Photo by Jacob Kupferman

Grading and Evaluating the Performance by #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State

#3 Clemson came from behind to beat #12 Florida State for the Tigers' fifth win by 7 points or less this season.

OFFENSE:  B+

Player of the Game: Jordan Leggett

Florida native Jordan Leggett probably had the best game of his career in Tallahassee on Saturday night. He grew up in nearby Navarre and wasn’t recruited by FSU, so that game had a very personal meaning for him. Leggett finished with 5 catches for 122 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He had 3 catches on the game-winning drive alone. Leggett also had the game-winning touchdown and 2-point conversion against Louisville this season, and after just one catch in the first three games, he has put himself in a great position to win the Mackey Award he came so close to winning last year.

Overall, the Tigers played well offensively, rolling up 511 total yards. The game got off to a perfect start, as the Tigers scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, and it looked as if they were going to run FSU out of the stadium. However, the momentum shifted thanks to a turnover and FSU touchdown, and the Tigers had trouble scoring in the middle quarters. They were 7 for 17 on 3rd down (5 of 10 in the 2nd half) and 2 of 2 on 4th down. The Tigers ran 81 plays, which is right at their target number. The numerous penalties somewhat slowed the tempo, however. They were drastically improved in the red zone, going 5-5 after turning the ball over 5 times in the red zone (including once on downs) against NC State. They scored touchdowns on 3 of their 5 trips. Also, they took care of the ball much better than they did in their previous game. Watson had the two bad interceptions, which both led to FSU touchdowns, but they had zero fumbles. I would have liked to see them run the ball a little better—they ran for 133, averaging 3.5 yards per carry against the team Louisville shredded on the ground—but Gallman ran for two tough touchdowns and averaged 4.1 yards per carry.

Watson didn’t play his best game, but he sure was clutch at times. The strike he threw out of the endzone to Florida native Deon Cain on the sideline in between two DB’s was one of the best throws I’ve seen him make. That led to another long completion to Cain and a field goal. Most importantly, Watson was calm and collected as he always is, and when they needed a touchdown behind 5 points with 3 minutes left, he delivered. DW4 may not have the best stats in the nation right now, but there is no other quarterback I would want to start a game for me. Period. The guy is 26-1 in games he’s started and finished, scoring 40 points against one of the greatest Alabama defenses of all time in his only loss. Watson is one of the winningest quarterbacks of all time. He finished the game 27-43 for 378 yards.

Hunter Renfrow also had a nice game, with 5 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Mike Williams failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 5 games, but he had 7 catches for 70 yards. Florida native Artavis Scott had a huge catch in which he got drilled, converting a 3rd down to set up a second-half Gallman touchdown. The Tigers had 4 players with over 60 reception yards each. Watson is doing a great job of distributing the ball to his numerous weapons, and it must be a nightmare for teams to try to defend.

 

DEFENSE:  B-

Player of the Game: Clelin Ferrell

Outside of 3 busts on 3 big running plays, the defense really shut down Dalvin Cook and the running game. In fact, the Noles had -12 rushing yards in the first quarter and 33 yards at halftime. However, they failed to set the edge on those 3 big runs. All very simple, correctable mistakes, but it cost them 21 points. In my What We Are Hearing, I pointed out the miraculous improvement the Tigers have made in limiting big plays on defense. Well, I might have jinxed them a bit, as they allowed several against FSU. Keep in mind, though, that Dalvin Cook is probably the best running back in the nation. He ran for 194 yards against the Tigers last season in Death Valley. Overall, the Tigers allowed 449 total yards and 163 on the ground. Aside from the big plays, the other biggest disappointment was the penalties. They were flagged 5 times for pass interference, and that really enabled FSU to extend drives and score. A couple of them were probably bad calls, but the secondary needs to work on their technique and eliminate some of the grabbing that was going on Saturday. I will say Mark Fields had a sensational diving PBU that was erroneously called pass interference. Jadar Johnson made a tremendous play on his 4th interception of the season and 8th of his career. Apparently he likes Tallahassee because he had one two years ago down there despite playing only 12 snaps. Johnson would later leave the game with a strained calf muscle, and his absence was definitely felt in the defensive backfield late in the game. The Tigers were ranked #7 in pass defense entering the week, allowing just 166 yards per game through the air. They gave up 286 to the Seminoles and a lot more if you count the P.I. calls.

However, there were several positives on the defensive side of the ball. They got good pressure on Francois all night long, sacking him 6 times and knocking him on his back countless more times. The Noles were only 4 of 12 on 3rd down and 0 for 1 on 4th down. Most importantly, the defense came up with the stop they had to have for the umpteenth time over the past two seasons. Venables, as always, did a great job dialing up pressure on Francois rather than sitting back and playing prevent defense, and the Tigers came up with back-to-back sacks to end the game. The Tigers had 6 sacks by 6 different players and 10 tackles-for-loss by 8 different players. It was great to see Austin Bryant back to pre-injury form—he led the team with 2 sacks! Having him back in the defensive end rotation will really be a big boost to the line.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS:  A

Players of the Game: Greg Huegel and Chad Smith

What can you say about Greg Huegel? The former walk-on was named an All-American last year as a freshman after leading the FBS in field goals, and he’s picked up right where he left off. He was 3-3  on Saturday night, and the Tigers needed every one of them—including an incredibly clutch 46-yarder in the 4th quarter. Huegel hasn’t had to attempt many field goals over 40 yards this season, but he sure was clutch when they needed it. He’s now 11 for 13 on the season (including a block), and he has been excellent on kickoffs as well—a big part of the reason the Tigers have gone from #115 in 2015 kickoff coverage to #4. Huegel averaged 64 yards on his 8 kickoffs and had 3 touchbacks. Florida State averaged just 18.6 yards per kick return.

Another reason for the improvement in kickoff coverage has been the integration of young head-hunters like LB Chad Smith. The tackle he made on the kickoff in the 4th quarter was huge and gave FSU a long field on that final possession in which they needed just a field goal to tie. You can see our interviews with Huegel and Smith HERE.

Teasdall was once again reliable, averaging 38 yards on his 4 punts and landing two inside the 20. The Noles did not have a single punt return.

Ray-Ray thankfully didn’t drop any punts in this game, but the kickoff and punt return game has not been a strength for several weeks. Ray-Ray looked indecisive on a couple of the punts that he let go, and I think his confidence is a little shaken. He was confident and dangerous on punts early in the season, so hopefully he will be able to get that back in the next few weeks before post-season play.

It was another great win for the Tigers and their final big hurdle of the regular season. This has been the season of breaking road droughts, beginning with beating Auburn on The Plains for the first time since 1950 in the season opener. They beat GT in Atlanta for the first time in 13 years and now Florida State in Tallahassee for the first time in 10 years. Incidentally, I have been to Doak Campbell Stadium twice in my life: 2006 and 20016—the only two times the Tigers have won in Tallahassee since my big brother entered Clemson as a freshman in 1991 and I followed in his footsteps. Ironically, the win pushed the Tigers past FSU for second-most wins in the nation since 2011. Bama leads with 70, Clemson has 64 and FSU is at 63. What an elite program this has become! The Tigers have won 25 of their last 26 games, 9 straight on the road (CU record) and 14 straight ACC games (CU record), including the ACC Championship Game.

The Tigers have back-to-back home games and are in Death Valley for 3 of the final 4, so we have definitely turned a corner to enter the home stretch! Let’s hope the Tigers will be able to put together a complete game with no turnovers and win a game comfortably for the first time in nearly a month since the Boston College game! 8-0 and 7 to go…

 

 


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