This year was supposed to be the 10th game in the annual Bowden Bowl. At the start of the season this game was circled by many fans of Florida State due to the fact the Seminoles are looking for retribution against the Tigers; for FSU it has been a long time since they've dominated Clemson like the Tigers have the Seminoles recently.
After a rough start the season that saw the prohibitive ACC favorites limp to a 3-3 start, the university decided to move away from the Tommy Bowden era and name Dabo Swinney the interim coach. Heading into this game FSU and Clemson are heading into two different directions: FSU has turned the corner and is making strides as they attempt to get back to the nations elite, while Clemson has seen its program and season fall apart as they look to pick up the pieces after moving away from their own Bowden era.
Nonetheless, this is still an ubber-talented Clemson team that simply hasn't meshed. Individually this is the most skilled team the Seminoles have faced so far this season, and it is a team the Noles have struggled against since the turn of the century. Since 2000 the series is tied at 4-4, with Seminoles losing 3 staight. Coming into the game the teams are closely matched in terms of their offenses, while it looks like the Noles have a slight advantage when it comes to defense. In big games like these special teams can often be the determining factor. NoleDigest feels that this game may have that same feel.
Flatly, FSU's kick coverage unit has been a glaring weakeness this season. While one player doesn't make a team, it's daunting for FSU fans to imagine what this unit would be like if walk-on Louis Givens wasn't having the year he is. Additionally the knee injury suffered by Graham Gano earlier this season turned out to be a hindrance to a unit that simply is giving the opposition great field position.
Perhaps the biggest game of the year for FSU so far has been the rivalry game against Miami. We saw what happened there: FSU's numerous errors on special teams, and their inability to stop Travis Benjamin, ultimately kept the Hurricanes in a game where they frankly had no right being in. This weekend they face C.J. Spiller, who is one of the most dynamic kick returners in the nation. C.J. ranks 3rd nationally in yards per kick return with 31.9 yards per attempt. He is also the conference's 3rd best punt returner. Against FSU Spiller has hurt FSU in this area, as he averaged 12.5 yards per punt return last year, and over his career has averaged over 33 yards per kick return. Let's not forget Jacoby Ford, who in his own right has proven he can be a game-breaker in the return game.
The Seminoles must contain these two in this area if they hope to win. Simply put this unit may be the weakest part of a team on the rise. Miami and Travis Benjamin had it's way with the Noles last month, and they've yet to show against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and N.C. State the consistent ability to give the defense good field position. ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON
For all of the flack FSU's Michael Ray Garvin has received when it comes to his ability to return kick-offs, it says something that yet again he's the nation's leader in this category. Wednesday news broke that Garvin may not play this weekend due to the concussion he suffered against the Yellow Jackets last weekend. That leaves a gapping hole in a unit that otherwise hasn't been very impressive. Garvin has retuned 12 of the teams 34 kick-offs, which is two times more than the next guy (Bert Reed with 6).
When Garvin went out of the Miami game Reed stepped in and showed that he is capable of being a playmaker and a guy who'll give the FSU offense good field positon. The other candidates will most likely be Preston Parker, who's struggling as he's averaging a shade over 17 yards per return in 2008, and possibly Patrick Robinson, who is averaging nearly 28 yards per return. The coaches may decide to keep Robinson off this unit while he continues to roceover from an injury he received against Colorado in September. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Florida State has a big advantage here. Graham Gano is leading the nation in field goals made per game with 2.5, and is the nation's 6th leading scorer. As it was mentioned earlier Gano's knee is nearly full strength, thus he's been able to kick the ball off as the season has progressed. While Shawn Powell has struggled some, his 41.1 yards per kick is one of the best in the ACC.
Where the Noles may see the biggest advantage is in the punting game, as Clemson has struggles this year in switching the field position. Coming into this game the Tigers are 88th in the nation in net punting at 33.39 yards per kick. FSU is averaging almost 12 yards per punt return, so look for Reed, Parker and Tony Carter to possibly make a game changing play in this facet of the game. ADVANTAGE: FSU