Preview of the Showdown Between #1 Clemson and #16 FSU

#1 Clemson looks to remain undefeated and sweep the state of Florida, as they host #16 FSU in a de facto ACC Atlantic Division Title Game. Clemson has a school-record 14-game home win streak in Death Valley and has won 11 straight and 18 out of the last 19 games.

Welcome to the #1 in all the land edition of What We Are Hearing! What a difference 24 hours makes. Many seem shocked that Clemson was given the #1 ranking by the CFP Selection Committee Tuesday night, but I have to say I was giving us a better than 50% chance for a few reasons. Clemson had been gaining momentum in the media ever since the Miami blowout. On top of that, Miami turns around and (technically) beats Duke on the road. Clemson is #1 in strength of record (wins and losses), #1 in game control and is the ONLY unbeaten team with a win over a top-10 team. If you look at strength of schedule, Clemson’s is 18th, LSU 28th, Ohio State 72nd and Bama 3rd. However, Bama obviously has a loss, so they weren’t going to be higher than #4. Clemson is also in the top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, so you can argue that it is the most complete team in all of college football right now. That being said, last night was a seminal moment for Clemson fans. It’s the first #1 ranking since winning the National Title 34 years ago. For many of us, that’s a lifetime. As Dabo says, it won’t mean anything unless we keep winning. They don’t give you an automatic playoff bid for having the first #1 ranking. It’s great for the fan base and great recognition of what this team has accomplished through the first 8 games, but don’t forget what happened to Mississippi State last year after they were #1 in the first CFP rankings. Nevertheless, it is right to be exuberant today if you’re a Clemson fan. Wear your Orange and hold your head high because your team is #1 in the land. Hopefully, this is just the beginning and not the crescendo. Dabo has built this program back into a powerhouse, recruiting is rolling and this could just be the first of many, many #1 rankings in the years ahead.

On the subject of recruiting, Death Valley is going to be teeming with Clemson recruits on Saturday—maybe even more than the Notre Dame game. Gary will have his weekly recruiting update with a full list of visitors and additional info by tomorrow. Here is a little sneak peek for you, with some quotes Gary was able to get.

 

Zerrick Cooper 2016 QB Commit

"Well I think coach Swinney is doing a great job this year. I also think that the offense is very explosive while defense is getting stops.”

Sean Pollard 2016 OL Commit

"Clemson is a team that deserve the respect and rankings they are getting but they are an extremely high class hard working team so they do not read the headlines. They take every week as it is the super bowl. That is why they continue to be successful.”

 

Yetur Matos 2017 DE Prospect

"The team is extremely deserving of there ranking, they are still undefeated so far this season and won a lot of games against top competition by a good margin and in some cases shut them out and the game was fun to watch!”

 

Chandler Wooten 2017 LB Prospect

"I thought it was a great win!!  That's what great teams do! They deserve to be top.“

 

Diondre Overton 2016 WR Prospect

"The NC state game was very exciting and interesting. I love the offense of the Tigers.”

 

Stephon Wynn, Jr. 2018 DE Prospect

"NCST game was a great game. Clemson faced a lot adversity and they overcame it especially when NCST returned the kickoff back but Clemson didn't get rattled they stay focused and came right back and scored.”

 

Baylon Spector 2017 LB Commit

“I thought it was a great road win for the team. But mad a lot of mistakes on special teams."

 

Malik Cunningham 2017 QB Prospect 

"I've really think that they have been having a great year offense is clicking and the defense is too and they really deserve that spot. And I can't wait to get down there with this being my first visit."

 

OrTre Smith 2017 WR Prospect

"Hey that's huge!! The Tigers look very impressive! I'm excited about their #1 ranking but more impressed about how focused they are on the field and how they play with heart! Keep working, Tigers...." 

 

2018 WR Prospect Demarcus Walker

"I've seen it coming. I feel like this is their year."

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Players of the game against NC State were Deshaun Watson, B.J. Goodson and Hunter Renfrow on special teams.....Clemson has won 11 straight games for the first time since the 1980-81 seasons, when the Tigers won 13 straight. Clemson has twice won 13 straight and the school record is 15....Clemson has trailed for a total of just 13:30 this season out of 480 minutes played.....Clemson has won 14 consecutive games at home, which is a school record. The last home loss was to Florida State in 2013....Clemson leads the nation in total three-and-outs (52) and three-and-outs per game (6.50)....Clemson has played the third-most freshmen in the nation (28), behind Rice and TCU. NC State and Southern Cal have played 26 each. Clemson has played 14 true freshmen and 14 redshirt freshmen....This is the 5th time Clemson has started a season 8-0. The Tigers also did so in 1948 (11-0), 1981 (12-0), 2000 (9-3) and 2011 (10-4)....Clemson is 5-0 in the ACC and has won its ACC games by an average margin of 42.2-19.8. Clemson also leads the ACC in 6 offensive categories and 5 defensive categories in league play....This marks the 20th week that Clemson has been ranked in the top 3 of the AP Poll....Clemson leads the nation in pass completion percentage defense (46%). Clemson has allowed just 9 TD passes against 10 INT's....Deshaun Watson is now ranked 2nd in active career passing efficiency. His mark of 176.11 is second only to Baylor's Seth Russell (178.40). Watson is 2nd in ESPN's QBR, with a rating of 87.5. Only TCU's Trevon Boykin is higher (89.1)....Clemson is +23.0 in average scoring margin for the season. That is 7th in the nation. Out of the top-4 teams, only Ohio State has a higher margin (23.4).....Florida State QB Everett Golson is a Myrtle Beach native and played a high school championship game in Death Valley....FSU has a 20-8 lead in the series, which dates back to 1970. Clemson had a 5-game win streak at home prior to the loss in 2013....Each of the last 6 years, the winner of this meeting has won the Atlantic Division. Each of the last 4 years, the winner of this game has won the ACC....Both teams are ranked in the top-25 of both polls for the 5th straight year they have met. It is the 11th time in the series history that has been the case....Clemson tight end Garrett Williams is the son of former Florida State FB Dane Williams, who was an integral part of the famous "puntrooskie play" at Death Valley in 1988. Williams took the snap on the fake punt and handed the ball to Leroy Butler, who ran it all the way to Clemson's goal line, setting up the winning score for the Seminoles......

 

CLEMSON STATUS

My only regret about the CFP Selection Committee release last night is that it came out after all of our Monday and Tuesday player interviews. It would have been nice to get some reactions from the players, but I guess we’ll have to wait until next week for that. However, I can tell you what every one of them would say without exception: “It’s great recognition and nice to have the respect we think we deserve, but it really doesn’t mean anything right now. Mississippi State was #1 in the initial ranking last season. It doesn’t change anything for us. We still have to go out and take care of our business.” A lot of people out there are wondering if this will be a distraction. I really don’t think it will be. You don’t beat 36 consecutive unranked teams over a four-year period unless you understand how to prepare and focus without letting outside noise become a distraction. This will be an opportunity for Clemson to sweep the state of Florida, so you know Clemson’s contingent of Florida players will be as amped up to beat FSU as they were Miami. Travis Blanks told us that he grew up a Florida State fan and can’t wait to go against them on Saturday and get bragging rights against all the FSU fans he knows back home. He, of course, didn’t get to play them in Tallahassee last season because of his injury. Jordan Leggett is another player from the state of Florida, and he also said he is fired up to play the Noles. I’m sure he would like to redeem himself for the drop he had in the end zone last season on the low pass by Stoudt. That is a ball I think he catches this year. Leggett’s streak of catching a touchdown in 5 straight games was snapped at NC State. They targeted him in the end zone in the first half, but the defender made a great play to break up the pass. It would be great to see him start another touchdown streak! Here is a list of Clemson’s Florida boys:

Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee)

Adrian Baker (Hallandale)

Travis Blanks (Tallahassee)

Deon Cain (Tampa)

Jake Fruhmorgen (Tampa)

Jayron Kearse (Ft. Myers)

Jordan Leggett (Navarre)

Ray Ray McCloud (Tampa)

Artavis Scott (Clearwater)

Garrett Williams (Orlando)

Richard Yeargin (Lauderdale Lakes)

 

The NC State game was a good exercise in optimism versus pessimism. The offense performed incredibly well,  running up 623 total yards and 56 points. They reached their target for number of plays, with exactly 80. They had 27 first downs and were 8-15 on 3rd down. However, the defense allowed 34 points, which was the first time in 16 games it had allowed 30 or more. That was the nation’s longest streak. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I think it was a great win for the team on both sides of the ball. As Dabo likes to say, it’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems. Yes the defense allowed 34 points (7 points given up by special teams), but if you dig into the numbers, it wasn’t as bad a performance as the score would indicate. They allowed 389 total yards, and if you consider that 14 of the 34 points they allowed came on 2 NC State 4th down conversions, the defense was very close to only allowing 20 points—on the road. They had 5 sacks and could have easily had 10, but credit Brissett for being a tough guy to tackle. Shaq Lawson compared him to Cam Newton and said he was like a defensive end playing quarterback. The Clemson defense still managed 10 tackles-for-loss and held State to 4 of 15 on 3rd down. Sure, the defense did not play as well as they did at Miami, and they had some mental errors that led to NC State points, but that is bound to happen to any great team at some point in the season. I consider last week to be an outlier, and I’m just glad it happened against NC State and not Florida State. You can bet that Venables was not happy about some of the big plays his defense allowed, and you can bet he will have them re-focused and dialed in for Saturday. I think the NC State game was a good reality check for the defense and has brought them back down to earth. They realize now that you’re not just going to show up and pitch a shutout the way they did at Miami. This defensive unit has a lot of pride, and I expect them to show up in Death Valley with a big chip on their shoulder and looking to demonstrate that they are still one of the best defenses in the nation. Ben Boulware had a particularly sub-par game, and I expect him to rebound in a big way. On that wheel route NC State ran for a touchdown, he said the back was not his responsibility on that play, but he was just trying to cover for a teammate and make a play. Unfortunately, he missed the tackle. 

However you feel about the defense last week, the good news is that the offense is playing at an unbelievable level right now, and it’s comforting to know that if the defense has an anomalous game, the offense can outscore the opponent in a shootout. It took a little longer than we expected for them to reach this level, but a lot of that had to do with the loss of Mike Williams. Peake had a great game last week, scoring a huge touchdown before halftime to give Clemson momentum back going into the locker room. He would have had another touchdown later in the game, but Watson uncharacteristically overthrew him. It’s great to see Charone “peaking” at the right time with FSU coming up. They will have to respect him as a down field threat based on the film they see on him. Deon Cain picked up right where he left off against BC after missing the Miami game, scoring the first touchdown in his career. So Clemson now has options down field to stretch the defense and open things up for the running game and screen/sweeps to Artavis Scott. Speaking of the run game, the offense has developed a nice one-two punch in Gallman and Brooks. The Wayne Train is such a violent, physical runner that it is good to have a reliable back like Brooks—who is plenty powerful in his own right—to spell Gallman for a few plays and give him fresh legs in the 4th quarter. Brooks has also been an excellent weapon for short passes in the flats, and he is a great option for the wheel route. Then there is Jordan Leggett, who has been a match up nightmare for defenses—particularly in the red zone.

Greg Huegel  is 13-15 and has not missed a kick in ACC play. Knock on wood! So it’s nice to know he can be relied upon if Clemson should need his services in a tight game. Rain is in the forecast, so it helps that Huegel and the entire team has plenty of experience playing in wet conditions this season. I would say the most disappointing aspect of the Tigers’ performance in Raleigh was the kick coverage unit. They had been pretty solid since the 100 yard kickoff return touchdown at Louisville, but they broke down again on Saturday, allowing another 100-yarder and a couple more big returns as well. Again, it’s good to have flaws like that manifest against NC State rather than Florida State. I am confident Venables and Marion Hobby will make the necessary personnel adjustments and shore up the holes we saw last week. Incidentally, NC State’s return men are no slouches. Cherry is one of the best in the nation statistically, and Hines was a high school track star, who was highly recruited by many schools, including Clemson.

From an injury standpoint, Clemson is in good shape. DT Jabril Robinson sat out last week but should be ready to go on Saturday.

 

If you haven't done so yet, you can read my grades and analysis of the NC State game HERE.

 

FLORIDA STATE SYNOPSIS

Clemson will be Florida State’s biggest challenge by far. Their non-conference opponents were Texas State and USF—both at home. If you look at common opponents Clemson and FSU have shared, it points to Clemson’s favor in a big way. The Noles were able to hang 41 points on Louisville at home, but they were in a 7-0 game late in the 4th quarter at BC and of course lost at GT. They also barely survived a 29-24 game at home with Miami, just two weeks before Clemson annihilated the Canes 58-0 in Miami. You can discount those facts to an extent because of the nature of this rivalry and the importance of the game, but I still think it serves as a barometer of where these two teams stand in the evolution of their respective seasons. There is also the mental part of it, and you’d have to think that the Noles will have plenty of confidence coming into Death Valley, given that virtually the entire team has never lost to Clemson.

Offensively, as Dalvin Cook goes, Florida State goes. He is one of the best backs in the entire nation and arguably as good as Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette when he is 100% healthy. He can run for both power and speed, and he also catches the ball well. He is averaging a ridiculous 8.17 yards per carry and has 11 touchdowns on the season—and he has been playing on a hurt hamstring. The Seminoles did not play Cook—who reportedly has a hurt ankle in addition to the hammy—in their home game against Syracuse last Saturday, but they did not need him. Cook practiced light on Tuesday and was not wearing a brace of any kind. He will likely be close to full strength on Saturday. As many of you know, Cook was at one time committed to Clemson during his recruitment. Shaq Lawson said on Monday, “We’re going to show him why he should have come to Clemson by the end of the night.” Just a friendly shot fired across the Seminoles’ bow. If there’s one player who is allowed to do that, I think it would be Shaq. Freshman RB Jacques Patrick stepped up big time in the absence of Cook last Saturday. He rushed for 162 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

It remains unknown who we will see line up under center for the Noles. Starting QB Everett Golson (a Myrtle Beach native) missed the Syracuse game last week with a concussion. Sean Maguire continues to get first-team reps for FSU, while Golson has practiced Monday and Tuesday. Maguire was first in line during passing drills Monday and Tuesday, while Golson was second in line both days.“He has to see his doctor [Wednesday], we’ll see,” Fisher said. “Then, we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.”

Sean Maguire had a great game in Golson’s stead, going 23-35 for 348 yards, 3 TD’s and no INT’s. While he didn’t put up great numbers against Clemson last season, he still managed the Florida State offense well enough to win in overtime. Of course, he hasn’t dealt with an environment like he would see and hear in Death Valley, either. Speaking of which, it’s been reported that Jimbo Fisher really cranked up the noise at practice on Monday and Tuesday in an effort to simulate the noise level in Death Valley. One of the FSU freshmen was a little shocked at how loud it was at practice.

Getting back to the FSU quarterbacks, Dabo and Venables have said that it won’t make much difference which one they play, as far as scheme. The Noles will run the same system they always run, either way. The main difference will be that Golson is more of a threat to run than Maguire is. Golson had a proclivity for turning the ball over last season. In fact, he led the nation in turnovers with 22. He has been doing a much better job taking care of the football this season, however, and only has one interception against 11 touchdowns. His completion percentage on the season is a respectable 67% and he is the third-leading passer in the ACC. Personally, I would be surprised if we don’t see Golson start the game on Saturday.

Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson are Florida State's top 3 wide receivers. All 3 are very athletic. In fact, I think you could see Whitfield used in some sweep plays on Saturday. Gone, however, are the big FSU pass catchers of yesteryear like Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Nick O'Leary. They also don't have Jameis Winston throwing them the ball anymore. 

Defensively, FSU doesn’t have quite as many studs as we’re used to seeing. They still have plenty of athletes because they have recruited so well, but they aren’t quite as formidable on that side of the ball in my opinion. DB Jalen Ramsey is arguably the best DB in the nation if it’s not Mackensie Alexander. It will be a great match up between Ramsey and Clemson’s talented wideouts. Ramsey always seems to make big plays in big games, including the national title game a couple years ago. The Noles’ pass rush hasn’t been as strong as in years past. They only have 18 sacks on the season, and 6 of those belong to junior DE DeMarcus Walker. They only have 44 TFL’s on the season. Their defense has recovered 3 fumbles on the season and has 6 interceptions. Interestingly, Ramsey has not yet recorded one. FSU is 24th in total defense (324 yards per game), 23rd in pass defense (184.1 yds/game) and 38th in run defense (139.4 yds/game). They are allowing only 16.8 points per game, which is good enough for 13th in the nation, and shut out BC on the road. Starting LB Terrance Smith is questionable with an ankle. He id practice sparingly on Tuesday but hasn’t played since his injury against Wake on October 3rd. Senior DT Nile Lawrence-Stample did not practice Tuesday with a concussion.

 

PREDICTION

Admittedly, I was a little off with my prediction last week. Coming off a brilliant shut out at Miami, I did not expect Clemson to allow 41 points to NC State—a team we shut out last season. I also didn’t expect quite the offensive explosion we saw against a Wolfpack defense that had been playing at a high level all season. I chalk that up to Halloween. Things will hopefully be back to normal in the friendly confines of Death Valley. This will be a historic game, as it will be the first time Clemson plays in Death Valley with a #1 ranking. I do not expect the hype of the #1 ranking to distract or phase this team one iota. If anything, I think it will re-energize them and make them play with even more purpose. The defense wants to redeem itself for their performance last week, and the offense has been close to unstoppable for the last 4 games—even going against stout defenses such as Boston College and NC State. This is a young Clemson team with over 40 freshmen, and a lot of them don’t even remember the debacle from 2013. Many of them do remember, however, the frustrating loss last season in Tallahassee—a game Clemson dominated in every way except for the final score. I think the offense will get off to the fast start we have seen in the past two games, and the defense will be fired up to force some three-and-outs early for the Death Valley crowd. Amazingly, the odds makers have Clemson as a bigger favorite in this game than they did last week for the NC State game. Clemson is currently a 10.5-point favorite against the Noles. I think the odds makers are once again underestimating the Tigers. They go over 50 points for the third consecutive game. Clemson wins its 18th out of the last 19 games, 12th straight and 15th straight at home, adding to the school record. Deshaun Watson remains a perfect 12-0 in games he has started and finished. Florida State’s three-year reign over the ACC comes to an abrupt halt, and Clemson clinches the ACC Atlantic Division Title in Death Valley to a heavy dose of “We Will Rock You.” Clemson sweeps the state of Florida like 2009 and REMAINS #1 for another week!

The prowl toward the CFP and a 15th ACC Title in ’15 takes a huge leap forward……

 

 

CLEMSON  51  Florida State 14

 


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