1. Take Away the Deep Ball
Florida State's defense, through the first three weeks, has been nothing less than spectacular as they have given up just three points and lead the nation in almost every statistical category. With that said, the one question surrounding this FSU defense that has not yet been answered is just how good are these young cornerbacks. This Saturday night that question will certainly be answered one way or another. Facing arguably the best wide-receiver tandem in the country with Clemson's Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, look for Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to spread the field and allow quarterback Tajh Boyd to test those youngsters early and often.
The one thing that is known about the young Seminole corners' is that they can run. With that said, it's going to be interesting to see how FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops chooses to play his corners. With the physicality that Watkins and Hopkins possess when coming off the line of scrimmage, it's hard to fathom that he would have a young, inexperienced corner try to play press coverage. It leaves too much room for big plays if the young corners' can't effectively jam them off the ball.
One thing that has been very obvious over the past couple weeks is FSU will play a lot of nickel coverage when Clemson is in multiple receiver sets. Translation: you are going to see a lot of Tyler Hunter on the field. Hunter has really seemed to impress the coaches since the start of the season, and his play on the field is a clear indicator why. He has a large frame, he's very physical at the line of scrimmage, he's fast, and he's not afraid to hit.
Bottom line is FSU defensive backs have to keep Clemson's skill players from getting behind them. Boyd loves to send them on a go-route and throw it down the field to let them make a play. If FSU can keep them in check it will force Boyd to progress through his reads, which not only allows pressure to get to him, but also forces him to make quick decisions.
2. Pressure Boyd and Keep him in the Pocket
The first key for Florida State this weekend is to get pressure on Tajh Boyd, and keep him in the pocket. Everyone knows Boyd is more than capable of taking off and making big plays with his legs. If that happens, it opens up all sorts of other wrinkles in Chad Morris' offense. Expect there to be a spy on him at all times.
Clemson has a very young offensive line, which is expected when having to replace three starters. Through the first three games, Clemson has played with a different group of starters in each game. With that said, the Tigers' expect to have everyone healthy by Saturday and hope to go with the same group that started against Auburn to open the season.
Expect Florida State to give them a lot of different looks on the defensive front to disguise where the pressure is coming from and force those young linemen to think fast on their feet. If FSU can keep Boyd contained and get pressure to him, he is very vulnerable to making bad decisions, which will ultimately lead to turnovers for the Seminoles.
3. Give E.J. Manuel time
It's no secret that the run blocking of FSU's offensive line has taken significant strides from a year ago. However, the verdict is still out on just how effective they are in protecting quarterback EJ Manuel. Yes, it has definitely improved from last year when it allowed one sack every 20 plays. But, last week the unit showed signs of weakness as FSU allowed three sacks to a Wake Forest defensive line that was without starting nose tackle Nikita Whitlock. There was also a lot of pressure getting through from Manuel's blind side, which is the last thing FSU coaches want to see. You can expect Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to give that left side of the offensive line their biggest test of the season.
When EJ does get time, he is performing at the top of his game this season. Not only is he making the correct reads, but more importantly making veteran decisions with the ball in his hands. He hasn't tried to force throws like he did at times in the past. He is also spreading the wealth around like never before, which forces a defense to be aware of everyone on the field.
If Florida State can do these three things, I expect the Seminoles' to move to 4-0 on the season with all of their goals still intact.