s side recently—taking six of the last nine meetings between the Atlantic Division rivals.
With a prime spot atop the Atlantic Division up for grabs as an appetizer, the stakes for this showdown are even higher considering that the winner stands a decent chance at running the table and entering the national title race.
Will Florida State’s defense—a unit that is leading the nation in all four major defensive categories—be able to slow down the Tigers’ high-powered offense that was able to shred the ‘Noles a year ago?
Can FSU’s rebuilt offensive line step up to the plate against its toughest test to date?
Here are five keys to the game against Clemson.
FSU has a 9-1 record at home against Clemson since joining the ACC.
The atmosphere in Doak is likely to rival last season’s mega tilt against Oklahoma—which means that the crowd will be amped up considerably.
The last thing the ‘Noles want is to have Clemson come in and find a way to silence them early.
On the other hand, if FSU jumps out to an early lead, they could find themselves with an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow earlier than expected.
In a game pitting two Top-10 teams against one another, FSU—who has won the last two meetings in Tallahassee—is hoping that a little home cooking can help them surge to its first 4-0 start since 2005.
If FSU cannot keep Ellington in check, Clemson's offense could approach the 35 point total they hung on FSU last year.
Clemson’s offense is as explosive as any in the country—with quarterback Tajh Boyd surrounded by weapons like receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, plus running back Andre Ellington.
While the Tigers’ group of pass-catchers may grab the headlines for Dabo Swinney’s club, getting its senior tailback healthy and off to a good start makes their offense nearly unstoppable.
If FSU’s vaunted defensive front can limit Ellington’s effectiveness and turn defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine loose to rush the passer, it could be a long night for Boyd and the rest of the Tigers offense.
Clemson will have its hands full trying to keep Werner from harassing Boyd.
Clemson’s rebuilt offensive line has only surrendered four sacks this season, but they have yet to face a defensive line as powerful as the unit FSU will line up against them on Saturday night.
The Tigers’ defensive line is in a similar position having been fairly average in its first three games.
By contrast, FSU’s new-look offensive line has been dominant and its defensive line is considered by many to be the nation’s best unit.
If the ‘Noles are able to control the lines of scrimmage, the Tigers chances for an upset will likely crash and burn.
If Thompson can find some running room, FSU's offense should be able to control the tempo against Clemson.
The biggest difference in FSU’s offense this season has been its ability to run the ball effectively.
Clemson’s defense—which is tied for 87th nationally in rush defense, per cfbstats.com—has struggled under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables in its first three games against opponents who have a combined record of 3-6.
Opponents are averaging 4.75 yards per carry against Clemson this season, with Ball State gashing the Tigers for 252 yards in its 52-27 loss in Death Valley.
Conversely, FSU has averaged 279 yards per game on the ground this season—including senior running back Chris Thompson’s monster game (nine carries, 197 yards and two touchdowns) that helped the ‘Noles rack up 385 rushing yards in last week’s 52-0 demolition of Wake Forest.
If FSU can run the ball effectively against the Tigers, that will help open up the throwing lanes for quarterback E.J. Manuel in the passing game and keep the tempo of the game squarely in favor of the home team.
If FSU can knock off a top 10 team with the entire nation watching, the 'Noles could position themselves to make a run at the national title.
Fair or not, the nation has been waiting on FSU to put up or shut up in regards to finally being “back.”
Simply put, Fisher and his players cannot worry about something that will not have any effect on Saturday’s game.
This is easily the biggest game of the year on the grandest stage—considering that ESPN’s College Gameday will be in town and kickoff will be in prime-time under the lights.
Instead of playing tight, the ‘Noles have a deeper squad and a crowd of 83,000-plus behind them.
The only thing left to do is to get the job done and prove that FSU’s days of underachieving are finally over.