Roy Martin: Clemson - FSU Preview


by - Correspondent -
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I do not think the Bowden Bowl has lost its luster. In fact, I think it is a bigger game now than it was eight years ago. Very few seem to share that thought these days, but I have grown accustomed to being wrong.


What has lost its luster is the title – Bowden Bowl.


The name was kind of fun when it first began because of the historical significance and the fact it was a much closer game than anyone predicted. The novelty of the entire ordeal even allowed most of the college football world to stomach the endless amount of camera time Anne Bowden and her putrid sweatshirt received.


Years later Anne is still getting a ton of attention and most reporters are asking the same questions. It’s as if the Bowden Bowl is more of an event than it is a game.


Lost in all of the family talk is the realization that Clemson’s senior class has a chance to go 3-1 against the Noles and the talent gap is not nearly as wide as it once was.


And for all the naysayers who think “Daddy” has thrown a couple, keep staring out the windows of your basement looking for the black SUVs and helicopters to circle your house and take you away. Those voices you hear really are talking to you.


Fathers let their sons win a game of H-O-R-S-E. They do not let them win games involving multi-million dollar contracts and bowl bids.


If only for a few hours Saturday night, Bobby and Tommy will cease being father and son.


OFFENSE


It is the same old song and dance for the FSU defense – speed, speed, and more speed.


Linebackers Buster Davis, Geno Hayes, and Lawrence Timmons are as fast as any trio in the country. True freshman backup Marcus Ball, brother of Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball, led the team with 10 tackles against Troy.


Sophomore Derek Nicholson played in all 13 games last year and freshman Dekoda Watson has been singled out as have a good week of practice. The coaches have confidence in each of them.


The depth at linebacker should be very important this week, as their defensive line has been decimated by injuries. Starter Paul Griffin has been lost for the season and at least three others have been listed as questionable.

The injuries have been so costly that starting tackle Andre Fluellen has been held out of practice as a precautionary measure and reserve defensive end Alex Boston has spent time practicing inside.


There are two juniors and one senior among the 13 players listed on the depth chart at tackle, end, and nose guard. The seven players at tackle and nose guard average 6’3.5” and 280 pounds, with four being 275 pounds or less. Again, not the biggest and most experienced bunch Clemson will face but they are fast and athletic.


Because of the concerns on the front – that is, of course, if you believe the reports – and the depth they have at linebacker, I would not be surprised to see Mickey Andrews employ some looks that involve three down linemen and four linebackers. That is nothing more than a hunch.


Their secondary is led by Tony Carter, who was a Freshman All-American last year, and J.R. Bryant at the corners. Safeties Roger Williams and former walk-on Anthony Houllis have plenty of game experience and are big hitters.


FSU is giving up a mere 13 yards rushing and 214.5 total yards per game. Those numbers are good enough to rank them first and second nationally. Sixteen of the 24 drives opponents have mounted this year have been four plays or less.


Clemson is averaging 431 yards per game, 173 of that coming via the ground. James Davis leads the ACC with 93.5 rushing yards per game, Chansi Stuckey leads with 8 receptions per game, and Will Proctor leads the league in total offense with 260 yards per game. The Tigers have had nine plays of 20 or more yards in two games and are averaging 6.1 yards per play.



Although I think Clemson has the speed in the backfield to finally run with FSU, they cannot match the Noles as a unit. Even Miami, long known for its speed at the skill positions, could not outrun the FSU.


What Clemson needs to do is employ a lot of misdirection in an effort to catch Florida State over pursuing. Mix in a little power running against what should be a patchwork front and at some of the smaller LBs like Hayes and Ball and they should be able to keep them guessing.


Because their speed is so good off the corner, I suspect Will Proctor will move the pocket in order to buy time. I also would not be surprised to see some naked bootlegs and zone reads similar to the one that sprung Charlie Whitehurst for a big game against Miami last year.


Clemson has had success running the ball and FSU has had even more success shutting down the ground game. If Clemson’s line can assert themselves enough to win the battle, Clemson should be able to score some points and, more importantly, keep the defense off the field.


DEFENSE


Florida State’s recent struggles are no secret.


Their ability to run the ball has been virtually nonexistent dating back to at least last season. Their defense and special teams have bailed them out time and again over their last seven games by providing good field position and even scoring a few touchdowns. They had at least three special teams touchdowns in their last four games in 2005.


To put their rushing woes into perspective, the Noles are averaging just over 41 inches per rush this season and have had just one 100-yard rushing performance since the beginning of last season, which happened to be against Clemson.


Sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford took his fair share of licks last season because teams were able to pin their ears back and come after him. Because he had to shoulder most of the burden last year, he looked really bad during stretches.


But he also showed flashes of brilliance and has quietly become a good quarterback. He now has four 300-yard passing performances in just 15 games as a starter. He had over 300 yards to nine different receivers last week.


Backs Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith are extremely speedy are very close to fitting the mold of Warrick Dunn. Booker has been a threat as a receiver during his career and now has 90 catches. In my opinion, Booker is as quick to and through the line of scrimmage as any back in the college game.


The line will see a change this week as Cory Niblock will start at right guard in place of David Overmeyer. Niblock is the most experienced linemen with 21 career starts entering the 2006 season.


Senior Mario Henderson was tabbed as a preseason second team All-ACC selection despite having only five career starts. Left guard Jacky Claude is one of only three offensive players to start all 13 games in 2005. Right tackle Shannon Boatman is the only “new” face on the line, as he is a junior college transfer who enrolled in January of this year. They did not give up a sack against Miami.

Receivers Chris Davis, Greg Carr, and De’Cody Fagg are the strength of FSU’s offense. Carr is a 6’6” playmaker that tied an ACC freshman record with nine touchdown catches last year. Both Davis and Carr are on the preseason watch list for the Belitnikoff Award.


True freshman Brandon Warren has been stellar at tight end with six catches in the first two games. He was the only true freshman to start against Miami.


Whether or not Florida State actually tries to establish the run may be the biggest mystery heading into the game. Their passing game has been their work horse for quiet some time and did just enough to sneak by Miami and Troy.


Clemson’s weakness undoubtedly is their pass defense. With the casualties at linebacker and the injury to safety Michael Hamlin, how Clemson’s secondary performs will be a huge factor in the outcome.


Matt Ryan had a lot of success last week because he was given so much time to operate. Weatherford is not as good as Ryan, but Ryan does not have the weapons available to the Noles’ signal caller. At the very least, BC provided a blueprint of how to attack the Tigers’ pass defense.


The Eagles had some success with screens and I think you will see a number of them Saturday night. I also think you will see a number of “extended handoffs,” meaning the backs will catch a lot of swing passes and quick hitters out of the backfield. More precisely, they will likely try to take advantage of any matchups they can get with Maurice Nelson covering a back.


I also expect to see more four and five wide receiver sets from FSU, especially if they cannot generate any consistency in the ground game early on and Clemson is not getting a good rush.


SPECIAL TEAMS


After hearing Tommy Bowden’s press conference this week, it is obvious the coaches were not calling for Jad Dean to kick it to Jeff Smith last week. Dean simply could not get it to the end zone.


Defensive back Michael Ray Garvin returns kicks for FSU. He was an All-American last year on their national championship track team. Whether Dean pooches it or kicks it in the fourth row of the end zone is undetermined, but he better find a way to keep it from Garvin unless the Tigers have made great strides in coverage in one week.


Cole Chason has what may have been the best game of his career last week. He will, in all likelihood, be called on a number of times Saturday night. If he continues to kick well, he could be the difference in the outcome because of field position.


Gary Cismesia returns as the kicker for FSU. He has been inconsistent at times but has good leg strength and is very experienced.


Sophomore Graham Gano is in his first season as a starter. He is averaging just 35.7 yards per attempt with a long of 43. Jacoby Ford needs to try to bring that average down this week by fielding a few more punts. His reluctance to fair catch balls has cost Clemson a ton of valuable position in just two games.


OVERALL


Fans of either school should not be fooled by the lackluster performance Florida State turned in last week against Troy. They were coming off an emotional victory against their biggest rival and only had five days of rest. They also had only one-and-a-half practices outside because of weather. To say Troy caught them at the perfect time is an understatement.


With two victories in the last three years, it is safe to say Clemson no longer fears Florida State. With those victories and in increase in talent level, that veil of invincibility has simply disappeared.


However, a trip to Tallahassee is something that hasn’t been very kind to Clemson. Their last victory their came in 1989 and the closest they have been able to keep it in the years since then is 17 points.


For those that are at least somewhat superstitious, there are some parallels to the 1989 team. That year fifth-year senior Chris Morocco was in his first season as a starting quarterback and Terry Allen was one of the top back in the ACC. This year Clemson enters with fifth-year senior Will Proctor in his first season as the starter and James Davis is the leading rusher in the league after being tabbed its Freshman of the Year last season.


I do not think there is any question that Florida State will have some success on offense. They have too many weapons and Clemson is playing with a patchwork group of linebackers and a very inexperienced secondary.


The biggest question for me is how productive can Clemson’s offense be. They, too, have a number of weapons. James Davis and C.J. Spiller have the speed to cause some problems for the Noles defense.


How will Proctor performs will dictate Clemson’s success. He will have to move the ball through the air in order to keep the defense from stacking eight guys in the box and using their speed to their advantage.


Clemson had some success doing that last year with a quarterback who was not as mobile as Proctor. If he can effectively move the pocket and keep the Noles honest with a run sprinkled in every so often, I think Clemson can maintain control of the clock and put some points on the board. The former may be the most important aspect of the gameplan.


I do think Clemson will have some success on offense but I am not sure it will be enough. Until the front four proves they can wreak havoc with a pass rush, I would have to bet FSU will have enough success on offense to outscore the Tigers with a little help from their defense and special teams.


Florida State wins a close one by a score of 27-24.

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