The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - The Florida State game has been one Clemson's most highly anticipated conference games over the last decade.

WHAT: Clemson at Florida State
WHERE: Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300) - Tallahassee, Fla.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 13 (8 p.m. EST)
SPREAD: Clemson +6

The Tigers trail the all-time series 16-7, but have won 4 of the last 5 meetings, including last season's 40-24 victory in Death Valley.

Clemson's only loss since 2005 was a 41-27 road defeat in 2008--the largest margin of defeat in the ACC for Dabo Swinney.

In order for Clemson (5-4, 3-3 ACC) to stay alive in the ACC Atlantic Division race, Saturday is a must-win as Florida State (6-3, 4-2 ACC) sits atop the division.

A win would potentially give Clemson the tie-break advantage over Florida State, N.C. State and Maryland--assuming all four teams finish with the same conference record.

But it won't be easy.

The Seminoles are second in the ACC in scoring offense with 33.7 points a game while the Tiger defense ranks first in scoring defense (17.6).

In the last four games--during which Clemson is 3-1--the Tigers have given up 12.3 points a game.

The first five games saw Clemson go 2-3, while giving up 21.8 points.

Here's a look at what to expect Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium:

A week ago, North Carolina torched Florida State to the tune of 439 yards passing and three touchdowns, which was critical in the Heels' two-point upset.

But big outputs against the Seminole secondary have been common this season as this young group has allowed an average of 226.7 yards. In fact, Samford, Oklahoma, Virginia and Miami each eclipsed the 200-yard mark.

Greg Reid and the Florida State secondary have struggled this season, but can Clemson take advantage? (Getty Images)
Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes are tied for the team lead with two interceptions. The rest of the secondary has just two other interceptions.

First-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops operates a no-nonsense scheme that primarily consists of a four-man rush with several different zone looks on the backside.

That four-man pass rush has been extremely efficient this season-- Florida State is first in the nation with 38 sacks. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins leads the team with 10. In one of the game's more intriguing individual match ups, he'll be faced up with All-ACC left tackle Chris Hairston.

On the opposite from Jenkins is Markus White, who's second with 5½ sacks.

Of course, Clemson is among the nation's best in protecting its quarterbacks-- the Tigers are 15th in the country with nine sacks allowed. But N.C. State was able to sack Kyle Parker on three-straight plays last week.

Despite his critical reviews among certain circles, Parker's chances for success against Florida State get a shot in the arm with return of Jaron Brown, who's tied for fourth on the team with 16 receptions after he had to sit out last week with an ankle injury.

Clemson's leading receivers--Dwayne Allen and DeAndre Hopkins--provide Parker with reliable targets in the open spaces of the zone.

When facing a hostile environment at Auburn, the screen game was very effective for Clemson. Jamie Harper, who may have the best set of hands on the team, could be a very important part of the passing game, especially against an aggressive front four.


Reid is one of the most explosive return men in the ACC. The sophomore is fourth in the ACC with 9.7 yards per punt return and 24.4 yards per kickoff return. He's returned one punt for a touchdown.

Meanwhile Clemson punter Dawson Zimmerman is having an All-ACC kind of season with a net punting average of 43.6.

Chandler Catanzaro steps back in for Richard Jackson this week as Clemson's starting kicker. He is 7 for 12 so far this season with a long of 48 yards. (Roy Philpott)
Since the Tigers are ninth in the ACC in total offense, punts could often end drives on Saturday, making for another interesting match up (Zimmerman and Reid).

Florida State leads the ACC in kickoff coverage with the highest net average--46.7. Without Andre Ellington, who leads Clemson with 34 yards per return, the Tigers' return unit is a little handcuffed. But Marcus Gilchrist is still around, and he leads the team with 311 yards.

The biggest issue for Clemson's special teams is the inconsistent field goal unit.

Richard Jackson was named the starter last week, but missed both field goals. Catanzaro, who kicked the second extra-point in the 14-13 win over N.C. State, missed two field goals the week before in Boston.

Catanzaro won the job back in practice this week--he's converted on 7 of 12 attempts this season.

Lookout for potential change at long snapper. Although Matt Skinner has made the majority of the snaps on both field goals and punts, Phillip Fajgenbaum has a few under his belt, too. Swinney hinted early on in the week that there could be a change.

A shaky field goal on the road, against a high-power offense doesn't look good for Clemson, which ranks 89th in the country in total offense and 70th in scoring.


Although starting quarterback Christian Ponder is listed as doubtful because an elbow injury, the folks at Clemson believe he'll play. Ponder didn't practice Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but Fisher said that wouldn't dictate whether or not he would play on Saturday.

If Ponder is unable to play, E.J. Manuel, last year's Gator Bowl MVP, will get the start. (Getty Images)
On the season, he's completed 150 of 243 passes for 1,647 and 16 touchdowns. But surprisingly, his average number of passing yards ranks seventh in the ACC-- just one place ahead of Parker.

If Ponder is unable to play, E.J. Manuel, last year's Gator Bowl MVP, will get the start. Manuel is a more mobile version of Ponder but obviously lacks big-game experience outside of last year's Gator Bowl.

Florida State has a plethora of talented receivers to throw to, including Bert Reid, the conference's fourth-leading pass catcher per game with 4.78 receptions.

Willie Haulstead is the most explosive member of the Seminole wide receiver corps with 52.3 yards per game and 14.7 yards per reception--both are best on the team. He's also first with five touchdown catches.

Taiwan Easterling is third on the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (402).

At 6-foot-6, Rodney Smith is a giant target for the red zone. He has 17 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

The Clemson secondary, led by Tallahassee native DeAndre McDaniel, continues to be a strength for the tigers, who rank 23rd in the country with a pass efficiency defense rating of 113.68.

Da'Quan Bowers, the country's top pass rusher (12½) should add to his total against an offensive line that's giving up 2.11 sacks a game. That figure is tied for 71st in the country.

Along with McDaniel, Jonathan Meeks and Rashard Hall round out a talented group of ball hawking safeties.

Gilchrist and an improving Xavier Brewer lead the Clemson cornerbacks that have provided a few coverage sacks for Bowers and company.

Although we do expect Ponder to play, the match up is too close to call.


Jamie Harper played admirably in last weekend's 14-13 win over N.C. State, but it was obvious to anyone watching: Clemson missed Andre Ellington.

With Ellington sidelined because of a foot injury, the Clemson offense lacks its best option in the running game. And unfortunately, he'll be out again on Saturday.

It could be tough running for Jamie Harper and company Saturday as nationally, Florida State ranks 12th with 106.3 yards allowed per game. In the ACC, Florida State is second to only Boston College. (Roy Philpott)
Florida State opponents have rushed for over 100 yards only four times this season-- Wake Forest (103), Miami (189), Boston College (171) and N.C. State (189).

Because of sacks, those numbers are slightly skewed. BYU rushed for over 130 yards, before the sack yards are figured into the total.

The Seminoles have allowed just two 100-yard rushers this season-- Miami running back Damien Berry (101) and Boston College running back Montel Harris (191).

Nationally, Florida State ranks 12th with 106.3 yards allowed per game. In the ACC, Florida State is second to only Boston College.

Weak-side outside linebacker Nigel Bradham leads the talented group of Florida State backers. He's first on the team with 63 tackles and 11th in the ACC. Middle linebacker Kendall Smith has 62 tackles.

Last week's rushing performance is a sign of things to come for Clemson, at least until Ellington is healthy enough to play.


A three-headed rushing attack is paced by a veteran offensive line that's led by guard Rodney Hudson, an eight-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week winner.

Chris Thompson is first on the team with 533 yards rushing and second with four touchdowns. Jermain Thomas has rushed for 480 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. Ty Jones is second with 426 yards. His 7.6 yards per carry is tops on the team among players with at least 10 carries.

(Roy Philpott)
Ponder is also a threat on the ground. He's fourth on the team with 152 yards and tied for second with four touchdowns.

Fullback Lonnie Pryor is a threat on short-yardage and goal line situations. Of his 12 carries, three have gone for touchdowns.

At times this season, Clemson has struggled to force opposing offenses off the field, because of drives prolonged by the run.

The Tiger front is playing its best ball during Steele's two seasons. In the last four games, the Clemson defense has allowed as many touchdowns.

A very multiple offense will keep things in Florida State's favor, until defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can adjust.

The edge goes to the home team, but if Clemson can somehow stymie FSU early, look out.


PREDICTION: Florida State 21 Clemson 10 Top Stories