The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - The road to the ACC Atlantic Division title begins in Clemson Saturday when No. 11 Florida State comes to town.

WHAT: No. 21 Clemson vs. No. 11 Florida State
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (80,301) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 24 (3:36 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -2.5
TV: ESPN

Florida State won 11-straight games in the series before Clemson's 2003 win. Since then, the Tigers lead the series 4-3 with the Seminoles taking the most recent meeting, last year's 16-13 result ended with a 55-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins as time expired.

For the first time since 2000, both the Seminoles and the Tigers enter the showdown ranked in the top-25.

No. 21 Clemson [3-0] is coming off a win over defending national champion Auburn. No. 11 Florida State dropped to 2-1 and out of the top-5 with last week's loss to No. 1 Oklahoma.

The high-powered Tiger offense is churning out nearly 39 points and 523 yards a game while the stingy Seminole defense has given up an average of an average of 11 points and 195 yards.

It's Clemson vs. Florida State, the premier rivalry in the ACC.

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. FLORIDA STATE SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
This is the marquee matchup, and there are plenty of quality, individual battles to watch out for Saturday.

Florida State cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes will man up with Clemson wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

Strong-side linebacker Christian Jones also has tight end Dwayne Allen.


The Clemson offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd is humming right along under the direction of first-year coordinator Chad Morris. (Roy Philpott)
Defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins are set to lineup across from offensive tackle Landon Walker and Phillip Price, respectively.

The Clemson offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd is humming right along under the direction of first-year coordinator Chad Morris. The Tigers are working at a pace that would surpass several school records, including points/game, touchdowns/game, yards/play, passing yards/game, completion percentage, pass efficiency and touchdown passes/game.

Boyd has completed 68 of 101 passes for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, but the last three weeks were quizzes compared to the big-time test he has this week.

Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops has Florida State firing on all cylinders, three games into his second season in Tallahassee.

The Seminole secondary ranks as one of the nation's premier units. Florida State's pass efficiency defense rating of 105.06 is 27th in the country. Opponents have averaged 118 yards through the air, which is 6th.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who's regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football, completed just 18 of 27 passes for 199 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions last week.

The pass rush has been effective, too, and that's no surprise with Stoops dialing up pressure from every which way. As a team, Florida State is 34th in the country with 2.67 sacks per contest.

Jenkins, a first-team All-ACC selection, has one sack. Werner leads the team with two. Jones and fellow linebacker Vince Williams also have one apiece.

That rush can be neutralized by the short, intermediate passing game that Morris has turned to when looking to get the offense back into rhythm.

If Clemson can able to keep turnovers to a minimum, as they've done so far this season, it should tilt in the Tigers' favor.

Whichever team wins these battles could emerge Saturday as the winner and move into the driver's set for the ACC Atlantic division title. However, there will be plenty of give and take in the downfield passing game. It may be too evenly matched to make or break this game.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. FLORIDA STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
Last week we wrote that special teams could be the difference in a win or a loss to Auburn. Wrong there, but we'll take another crack at it this week.


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro is 4 of 5 field goals this season. (Roy Philpott)
After all, it was a 55-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins that pushed Florida State over the top in last year's game.

This matchup is dictated by more than Hopkins and Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who's been solid so far this season.

For the record, Hopkins a perfect 6 for 6 on field goals while Catanzaro is 4 for 5.

Florida State's return game is headed up by Reid and Joyner. Joyner leads the team with 108 kickoff return yards and Reid is second with 62. Reid leads the team with 71 punt return yards.

Just as Clemson will have to keep those two contained, Florida State must keep a close eye on Watkins, who leads the Tigers with 110 kickoff return yards and 12 punt return yards.

This being a home game for Clemson, we'll give them the nod.

ADVANTAGE:

FLORIDA STATE PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Our friends at NoleDigest.com believe quarterback E.J. Manuel will remain on the sideline after injuring a shoulder injury against Oklahoma.

Even if he doesn't play, there won't be too much drop off in the passing game with Clint Trickett lining up under center. That's more of a knock on Manuel than a compliment to Trickett, who's still developing as a thrower.


Freshman QB Clint Trickett will get the start of E.J. Manuel can't go Saturday. (Getty Images)
Plus, there's question as to how confident Manuel would be standing in the pocket with a shoulder injury.

Another problem for the Seminoles: there are plenty of injuries to a crew of wide receiver who have been collectively lackluster.

Scooter Haggins, who played in place of Bert Reed against Oklahoma, is out after suffering a broken hand against the Sooners. Reed, who's battled an ankle injury is expected to play.

Willie Haulstead continues to battle post-concussion symptoms. He hasn't played all season.

Keep an eye on Rashad Greene, a freshman wide receiver who was offered by Clemson, but never seriously considered the Tigers. He leads all Florida State pass catchers with 196 yards receiving.

Through three games, the Clemson secondary and pass rush have both been less than spectacular, pretty middle of the road, actually.

The Tigers rank 55th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 46th in pass defense. They're tied for 102nd in sacks a game with just over 2/3 of a sack a game -- a far cry from the rate opposing quarterbacks were taken down a season ago.

Working in Clemson's favor is the style of offense Florida State runs -- a traditional, pro-style system that's vastly different from anything the Tigers have seen so far this season.

Florida State has allowed an average of 3.33 sacks a game this season, a figure that jumped dramatically against Oklahoma, thanks to the six the Sooners racked up.

Throw in the potential of having an inexperienced quarterback playing in front of a hostile crowd and this looks like a favorable matchup for the Tigers.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. FLORIDA STATE FRONT
The Clemson running back group is banged up. Andre Ellington and D.J. Howard have both dealt with hamstring injuries this week. Ellington suffered his injury against Auburn and is expected to play. Howard, who sustained his injury during practice on Tuesday, is questionable.

A nicked up Ellington and a questionable Howard could give Clemson fans what they've been clamoring for since the season opened earlier this month -- more Mike Bellamy.


Andre Ellington and company could find rushing yards tough to come by Saturday afternoon. (Kevin Bray)
Here's the deal with this matchup... this Florida State front is downright salty.

The interior is led by Upstate native Everett Dawkins. Considering the shortage on experienced depth inside, it's possible that the Clemson defensive coaches are wishing he was in Tigertown. At nose guard is a scary three-headed monster of Jacobbi McDaniel, Anthony McCloud and Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan will be an all-conference performer before his days in Tallahassee are over. After that, he'll be run stuffing in the NFL.

Then, of course, flanking those guys are Werner and Jenkins, who are as good of a twosome you'll find in the ACC, if not the country.

Throw in the linebacker trio of Jones, Vince Williams and Niegl Bradham, the front seven looks even nastier.

"Nastiness," that's been questioned when talking about the Clemson offensive line this season. The group showed they were capable of that in last week's win. A prime example? The final drive of the game.

Simply put, the Seminole front seven may be too good, no matter how tough the Tigers' front is.

ADVANTAGE:

FLORIDA STATE RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT
Manuel leads Florida State in rushing with 79 yards. James Wilder, Jr. is second with 76 yards -- all of which were gained against Charleston Southern.

One would think that with an experienced pair of tackles like Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders flanking the inexperienced interior guys that Florida State would have a little bit more success running the ball.


E.J. Manuel rushed 15 times for 71 yards last year against the Tigers in Tallahassee. (Getty Images)
Not so fast.

Aside from the 170-spot hung on Charleston Southern, Florida State rushed for 92 yards against Louisiana-Monroe and 27 against Oklahoma.

Granted, Oklahoma is Oklahoma, but neither rushing performance in the first two games is anything to get excited about, especially with experienced backs like Ty Jones and Chris Thompson.

But it's not like Clemson has been much better in defending against the run.

Troy rushed for 165 yards, Wofford put up 272 and Auburn had 237.

If Florida State is able to set a season-best rushing total, it could be bad for Clemson.

Without Manuel at full strength, it should be difficult for the Seminoles to have any kind of success on the ground. Because of that, we'll give the Tigers the nod.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 37 Florida State 27

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