5 Keys to Smacking the Seminoles

Clemson invades Doak Campbell Stadium Saturday afternoon in a crucial ACC match up with the Seminoles of Florida State. Florida State, already losers once in conference play to Miami, cannot afford another ACC loss if they have any aspirations of a conference title.

Clemson, who also has a conference loss but is also straddled with a non-conference loss, needs a win to turn the mood of a season that has quickly turned sour. "Whoever loses this game is already out of the conference championship. It's more significant because of that," Tommy Bowden said Tuesday.

This is Bowden Bowl VI, not that anybody really cares about that anymore. But for the first time since Florida State entered the ACC, the Seminoles will be looking to avenge a loss to the Tigers who won last year 26-10 in Death Valley.

Here are my 5 Keys to Clemson getting a win.

1. Put Rix to The Test
Let's face it, Chris Rix is a little unpredictable. The senior quarterback can be good, but he can also be very bad. Rix is averaging only 150 yards per game through the air with three interceptions. Granted, one of those games was against Miami, arguably one of the top defensive units in the country.

But Rix has been an up and down quarterback almost from his first day on campus, and that inconsistency is going to stay with him until the day he plays his last game in Tallahassee. Consequently, the game plan Saturday should be to test him and make him beat you. He certainly has the talent to rise to the challenge and make you pay, but you have a 50/50 chance that he will fall flat on his face.

"He just needs consistency," Bobby Bowden said of Rix this week. "The first ball game, he didn't have a good game like I thought he would have, but you have to credit much of that to the University of Miami. The next ball game, he played much better."

So how do you put the game in Rix's hands if you are John Lovett? Simply put, the Tigers must stop the Florida State running game. If the Seminoles can run for 200+ yards, it won't matter if Rix is having a good day or a bad day because the Seminoles will win. If FSU can rush for 300+ yards Saturday, the game won't be close, even if Rix completely self destructs.

Florida State could not break the 100 yard barrier last year in Clemson with the running game, but expecting the ‘Noles to rush for less than 100 this year is a bit ambitious. Keeping it under 200 however is a reasonable expectation. Problem is, Clemson has yet to hold a team under 200 yards rushing, so you know the FSU offensive coaches are licking their chops this week.

Up front, the defensive line has to do a better job of getting a push. The linebackers need to get to the ball better and not over-pursue, and the secondary needs to make plays if called on to blitz. That is a lot to ask…but there is no way Clemson is going to win Saturday unless the defense answers that bell.

2. Make Plays
An area terribly lacking for Clemson in the loss last week to Texas A&M was playmaking. I've preached for three years here the importance of making big plays at this level if you want to be successful.

Last week, Clemson made zero big plays. Anthony Waters drops a sure interception in the end zone. Chansi Stuckey and Airese Currie drop crucial passes on 3rd down that kill drives. Missed tackles allow 2 yard losses to turn into 10 yard gains. All the while no plays are made that changed the momentum of the game.

When you go on the road, especially to face a nationally ranked team, you have got to make the big plays or you will get worn out. And if you make plays you can turn the home field advantage against the home team…something we have seen time and time again in college football. Down the stretch last year, the Tigers made these plays. Last week Clemson did not. And that is the difference in being a good team and a bad team in this era of college football.

With the margin of era so small for this football team when facing a team like Florida State, it is that one or two game changing plays that can make you a winner or loser. And Clemson has to make all those plays happen Saturday afternoon.

3. Stop Killing Yourself
The time to blame who is more responsible for the turnovers is long over and that horse has been beaten into oblivion. Regardless of who is to blame, it has to stop. The -4 turnover ratio of last week is a formula for getting beat 54-7 this week by FSU. In other words, it better not happen.

The good news is that FSU has the tendency to self destruct sometimes, just like Clemson. The bad news is that the Tigers have done nothing but kill themselves repeatedly since the opening game against Wake Forest. Can it stop happening? Yes. But sometimes these things turn from a simple problem into an epidemic if not corrected.

The tipped balls off receivers' hands for interceptions must stop. The ill-advised throws into coverage must stop. The blind side sacks to Charlie that cause fumbles must stop.

And the defense needs to find a way to take a few away from FSU as well. Reversing this trend is not going to be easy, but it literally has to happen if Clemson is going to win Saturday.

4. Keep It Fresh on Offense
There is a predictability that the Clemson offense succumbs to every now and then and we most certainly saw it last weekend in College Station. A year ago we saw that bland predictability in Winston-Salem for the Wake Forest game. And then the next week against Florida State we saw some new plays that were put in to alleviate the quickness of Florida State.

I think that is what we are going to need to do Saturday. I realize the coaches have publicly said they need to simplify things this week in practice. Coach Bowden himself said he needs to eliminate the number of plays Clemson works on and focus on executing the plays they do run better.

But don't believe for a second we are going to Tallahassee with five running plays and two passing plays ala the '87 trip to Columbia to face the Gamecocks. While the number of plays may be reduced from the previous week, the type of play will most certainly be different. Clemson can take advantage of Florida State's quickness by running some misdirection with the running backs and with the receivers. That is exactly what Clemson did last year against the Seminoles, and Bobby Bowden's squad constantly over-ran plays.

If Florida State knows what Clemson is going to do on offense, they will stop it. Pure and simple. So the challenge this week is to make FSU guess…and hopefully they will guess wrong.

5. Emotionally Lead
The Tigers are going to have to bottle their emotions this week. And let's face it, there is plenty left over in the tank from last week when Clemson came out flatter than a pancake. Forget the long ride to the stadium in a non-air conditioned bus…the bottom line is that the Tigers put the jerseys on and then proceeded to sleepwalk through 60 minutes of football.

Clemson needs to come ready to play and ready to play with emotion. Let's see the boys have some fun playing the game. There is no reason to approach this game with anything other than reckless abandon. Let's have fun and see what happens. Coach Bowden even alluded to that in practice this week, saying, "If just one guy will show a little emotion and enthusiasm it does catch and spread, and it did today."

Along with that is the importance of having some success early. Clemson needs to lead the football game after the first quarter. This will help erase the doubts, fuel the confidence, and fortify the emotion. Remember, it was not until Clemson took the lead against Florida State last year that these players started to believe. The 6-0 lead pushed the Tigers forward, and when it became 13-0 you knew that team would not be denied.

Emotion and early success…maybe two cliché's but certainly a key part of the formula Saturday afternoon.

Analysis and Prediction
Clemson laid an egg last week. Don't expect a similar poor performance this week. I have plenty of confidence that this staff and these players will respond and rise to the unique challenge of playing one of the best programs in the country on their field.

These Tigers felt like they were robbed two years ago in Tallahassee when Clemson thoroughly outplayed Florida State bus still lost the game because of special team blunders. Clemson once again outplayed FSU last year, that time reaping the reward with a win.

I have no doubt that Clemson will play better this week than they did last week. As disappointing as the manner in which the Tigers lost last week, historically those games are few and far between under Bowden.

If you could look into a crystal ball and tell me Clemson will win the turnover battle and slow the FSU running game down, I'd tell you that the Tigers will be winners Saturday afternoon.

That being said, how anybody could honestly predict that the Tigers will completely turn around the two negatives that have haunted them for three weeks is a bit of a stretch. I will most certainly be hoping that it happens, but the reality of the situation is that Clemson will play better Saturday but still lose. And that is going to be a tough pill to swallow.

Florida State 27 Clemson 17

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