5 Keys To Nipping The ‘Noles

Clemson will host Florida State Saturday night in Bowden Bowl 5 at 7:45 on ESPN2. It will mark the fifth time the father and son have hooked up on the gridiron, with Bobby Bowden getting the best of his son in each case.

Florida State enters the game 8-1 overall and 6-0 in the ACC with a guarantee that they will finish no worse than tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. With a win versus Clemson, the Seminoles would capture the ACC Championship outright and secure a berth in the Bowl Championship Series. The Seminoles lone loss of the year was to Miami 22-14 back on October 11th. Florida State has racked up wins against North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame.

Clemson is coming off its worst loss of the season at Wake Forest. It would be safe to say that this is the low point for this team this season, and maybe the low point of the Tommy Bowden era.

Here are my 5 keys to the Tigers pulling the major upset Saturday night.

Chris Rix, Chris Rix, Chris Rix
It is hard to find any team in the last 5 years that is ranked in the top 3 at some point in the season with such a strange leader in Florida State quarterback Chris Rix.

Rix is 4th in the league passing yards per game (264.2) and 3rd in passing efficiency (142.2), yet he comes into the game Saturday as the biggest question mark on a Florida State team that seems to have returned to their former greatness.

In the games that Florida State has lost the past two years, Rix has been the whipping boy for his lack of leadership, goofy attitude, and aloof stature around campus. Remember, this is a guy that parked in no parking zones two days in a row and passes out business cards proclaiming he is the quarterback at Florida State! To say he is a few French fries short of Happy Meal is an understatement.

Yet, he continues to have games where he is near perfect.

Maybe Clemson can catch a break and get the wacko Rix instead of the spectacular Rix. In all likelihood, you could look at his stats without watching a second of the game and tell who won Saturday night. If Clemson can rattle his cages a little bit, the Tigers will have a chance.

Hands Of Steal
Clemson will have a hard time consistently running the ball against the quick and talented Florida State defense Saturday. The Seminoles are giving up only 105.3 yards per game on the ground, which is good for 2nd in the conference.

Therefore, the focus will be on the short, medium, and deep passing game for the Tigers. Clemson's receivers have displayed some of the butter-fingers the past few games that was prevalent last year. The Tigers will not have the luxury of being able to afford dropped balls on key conversion downs Saturday night.

Expect to see the Tigers in many 3rd and 5 type situations where we will try to run quick patters to avoid the blitzes and pick up first downs. The Tiger receivers must snag anything and everything that is within their reach to keep the chains moving and allow Clemson to put some points on the board.

If the dropsy's continue Saturday night, Clemson will be in for a long evening.

Out Special The ‘Noles
Last year, Clemson lost the game in Tallahassee with the well documented special team's blunders. Of course, it goes without saying that Clemson must eliminate the big plays by Florida State on special teams.

However, any time you are a double digit underdog, you need to turn the table and make big plays yourself in the kicking game. Clemson has the ability to return kickoffs and punts for big gains, and the Tigers may need just that Saturday evening.

And one thing we have not seen from the Tigers this year is a block in the kicking game. Maybe the Tigers can sneak up and block an FSU punt or field goal and get a cheap score. It is those types of things that create upsets, and we see it week in and week out. It's about time we see it for our Tigers.

Trickery and Speed
When pushed against the wall, maybe this coaching staff will finally loosen their ties and allow for a little craziness in the play calling and structure of the game.

Tommy is notorious for trying to out-trick his dad, and in just about every Bowden Bowl he has bested his dad in that category. Even last year, Clemson kicked a perfect onsides kick that had Papa Bowden scratching his head. I expect some more trickery by Tommy Saturday night. It will be needed to win, but it will also go a long way in showing his players that he is going to do everything he can as a coach to give them a chance to win.

And I think we can all agree that we are sick and tired of the no huddle approach that forces Charlie to look to the sidelines to get the play as time expires on the play clock. As fans, it's brutal to watch, and we all know the linemen are cursing Bowden under their breath while they hold their 3 point stance for 20 seconds.

Scrap that approach and throw it in the trash. Speed everything up, ala 1999 and 2000. Forget about the ramifications of lining up in a formation that is not advantageous to what the defense is showing. Who cares? No matter what formation FSU is in and no matter what play Clemson signals in from the sideline, the Seminoles are better on defense than Clemson is on offense and they can adjust with their great speed.

The past 3 or 4 weeks, this offense has seemed much more comfortable in the speed up offense at the end of the half and at the end of the game. Let's see it again, almost like a throwback to the "good old days" of 1999. What hurt could it possibly do? None, I say. And it would catch the Seminoles completely off guard.

Mutiny Or Rally?
With all the agony of what went on last week in Winston Salem coming to a head the past week with all types of speculation about Tommy Bowden, the question begs…will this team rally around their leader?

Sometimes, many times in fact, teams rally around an embattled coach with inspired play that comes from anger, frustration, and desire to turn things around. Are the Clemson players ready to rally around Coach Tommy Bowden? Will they be inspired to play above their abilities to win a game for themselves and their coach?

As lifeless as the team looked against Wake Forest, a complete turnaround Saturday would almost assuredly give the Tigers a chance against the ‘Noles. Regardless of the fans feelings on Bowden, they are ready to rock and roll in Death Valley Saturday night if given something to cheer about.

How this team, and these fans, respond to the game Saturday night will be a show within the show…not to mention a key to the game.

Rhymer's Prediction
This game has all the makings of a freak show. Despite what many people think is a distraction to the team with all the coaching rumors this week, I think it plays perfectly into the psyche of this team.

Instead of talking about how good FSU is, the media has been talking about Bowden. Instead of talking about the debacle in Winston Salem to the players, the media has focused on Bowden. Instead of talking about how the Tigers are big underdogs, the media has focused on Bowden. Instead of giving the players second thoughts about whether they are good enough to beat FSU, the media has been talking about Bowden.

All the while the team has been practicing like any other week and quietly flying under the radar.

How much this will carry Clemson Saturday night is anybody's guess. I think Clemson will come out and pop Florida State in the face and knock the Seminoles on their heels. It would not shock me to see Clemson go up as much as two scores early in the ball game.

Florida State will wake up, respond, and make a run. How Clemson handles that run will decide the outcome of this game. There is a very big part of me that thinks Clemson is going to win this game. I have that feeling for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I still think this is a pretty good football team that at times is well coached. But, after sitting through that debacle in Winston Salem, I can't make myself predict a Clemson win…at least publicly.

Rhymer's Pick
Florida State 31 Clemson 21

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