The Florida State Seminoles travel to "Death Valley" to face the Clemson Tigers for what could easily become a Seminoles romp. The Atlantic division showdown in the ACC between the No. 11 and No. 21 teams in the country might not be as close as many think.
The two top teams in the division square off Saturday for a pivotal game that could decide who goes to the ACC Championship game.
Both the Seminoles and Tigers come into Saturday off of big non-conference games from the week prior. Florida State lost a tight game to the Oklahoma Sooners in Tallahassee, and Clemson beat the Auburn Tigers at home.
Just because Clemson came out ahead does not mean it should be the favorite going into this game. Here's a list that of why the Seminoles should blow out the Tigers on the road this weekend.
Jimbo Fisher has come out and said as recently as yesterday that the starting quarterback will be a "game-time decision" for their trip to Death Valley. That of course is due to the injury EJ Manuel suffered last week to his non-throwing shoulder versus the Oklahoma Sooners.
Although it may need to be a true game-time decision, this smells an awful lot like gamesmanship to me. Fisher mentioned this week that Manuel wanted to reenter the game versus Oklahoma but he did not feel comfortable putting him back in and jeopardizing his season for one game.
If EJ Manuel does start Saturday, I expect the Seminoles offense to be on point and silence the crowd. Manuel has played in tough road environments before despite being the No.1 guy just this year. He has a 67.23 completion percentage through three weeks, which will be crucial in moving the ball down the field.
The other side of the coin has Clint Trickett's face on it. A redshirt freshman who came in for Manuel last week and almost rescued the game in heroic fashion versus the Sooners, the lanky backup quarterback has all the ingredients needed to be successful on the road.
A week after being thrown in the fire to face the No.1 team in the country and asked to make a historic comeback, he might get his first start of his career. Trickett went seven of 15 and threw for 134 yards during his cameo appearance last week. He threw one touchdown pass—on third and 28—and one interception last week.
The Clemson Tigers have allowed an average of 419 yards per game versus three opponents this year. That includes not only playing the Auburn Tigers last week but Wofford and Troy the two weeks prior.
Imagine what an angry Noles team could put up versus that defense, with Manuel or Trickett.
When you travel on the road to a hostile conference opponents stadium, you must be focused in all areas and that includes special teams. Many rivalry contests come down to a field goal or a battle between field position. Thus, making the place kicker and the punter two of the more important players coming off the bus on a road trip.
Dustin Hopkins has proven to be one of the best kickers in the country. He has an incredible leg and can hit a field goal from beyond 50 yards without a problem. Just last week, Hopkins hit a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter versus the Oklahoma Sooners.
The other big foot on the team is punter Shawn Powell. Although the punter may not be a glamor position in football, he can certainly win or lose you a game over the course of a contest.
Powell played excellent last week versus the Sooners, pinning them inside their own 20-yard line on more than one occasion, which allowed the defense to get after the ball. Field position will be key once again this week in the confines of Memorial Stadium.
Being able to shorten the field for the Florida State Seminoles offense and lengthen the field for their defense could push the pendulum in their favor early and often.
Kicking may not make the headlines after Saturday's game, but it definitely will play a part in how things shape up throughout the course of the game. If the Noles can keep the Clemson Tigers pinned deep in their own territory, it could be a long afternoon for Tajh Boyd and the Tigers offense.
The most exciting player on the Florida State Seminoles has yet to make a huge impact on special teams and this could be the week to do it. The dangerous return man has been a block from breaking one in the two games he's played this season.
The 5'8'' junior has yet to get an interception in his first two games of the season either. A playmaker like Greg Reid cannot stay silent forever.
Reid could provide a spark that ignites this team into an explosive attack against the Clemson Tigers. Whether it be an interception, a kick return or a punt return, the dynamic Reid will have a profound effect on the game.
A big play on defense or special teams would silence the home crowd in Death Valley, enabling the Seminoles offense to work under tamer conditions. I do not know why, but there is something in the pit of my stomach telling me that Reid has a big game.
The junior cornerback loves the spotlight and for the most part has had his biggest games when it matters. Saturday presents another chance for the small, hard-hitting cornerback to show he's a big-game playmaker. Not to mention, the majority of his big plays have come away from home.
If you were to ask any athletic director in the ACC if they'd rather have Jimbo Fisher or Dabo Swinney as head coach, I would presume that 75 percent of them would choose Jimbo Fisher.
The man came up under the discipleship of one of the game's best head coaches at the moment in Nick Saban. He's experienced life in the SEC and also sat behind the coach with the second-most wins in all of college football, Bobby Bowden.
Simply put, Jimbo Fisher got an ivy league education in coaching football. In his short time as head coach for the Florida State Seminoles, he has taken them to a 10-win season—something Bowden didn't do in the last six years of his career—and has assembled the No.1 recruiting class in the nation.
That's a pretty good start for any coach.
Swinney has a similar background coming through the ranks as an assistant at the University of Alabama and later on became an understudy of a Bowden. The only problem with that was that he studied under Tommy Bowden who later lost his job due to his team's poor performance.
Fisher has shown he has a good handle on in-game situations and adjustments that every great head coach must have. He will be tested this week with his top receivers and possibly his starting quarterback not playing.
However, despite the injuries, Fisher has a championship mindset and knows there are no excuses come Saturday. That type of mentality separates the men from the boys in college football.
If there was one thing to take away from the Oklahoma Sooners game last week, it was the fact that the Florida State Seminoles defense can play. The defensive unit stifled the Sooners offense for the better of three quarters after its initial touchdown drive.
Two goal-line stands, two interceptions and plenty of big hits on Landry Jones throughout the game. The defense muzzled the Sooners' hurry-up offense and showed that while the rest of the team may not be championship-ready, it is.
The Seminoles won't have the luxury of playing at home this week but the defense welcomes the challenge of playing on the road. Several members of the defense spoke about playing on the road and focusing on the task at hand.
Defensive lineman Bjoern Werner commented on the defense's excitement about playing on the road this week. "It's going to be a great challenge for our defense again, like last week." Linebacker Vince Williams added to Werner's sentiment. "Right now, we're going to play Clemson...that's the game we're going to be focusing on 100 percent."
Florida State will have to keep Clemson Tigers' speedy offense in check. Clemson has averaged 522.7 yards per game through three games this year but has yet to face a defense as mean as the Seminoles. Troy, Wofford and a bad Auburn defense have made the athletic offense look a little better than deserved.
After its herculean performance last week, Florida State's defense wants to prove that that was not a fluke.