Florida State vs. Clemson Football: Complete Game Preview

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

Florida State vs. Clemson Football: Complete Game Preview

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    Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd badly wants a marquee victory over rival Florida State.
    Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd badly wants a marquee victory over rival Florida State.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last week’s results

    No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) beat Boston College 24-14.

    No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC) was off; beat No. 25 Maryland 63-0 Oct. 5.

     

    Who will emerge superior in the Tajh Boyd-Jameis Winston showdown?

    OK, so Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston aren’t directly competing against one another. But both are among the top five contenders for the Heisman Trophy, per HeismanPundit.com, and their meeting has been eagerly anticipated and discussed among ACC fans. Boyd was the 2012 ACC Player of the Year and was the preseason pick to repeat at the ACC Football Kickoff.

    “Jameis, he’s not a freshman,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “I know he's listed as that, but this guy has played some ballgames now, and he's been on the road a couple times. He's had big expectations at home, and he hasn't been overwhelmed with anything.”

    Boyd agrees. “He plays older than he is,” Boyd said. “He's a redshirt freshman. His teammates back him. They support him. He handles himself in a more mature way when he steps out on the field.”

    Boyd is the ACC’s leader in total offense, averaging 328.3 yards per game; Winston is second with 315.2 per game. Boyd leads the ACC in passing yardage with 297 yards per game; Winston is second at 288 per.

    Winston leads the ACC in pass efficiency with a 213.9 rating; Boyd is second at 172.0. Winston has 17 touchdowns against two interceptions; Boyd has 15 scores against two interceptions.

    Both are mobile quarterbacks. Boyd averages 31 yards rushing per game while Winston averages 28.

    “It's just like our guy,” Swinney said of Winston. “I mean, it's like going up against Tajh Boyd. That's why you go recruit those kind of guys. It makes us all look like better coaches.”

     While the two quarterbacks won’t directly face off, it’s safe to say that the team with the more poised and successful signal-caller will feel much better about itself by evening’s end.

     

    Is Florida State ready for its stiffest competition of 2013?

    The Seminoles are 5-0 with three wins of 48-plus points. They’ve faced only one ranked foe so far, demolishing then-No. 25 Maryland 63-0. Clemson will be the Seminoles’ stiffest test of the season—No. 10 Miami and No. 22 Florida are the only other ranked teams remaining on their schedule.

    Clemson owns a 38-35 win over then-No. 5 Georgia, the highest-ranked foe an ACC team has taken down through the first six weeks of the season. And it is worth noting that Florida State’s last win in Clemson came in 2001. The Tigers are riding a five-game win streak over FSU in Memorial Stadium.

    FSU is ranked in the top three nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense, but it is safe to say we’ll know a lot more about how seriously to take their BCS Championship aspirations by late Saturday evening.

     

    Should Clemson be receiving more respect?

    The Tigers own a win over a healthy Georgia team. They were the overwhelming preseason choice to win the ACC championship, earning 95 votes as the preseason champs to Florida State’s 15. Yet the Seminoles are three-point favorites Saturday night per VegasInsider.com.

    Clemson players were asked about the line this week, and junior defensive end Corey Crawford said “It adds fire to the fire.”

    When asked if he was surprised his team was an underdog, Swinney was even-keeled and respectful.

    “This is a toss‑up if you ask me,” he said. “This is a game that comes down to a few plays. This is just like the Clemson‑Georgia game at the start of the season. You've got two great teams that both want to win, that both have great aspirations, and in this particular case, heck, we're talking about trying to win a division. This is a key game to try to win that next goal for us, and that's the Atlantic Division championship.

    “But as far as being a factor, whether we're an underdog or whatever, that has nothing to do with it.  We know they're a great team. We've got great respect for them.”

     

    Time: 8:22 p.m. ET Saturday

    Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

    TV: ABC

    Radio: Clemson and Florida State radio networks (regional); Sports USA network (national)

    Spread: Florida State -3 via vegasinsider.com

Video Preview

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    B/R's Michael Felder breaks down this week's biggest battle in college football. 

Clemson Keys to Victory

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    Clemson junior defensive end Vic Beasley must be impactful against Florida State Saturday.
    Clemson junior defensive end Vic Beasley must be impactful against Florida State Saturday.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Slow Down the Seminoles

    Clemson’s defense is much improved: The Tigers have held five consecutive opponents to 14 points or less, the longest such stretch since the end of the 1989 season. Clemson is 10th nationally in scoring defense (16.2 points per game) and 21st in total defense (344.8 yards per game).

    It faces its toughest test in Florida State’s offense. FSU averages 53.6 points per game (third nationally) and 549 yards per game (fourth nationally). Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says it is as explosive and balanced as the Tigers have seen this season. The Tigers have a high-powered offense but must stop talented quarterback Jameis Winston at least a few times to give themselves a chance.

     

    Run the Ball Effectively

    Chad Morris wants his offense to have a power run base, but the Tigers have struggled to establish a ground game. Clemson averages 172.5 yards rushing per game, 65th nationally; leading rusher Rod McDowell averages 64.2 yards per game but hasn’t had a 100-yard effort since his 132-yard opening-night effort against Georgia. 

    Swinney still seeks greater consistency from the offensive line. Junior left guard Kalon Davis and sophomore right tackle Shaq Anthony have supplanted opening-night starters David Beasley and Giff Timothy, respectively, but Morris didn’t commit to a set starting five linemen, saying the linemen who practiced best would start. They’ll need more consistent play against a very talented FSU defensive line.

     

    Break the Press

    A year ago, Clemson’s receivers struggled with Florida State’s press man coverage. Star wideout Sammy Watkins was limited to six receptions for 24 yards and while DeAndre Hopkins scored a 60-yard touchdown 90 seconds into the game, he had five receptions for 28 yards the rest of the way. Watkins said this week that he focused on being a more physical, better blocker, an emphasis for the entire receiving corps.

    If Clemson can get separation downfield, it’ll invite Boyd to take deep shots against FSU’s secondary.

Florida State Keys to Victory

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    Florida State freshman Jameis Winston faces his biggest test in Clemson Saturday night.
    Florida State freshman Jameis Winston faces his biggest test in Clemson Saturday night.Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

    Stay Calm

    Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston owns road wins at Pitt and Boston College (rallying from a 17-3 deficit for a 48-34 win in Chestnut Hill). He has yet to play in a road environment like the one he’ll see Saturday night with an expected crowd of 81,000. He’ll face a loud, hostile crowd. The environment for Clemson’s season-opening win over Georgia was raucous and chaotic, especially since the crowd had an entire day to tailgate. Winston and his older teammates must keep their bearings about them.

     

    Handle the Heat

    Florida State has a talented, athletic offensive line, but Clemson will bring a stiff test. The Tigers lead the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss per game, led by junior defensive end Vic Beasley, whose nine sacks are second nationally. Beasley and fellow ends Corey Crawford and Shaq Lawson (two sacks apiece) are more than capable of making opposing tackles miserable. Winston is an elusive runner, but the ‘Noles linemen must keep him upright to ensure success.

     

    Shut Down Sammy

    A year ago, Florida State held Clemson All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins in check in Tallahassee, limiting him to six receptions for 24 yards with physical coverage (Watkins did have a 52-yard touchdown pass). However, the Fort Myers, Fla., native ran wild on FSU in its 2011 visit, making seven receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns. If Watkins does that again, the Seminoles’ chances of their first win in Clemson since 2001 will dramatically decrease. Star defensive back Lamarcus Joyner will need a strong effort against the speedy Watkins.

Clemson Players to Watch

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    Sammy Watkins must have a big game for Clemson to succeed offensively against Florida State.
    Sammy Watkins must have a big game for Clemson to succeed offensively against Florida State.Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Senior QB Tajh Boyd

    Boyd is the Tigers’ unquestioned leader and one of the top statistical quarterbacks in ACC history. He needs only 164 yards Saturday to become the third ACC quarterback ever to surpass 10,000 yards passing, and he is four touchdowns away from breaking Philip Rivers’ career touchdown total of 112. He is 12th nationally in total offense, averaging 328.3 yards per game. Clemson will rely heavily on his right arm Saturday night.

     

    Junior WR Sammy Watkins

    Watkins has bounced back nicely from a down 2012 season. Through six games, he has 36 receptions for 582 yards and four touchdowns, including a 91-yard touchdown catch at Syracuse. He has surpassed 100 yards receiving in four of six games and had 96 yards at N.C. State. He was held to 24 yards last fall in a loss at Florida State and should be motivated heavily in what could be his final meeting with his home-state team.

     

    Junior DE Vic Beasley

    Beasley has proved himself as an every-down pass rusher with nine sacks (second nationally) in six games. He is on pace to smash Clemson’s single-season record of 16.5, held by linebacker Keith Adams. If he can bring down athletic Jameis Winston multiple times, Clemson’s hopes of holding serve will greatly increase.

Florida State Players to Watch

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    Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the odds-on favorite to win National Freshman of the Year honors.
    Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the odds-on favorite to win National Freshman of the Year honors.Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

    Freshman QB Jameis Winston

    In five games, the redshirt freshman has established himself as perhaps the most electric newcomer in college football. He averages 288.2 yards passing per game with 17 touchdowns against two interceptions and has completed 73.2 percent of his passes. He is also an elusive scrambler who is difficult to bring down. It’ll be fascinating to see how he handles what should be a raucous Clemson environment.

     

    Junior WR Rashad Greene

    An electric receiving threat, he has 23 receptions for 407 yards and five touchdowns. He is tied for the ACC lead in touchdown receptions and for his career averages a touchdown every 7.2 times he touches the ball. He is also capable of returning punts, including a 60-yard punt return score in 2012 at Wake Forest. He’ll be a handful for Clemson’s secondary.

     

    Senior CB Lamarcus Joyner

    Joyner is one of the ACC’s top defensive backs, capable of playing either safety or corner. He is known for his physical style and could draw Clemson star wideout Sammy Watkins in coverage. He has 25 tackles with two sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble in five games this season.

What They Are Saying

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    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows how important this game is for his program and the ACC as a whole.
    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows how important this game is for his program and the ACC as a whole.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    “At the end of the day, this is what it's all about, two great teams. We've got a pretty good team, too, and you've got two good teams going at it with a lot on the line, and this is why you're in college football. This is why you do it, right here, as a player and a coach, to be a part of games like this.” –Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, on the ACC’s fourth-ever Top Five matchup.

    “Our expectations have grown and I'm not sure why in particular we're the underdog, but we don't really think anything of it. It's not really disrespect or anything like that. It's just people's perception, what they think. Again, it's up to us to go out there and change what they think, but at the end of the day you just have to go out there and play.” –Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd on being a three-point home underdog to Florida State.

    “Everybody gets tested from time to time. It wasn't just last week. We've been tested many times, and I think these guys understand that it's a four‑quarter game. When you make mistakes, you move on.  When you have big plays, you've got to keep playing until there's no time left on the clock. Hopefully the overall experience that we have will help us.” –Swinney, on his team being tested against Georgia and Boston College.

Prediction

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    Tajh Boyd's senior leadership and experience should give Clemson the edge over Florida State.
    Tajh Boyd's senior leadership and experience should give Clemson the edge over Florida State.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    This is the kind of game the ACC has wanted for eight years. Clemson-Florida State is the league’s first meeting of Top Five teams since Nov. 5, 2005, a national showcase for an improving football product. Two potent offenses, two improving defenses and a pair of franchise quarterbacks in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

    It comes as a surprise that the Seminoles are a three-point favorite, given Clemson’s home-field advantage and the fact that FSU has not won in Clemson since 2001. Expect plenty of points to be scored on both sides, but I think Clemson’s pulsating environment and its veteran presence at quarterback will make the difference in the end.

    Clemson 30, Florida State 27

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.

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