3 early keys against Florida State

CLEMSON - If the Tigers are going to continue their run towards an Atlantic Division championship, it starts with these three keys Saturday against Florida State.

It sounds simple enough but it could prove to be anything but easy when Clemson's front four challenges Florida State Saturday evening inside of Death Valley. QB Christian Ponder has bruised ribs and could be somewhat limited in practice this week, but given everything that is on the line for both teams, if he can breathe, he'll play. He has been the most consistent quarterback in the league this year, and he is also athletic enough to create plays on the ground when given the opportunity, which has been something Clemson's defense has struggled with this season. Simply put, Florida State has been one of the most explosive teams in the country this year when Ponder is on target, especially during the last three weeks as he's led the 'Noles 44, 30 and 45 points respectively.

Because of that, there's a thought this game could be similar to the games the Tigers have already played against Georgia Tech and Miami- meaning Clemson will have to put up 30+ points to win. If Ponder is healthy and Clemson can't establish enough pressure to disrupt his rhythm- that's exactly what will have to happen for the Tigers to make it four in a row over FSU in Death Valley. The key here could be Ricky Sapp, who needs to setup shop the same way FSU's Everette Brown did to Clemson a year ago to maximize the Tigers' chances for success.

The onus here also falls on the shoulders of Clemson's defensive backs, who will have to provide strong coverage to give the front four an extra split-second to get to FSU's signal caller ... and that won't be easy. Rod Owens, Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed combined for 19 receptions for nearly 200 yards this weekend in their win against N.C. State.

FSU quarterback Christian Ponder has completed 206-of-297 passes for 2,453 yards 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. (Getty Images)
Keep in mind the Seminoles have the nation's No. 9 passing offense and even showed improved play on the ground with Jermaine Thomas going for over 180 yards against N.C. State this past weekend. Simply put, holding a team like this under 21 points would be a nice victory for Clemson's defense.

We've already witnessed one of C.J. Spiller's best games earlier this year when he rolled up over 300 all-purpose yards against Miami, but an even bigger game could be in store for the Florida native against a hapless FSU defense. The Seminoles are an eye-popping 101st in the nation in rushing defense, 97th in passing defense and 109th in total defense this season. Giving up big plays has been routine for this group all season long, which means Spiller should be on red-alert for some his long distance magic Saturday. Again, if Ponder is healthy and in-rhythm- Clemson will need those big plays to win the game.

Adding fuel to Spiller's fire is the fact that he's playing against his favorite team from his childhood. He's already won two of his first three games against the 'Noles and there's nothing he'd like more than to make that a 3-1 mark while making another statement for his Heisman Trophy campaign.

When Kyle Parker is given time to throw he's proven to be a lethal weapon in Clemson's vastly improved offense during the last three weeks. Chances are he'll have his opportunities Saturday, but he has be on-target and make good decisions with the football for four quarters to give his unit the best opportunity for success. That means using his feet when the pocket breaks down to not only buy time in the pocket but scramble up field for first downs as well. Another freshman quarterback, B.J. Daniels, destroyed FSU's defense on the ground in South Florida's 17-7 upset of the 'Noles four weeks ago, rushing for 139 yards.

Parker is no Daniels but he's athletic and crafty enough to help sustain drives with his feet. His poise in the pocket combined with his athletic ability to make plays will be critical in Clemson's success, or lack thereof.

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