Clemson vs. Florida State: Meet Sean Maguire

Week 4: Clemson vs. Florida State. Jameis Winston is sidelined for the first half against Clemson. Now what?

Clemson (1-1) at Florida State (2-0) Sept. 20, 8:00, ABC

Here's The Deal: Just when it looked like the usual Clemson-Florida State buzz wouldn’t rise to last year’s level, Jameis Winston goes out and gets suspended for the first half of Saturday’s big showdown. Another in a growing line of immature acts from the reigning Heisman winner means sophomore Sean Maguire will earn his first career start in primetime versus arguably the most important opponent on the schedule.

When the Noles and the Tigers met last Oct. 19, both teams were ranked in the top 5. While Florida State remains in the upper echelon this year, Clemson has drifted following an opening day fade versus Georgia. But a trip to Tallahassee affords the Tigers an opportunity to recapture some of that lost momentum, while taking an early lead in the ACC Atlantic race. Clemson is hungry for revenge and to quiet doubters who’ve labelled 2014 as a rebuilding year by Dabo Swinney’s usual standard.

For Florida State, this is the biggest test of the first-half of the season, as the quest to repeat as the national champ really gets cranking. The Seminoles have stirred critics early on after struggling with Oklahoma State and only scoring 37 points on The Citadel. FSU, which has temporarily lost some national appeal to the likes of Oregon and Texas A&M, would love nothing more than to recapture a tailwind on the back of a hated rival.

Why Clemson Might Win: The Clemson D may be better than a year ago. The Florida State offense is not, even before Winston got whacked with a 30-minute major.

Sure, the Noles still have Winston for the final two quarters, Rashad Greene and a veteran O-line. But something is missing, especially at the skill positions. Florida State hasn’t had the same pop coming off the ball. And now here come the Tigers, led by one of the country’s top defensive lines. Even in last year’s blowout loss, Clemson had success at the point of attack, affecting the pocket with Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Corey Crawford. The Tigers can contain an offense that no longer has Kelvin Benjamin buffering Greene on the outside, or a slew of viable options coming out of the backfield.

Why Florida State Might Win: Everyone on the roster is poised to pick up the slack for Winston, especially the defense.

The Clemson offense remains a work-in-progress the year after losing Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant to the pros. The Tigers are still trying to divvy up reps between starting QB Cole Stoudt and future star Deshaun Watson, and a bona fide go-to skill guy has yet to emerge. They’ll have to have success on the ground with D.J. Howard, because throwing on the Seminole secondary can be perilous. No one has a better secondary than Florida State, which will erase young receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams with a blanket of next-level corners and safeties. This is a night that the Nole defensive stars will shine, and the leadership of Boyd will be sorely missed.

Who To Watch Out For: So what can be expected from Maguire? He’s poised and coming off a sound offseason, but he’s also attempted only 26 career passes. Plus, he has no in-game chemistry with Greene or TE Nick O’Leary. RB Karlos Williams has had a quiet start to 2014, gaining 66 yards in each game, but the Noles will be counting on their feature back to produce like a feature back Saturday night.

Winston will sit out the first 30 minutes for Florida State. Watson, who could become Winston 2.0, will be available to Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris for all four quarters. It’ll be interesting to see how the coach uses his blue-chip recruit. If Stoudt struggles early on, Morris could put the Tigers’ fate in the hands of a true freshman, who operates with the poise and the smarts of a two-year starter.

The Seminole O-line vs. the Clemson D-line promises to be one of the best games-within-the-game of the entire season. Both units are flush with seniors, many of whom will continue playing in the NFL. Florida State wasn’t air-tight in the opener with Oklahoma State, and Beasley has been outspoken in how he plans to pressure the quarterbacks at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Will this be Mario Edwards’ coming-out party? The Seminole defensive end has undeniable talent, but he’s yet to put it all together in Tallahassee. Florida State needs someone to beat Isaiah Battle and Joe Gore off the edge and force Stoudt into bad throws. And while FSU has been thrown on just 42 times in two games, one team sack is not cutting it for this group.

What’s Going To Happen: Winston was the story in last year’s meeting between the two schools. He is again this year, but for an entirely different reason.

Winston will clearly be missed in the opening half, particularly since the Clemson D was going to be a factor no matter who was behind center. But Florida State has ample talent, on both sides of the ball, to help take some of the heat off Maguire. And playing at home will make life a ton easier for the sophomore. A strong running game and an inspired D will get the Noles to halftime with a small lead. Winston will take care of the rest, sealing the win with his version of an apology to the home crowd.
Prediction: Florida State 35 … Clemson 23
Line: Florida State -17 o/u: 60.5
Must Watch Factor: (5: The Guest - 1: Extreme Guide To Parenting) … 4.5

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