The Final Breakdown

CLEMSON - The winner of Saturday night's matchup inside Death Valley has the inside track to the ACC Championship, and possibly much more.

WHAT: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 5 Florida State
WHERE: Memorial Stadium - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 19 (8:22 p.m.)
SPREAD: Florida State by 3

The Florida State running game is a four-headed attack that rivals the one Clemson saw on opening night.

Devonta Freeman leads the Seminoles with 54 carries for 385 yards and is second with three touchdowns. (Getty Images)
Devonta Freeman leads the Seminoles with 54 carries for 385 yards and is second with three touchdowns. But Jimbo Fisher isn't afraid to turn to two other running backs. Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. have 28 and 36 carries, respectively. Williams has rushed for 244 yards and six scores and Wilder has 214 yards and two touchdowns.

Then, of course, there's Jameis Winston, the redshirt freshman sensation quarterback, who has 135 yards and a pair of touchdown runs.

Listed at 5-foot-9, 203 pounds, Freeman is a pint-sized power back -- think Buccaneers' running back Doug Martin. And, like Martin, Freeman will play on Sundays.

The same can probably be said for Wilder's future, both of whom are draft eligible this season. Wilder is the biggest of the Seminole backs [6-2, 229]. Williams [6-1, 233], who's a junior like the other two guys, played safety and linebacker during his first two seasons in Tallahassee.

Though Winston has put up some respectable numbers on the ground, he's a better passer than he is a runner.

They all work behind an athletic offensive line. The smallest of the starting five up front is center Bryan Stork, who checks in at 6-4, 300 pounds. Everyone on the Seminoles' offensive line is as tall or taller and heavier than Stork. So, it's a nimble bunch of big guys.

As a team, Florida State is 17th in the country in rushing offense with 228.2 yards per game. As good as they are on paper -- and on the field -- the Seminoles haven't faced a run defense nearly as good as the one they'll see on Saturday.

Pittsburgh is 47th in the country against the run. Nevada is 123rd. Florida State piled up over 500 yards on the ground against those two teams. Against Bethune-Cookman, an FCS team, they had 266.

Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey are anchoring a Clemson run defense that's 65th in the country against the run, giving up an average of 158.4 yards per contest.

The Tigers have given up a total of 950 rushing yards. Georgia and Syracuse combined for 545 of those yards. While it looks like they've feasted on the likes of S.C. State, N.C. State and Wake Forest, Clemson did limit B.C.'s Andre Williams to 70 yards on 24 carries. And he did enter that game as the nation's leading rusher.

Look for Florida State to run plenty of zone-type runs with some option game mixed in. They'll have some success moving the ball on the ground, but Clemson will have its fair share of stops in this department.

Based on last year's game, one would think that Florida State wins this matchup, because they really pushed Clemson around, particularly in the second half. That won't happen again on Saturday.

It's a close call, but we'll give the edge to the Tigers' defense.


Winston has had several monster performances in the first five games of his career.

Jameis Winston has lived up to his five-star billing at Florida State. (Getty Images)
Against Pittsburgh, he completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. In week two, he connected on 15 of 18 for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Florida State's last game, a Sept. 28 trip to Boston College, saw Winston finished 17 of 27 with 330 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

Then, of course, during the beat down of Maryland, Winston passed for 393 yards and five scores.

He's throwing to a corps of wide receivers that may be better than the group at Clemson. Rashad Greene is the most explosive wide receiver in the ACC not named Sammy Watkins. There's also the 6-foot-5, 234-pound Kelvin Benjamin, plus Kenny Shaw, who works out of the slot.

It's a dangerous group of pass catchers, and we haven't even mentioned Nick O'Leary, who's one of the top tight ends in all of college football (and the nephew of golf legend Jack Nicklaus).

While Clemson has show signs of improvement against the pass, as we've said here before, that part of the Tigers' defense is still a bit of a question-mark.

Georgia's Aaron Murray passed for 323 yards against Clemson. Granted, he was working against a pair of safeties that were making their first-career starts at the position, but it's still probably the weakest area for the Clemson defense.

And Florida State actually has a few different threats in the vertical passing game. If he has time to throw deep, Winston could have some success throwing the ball downfield to Greene and Benjamin, O'Leary, too, on some seam routes.

The Florida State offensive line has allowed opponents to sack Winston and backup Jacob Coker an average of 1.8 times per game. So, if there is a bright-side to this matchup, it's here.

Beasley leads the country in sacks with nine. The team is second with 24, behind only Virginia Tech, which has a game advantage on Clemson.

One of the best 1-on-1 matchups of the night will be the battle between Beasley and Seminole left tackle Cam Erving. It could end up leaning in Beasley's favor, because Erving has proven to have some holes in his pass blocking game.

That's one of the reasons we'll call this matchup a push. Winston has yet to play a defense as good as Clemson's. And he hasn't played in an environment and on a stage like this one. There are still some unknowns with the guy, even though some folks have already crowned him as the second coming.

Winston's good. If he lives up to the hype from his first five games, Florida State takes this matchup. But we're taking a wait and see approach, because of the unknowns.


Not only did Clemson lose its best running back from a year ago, the Tigers also lost their top offensive lineman and No. 1 tight end. So, it's no wonder that they've struggled to run the ball so far this season.

It certainly doesn't help that Sam Cooper, the leading candidate to replace Brandon Ford at tight end, is coming off of ACL surgery.

Roderick McDowell and the Clemson running game has to get going if the Tigers are to beat FSU Saturday night. (Getty Images)
Clemson has yet to eclipse 200 yards rushing in a game, and that's the number Chad Morris wants to average. Oddly enough, there has been a steady decline in rushing totals through the first five games. The number did bounce back up from 156 against Syracuse to 162 against Boston College. So, there is a silver lining, however slight it may be.

Florida State has allowed two backs to rush for over 100 yards this season -- Nevada's Chris Solomon [108] and B.C.'s Andre Williams [149].

The Seminoles' linebackers make up the top unit in the whole league. Playing on the weak-side, Telvin Smith leads the team with 32 tackles and four tackles for loss. Christian Jones, the man in the middle, has 21 tackles.

Across the board, their defensive line talent could be the best in the league. Nose guard Timmy Jernigan is a future pro. He's first among the d-linemen with 17 tackles. His backup, Jaccobi McDaniel isn't bad either. He has 15 tackles. Even the sophomore and freshmen ends, Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr. and Demarcus Walker all have Sunday potential.

And look for a lot of odd/3-man fronts from Florida State on Saturday night. They've been doing that a lot this season under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Keep an eye on backup middle linebacker Terrance Smith. He's sixth on the team with 18 tackles. His father, Terry, played ball at Clemson. You may have heard of him.

They'll give the Clemson offensive line trouble in the run game. The creases for Roderick McDowell, Zac Brooks and Tajh Boyd probably won't be as forgiving as the ones they've seen against other ACC teams.

Florida State gets the nod here.


The Clemson passing game just seems that it's not quite as explosive as it had been over the previous couple of seasons. But it's still pretty darn good, certainly better than anything that Florida State has seen this season.

The stage is set for Tajh Boyd. A win over Florida State could catapult him to the top of the Heisman Trophy watch list. (Getty Images)
Boyd has tossed for 1,783 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Last week, he took over the school yardage record for a career. And he's also second all-time in league history, trailing only Phillip Rivers.

Despite their issues and the heavy pressure from Boston College, the Clemson offensive line didn't allow Boyd to be sack last week. While some of that credit goes to Boyd and the play calling by Chad Morris, it's still a step in the right direction.

And it will help this weekend that Florida State is still developing its pass rushers off the edge -- Edwards and Walker, specifically. Here's what you need to know about the Seminoles' pass rush. Lamarcus Joyner leads the team with two and he plays cornerback. Either other players have a sack.

So, we suspect that Boyd will have time to scan the field for his receivers. Kind of like the Clemson defensive line a year ago, the Tiger's receivers got pushed around in Tallahassee. Watkins, maybe more than anyone else, was received most of that punishment.

Unfortunately for the Florida State secondary, Watkins is healthy. He could see as many as three different Seminole cornerbacks matched up on him -- Joyner, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby.

The complimentary pieces around Watkins will have to take some of the pressure away from him. Adam Humphries is usually a dependable option for Boyd. Bryant, who's had a few bumps in the road this season, needs to play well, particularly in the vertical game.

Tight ends have played a key role for Clemson over the last four seasons and duo of Sam Cooper and Stanton Seckinger will be challenged by safeties Terrence Brooks and Jalen Ramsey, plus the outside linebackers, Dan Hicks and Telvin Smith.

Again, another fun matchup to watch, but we like Clemson here. Boyd and Watkins lit these guys up in Death Valley in 2011. Don't be surprised if they hook up for six points one or two more times on Saturday night.


Senior kicker Chandler Catanzaro has proven to be one of the top kickers in Clemson history. (Roy Philpott)
Both teams have elite kickers in Chandler Catanzaro and Roberto Aguayo. Catanzaro has been doing this for years. Aguayo is a freshman and, like Winston, he hasn't played in an environment like Death Valley or on a stage like the one he'll take Saturday night.

Both teams have had success in the punt return game, but Florida State has had a little more. Shaw and Jesus Wilson have combined for 13 returns for 158 yards. The Seminoles are also about three yards better in the kick return game, in terms of average yards per attempt.

Both teams average over 40 yards per punt, but Clemson net punting average is three yards better.

The Tigers have the better kickers while the Seminoles have the better return men. It's a wash.


PREDICTION: Clemson 31 Florida State 28 Top Stories