Clemson Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Tigers' Loss vs. the Seminoles
It's been a while since college football was excited about an ACC vs. ACC contest, and it didn't disappoint.
Clemson and Florida State battled it out for four quarters, but the Tigers were unable to overcome the Seminoles' strong second half to pull out the win, falling 49-37 in Tallahassee.
The Seminoles are now 4-0 and have an early advantage in the Atlantic Division race.
Clemson, however, has plenty of work to do, especially on defense. We can take several things away from this loss against the Seminoles.
Clemson's Offense Can Score Against Anybody
Florida State's defense entered the game holding each of its first three opponents to three points or fewer.
The result Saturday night: Clemson scored 37 points while amassing close to 500 yards of offense.
Chad Morris had this offense rolling for a good part of the night and called a pretty good game. He game-planed well against a talented FSU defense that is unarguably the best that Clemson will see all season. They showed the talent that Clemson has on offense, and that Chad Morris will find a way to move the ball.
Clemson Defense Needs Work
Everyone knew that Clemson's defense would be a work in progress with a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables, and that there would be plenty of growing pains to deal with.
Those growing pains happened in this game, giving up 667 total yards of offense to the Seminoles.
The defense made some stops but didn't make enough in the second half to provide more scoring opportunities for the offense, nor did it make the stops when the offense stalled in the second half, and it got outplayed as the game wore on.
Venables can make this defense better, but, as was the case with Dabo, he needs time to install his system.
Clemson Secondary Needs Work.... and a Lot of Help
Easily the biggest part of the bad defensive play was the poor quality of the Clemson secondary, which failed to make any plays in the passing game. They exhibited poor technique, especially in tackling.
Cornerback Darius Robinson had two huge pass interference penalties, and the safety play was poor in both pass coverage and run support.
Right now, the only bright spot for the Clemson secondary is Travis Blanks, a true freshman who is still developing to the college game. Bashaud Breeland is probably next in line, notching a sack and playing more consistently than his other counterparts.
If this defense is to get better, the secondary must make progress.
Florida State Proved Its Physicality
The Seminoles proved they are plenty physical, staying the course and taking each punch that Clemson gave them on offense. Only they punched back on Clemson's vulnerable defense, especially its secondary.
FSU's running game was consistent for most of the night, with both quarterback E.J. Manuel and Chris Thompson topping over 100 rushing yards on the night. Florida State rushers got plenty of yards after contact and ran the ball with an authority that Clemson could never contain.
Florida State's Defense Is Good, but It's Not Invulnerable
Florida State's defense came in highly touted, but the question would be how much they shut down Clemson's evolving offense.
Despite the loss for the Tigers, they still put up 37 points against one of college football's top ranked defenses. And it could provide a good blueprint. Just as teams will latch onto Clemson's porous defense, teams will latch onto what Clemson was able to exploit from a defense that gave up 37 points and 500 yards of total offense.
But despite that, FSU's defense is still fast, hard-hitting and physical. Proceed with caution.
Chad Morris Is a Dangerous Threat, and His Fame Grows Week to Week
It's probably a given that Chad Morris will be mentioned every week. And rightfully so, given how far this offense has come in only two years.
And in his second year as the guy behind the crimes of his offense, he does something different every week and knows how to game-plan against any team he's playing against. His new wrinkle of using receiver Sammy Watkins in the backfield and keeping Deandre Hopkins involved while also feeding running back Andre Ellington is a thing of amazement.
Dabo Swinney knew what he was doing when he grabbed this guy away from Tulsa. Clemson remains one of the primer threats on offense in the ACC, win or lose.
The Clemson Defensive Line Needs Growing Time
The defensive line for Clemson was active, but it could not get consistent penetration against the FSU offensive line. Fans will be looking for this group, as with the rest of this defense, to make more impact plays.
Currently, the best pass-rusher has been the defensive backs off of blitzes, along with former journeyman Vic Beasley, who found a home at defensive end and has flashed instinct and pass-rush ability. He may find more playing time as the season goes on.
The defensive tackles got stood up most of the night and never got the push on Manuel for most of the night.
With a group of largely sophomores along the line, you can bet position coach Dan Brooks will bring these guys along. But Tiger fans must be patient in both development and letting defensive coordinator Brent Venables install his scheme.
E.J. Manuel Silenced Doubters... for Now
FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, finally healthy, has made his case, and is about to be the talk of the Heisman Trophy and the national championship... at least for this week.
Manuel stood strong against a tough Clemson team that seemed destined to score, but he matched their scoring efforts with his own, utilizing his dual-threat ability as both a runner and a passer, passing for 380 yards and completing 27 of his 35 passes with two touchdowns.
He also rushed for 102 yards on 12 carries and was aided by a strong rushing attack from his running back Chris Thompson.
FSU's Rushing Attack Is Its Best Asset
The biggest part of the night was Florida State's much improved rushing attack, which left a lot to be desired in 2011.
The combination of running back Chris Thompson and E.J. Manuel was an underrated factor in this game, as both surpassed the century-mark for the Seminoles, with Thompson scoring two touchdowns and leading the team in rushing.
The Seminoles had 287 total rushing yards and exposed a porous Clemson defense that teams will be sure to exploit, especially with Clemson's poor tackling ability.
It's a Long Season
Clemson fans will be down this week, but they have to tell themselves this: It's a long season. Sitting at 3-1, the ACC is not lost, and FSU is not invincible.
The main guy at the helm, head coach Dabo Swinney, will get this team back on track to make sure this one loss does not beat them twice as the team heads up to Boston to face the Boston College Eagles, who will have nowhere near the environment that a Florida State does.
Clemson, while it may not have its hands on the steering wheel, is still in the car, and it can continue to stay there should it take care of business against Boston College.