Clemson vs. Florida State: Can't-Miss Matchups in ACC Showdown

James Ermilio@jimmyermilioCorrespondent IIISeptember 22, 2012

Tajh Boyd is going to have to be creative if he hopes to beat the Seminoles D.
Tajh Boyd is going to have to be creative if he hopes to beat the Seminoles D.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Two of the best teams in the nation clash in a Saturday night ACC matchup between the high-flying No. 10 Clemson Tigers and the defensive-minded No. 4 Florida State Seminoles.  

If there was ever a college game that warranted the "unstoppable force vs. immovable object" cliche, this is it.

Both teams are undefeated, with records of 3-0.  Clemson has averaged nearly 40 points a game in this young season, and Florida State has allowed a total of just three points in three games.

Let's take a look at three matchups in the game that warrant special attention as these two top-10 teams kick off their well-publicized Week 4 showdown.

QB Tajh Boyd and the Clemson O-Line vs. the Florida State Defensive Front

It's true of football at any level: the game is won in the trenches.  

This old adage especially pertains to Week 4's Seminoles vs. Tigers game.  The Florida State defensive line is nothing short of vaunted (even without all injured All ACC-end Brandon Jenkins) and it's headed by German-born monster DE Bjoern Werner, who has already racked up 6.5 sacks this season. They've also got Cornelius Carradine, who's quick off the ball and has 3.5 sacks already.

The Clemson offensive line has improved since giving up four sacks in the season opener against Auburn, but there's enough uncertainty there that Florida State should be able to win this matchup.

They're going to have to, because the Tigers have incredible talent at the skill positions.  

They've got the best QB/RB/WR trio in the ACC in dual-threat passer Tajh Boyd, sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins,  and RB Andre Ellington, who has already totaled 328 yards and four touchdowns.

Boyd has plenty of weapons at his disposal (including productive pass-catcher DeAndre Hopkins).  So, the key to a Clemson victory is simple: their front line must buy their QB enough time to make plays out of the pocket and enough space to make plays with his feet.

RBs Andre Ellington and Chris Thompson

Yes, this isn't a matchup in the sense that these two players won't share the field at the same time. 

But it is in the sense that both teams will rely on their runners to control this game.  

In order to open up the pass, Clemson will need Ellington to gash the Seminoles front and force the defense to stack the box against the run. Conversely, Florida State will rely on Chris Thompson to dominate time of possession and keep the Clemson offense off the field.

Thompson is one of college football's best stories: He missed all of last season with a broken back, and he's come back strong. He dominated Wake Forest last week, rushing for 197 yards and two touchdowns. 

Ellington did very well against the Auburn front in the opener, rushing for 228 yards, but he's got a bigger challenge in Florida State's D.  

Look for both teams to try and get their rushers involved early and often in Week 4.  

Clemson's Secondary vs. QB E.J. Manuel

Everyone is looking at the Clemson offense vs. Florida State D matchup, but there's a lot to watch on the other side of the ball.

Clemson's pass D has been lacking this year, yielding over seven yards per-pass-attempt to Auburn, a weak passing team, and over eight-per-attempt to the Furman Palladins.

Florida State QB E.J. Manuel has led a decent passing attack (227 ypg), but this is a matchup he'll have to win.  He'll need to take advantage of the secondary because Clemson defensive coordinator Brett Venables will look to stack the box and take away the run.

Manuel has completed 71 percent of his passes this season, and he'll need to be just as efficient if the Seminoles want to control the TOP, field position, and the game's tempo.  

Look for quick slants and strikes to throw the struggling Clemson D off-balance early.  They'll spin the dial on offense to keep the D guessing, and try to control the game so as not to let Clemson's high-powered offense blow the score open.