Clemson vs. Florida State Prediction
The Tigers head down to Tallahassee this week with dreams of an ACC Championship Game berth still alive. A win would allow everyone involved to keep hoping and checking the standings, while a loss leaves Clemson fans wondering how to beat South Carolina and which bad bowl game we’ll go to. So let’s just go down there and get a win. My son is taking this road trip, and he has promised that he will try and out-scream every Nole fan in the stadium, but the Tigers are 0-3 on the road this season. In fact, discounting the bowl game [neutral site], the Tigers haven’t won on the road in almost a calendar year. Their last win on an opponent’s home field was last Nov. 14th, a 43-23 win at N.C. State. And, let’s face it, this could be the defining moment in Dabo’s coaching career.
CLEMSON AT FSU
When Clemson has the ball
The Florida St. defense has gotten scalded in the past two contests, especially through the air. They currently rank 11th in the ACC in that department, but they rank second in the conference in rush defense. Clemson simply has to win this battle if they are to have a chance at winning. The Noles’ secondary is shaky, and if quarterback Kyle Parker can build off last week’s performance, the Tigers can get into a rhythm. But Parker has to hit some of the underneath routes, to tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Jamie Harper, to help offset Clemson’s lack of a running game. Last week, offensive coordinator Billy Napier used wide receiver screens as an extension of the running game, but that won’t be as effective this week against a faster defense. If Parker can hit the short stuff early, it can open up the running lanes for Harper. FSU features defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who is second to Da’Quan Bowers in sacks and tackles for loss, so he is a force to be reckoned with. Harper does not do well in the zone read offense, and I was certain Clemson would line up in the I-formation last week and run straight at N.C. State. Instead, it was more zone read out of the shotgun. If the Tiger offense was clicking on all cylinders, they could get the advantage against a leaky FSU defense. But the running game is struggling with Andre Ellington out, and the offense makes just enough mistakes to stop drives.
When FSU has the ball
Quarterback Christian Ponder returned to practice on Thursday after missing three consecutive days after team doctors inserted a drain to help remove excess fluid from his right elbow related to his ruptured bursa sac. He is listed as questionable, but head coach Jimbo Fisher’s comments make it seem like Ponder will play if at all able. Which all could be just a ploy to keep Clemson guessing. Backup E.J. Manuel is talented, and whether he plays or Ponder is back in won't matter to the Clemson defense. The Noles might run a few more called running plays, but the offense won't change considerably. The Seminole offensive line is pretty good, but they’re banged up, and they will face a stiff test in Clemson’s front four. The Noles are pretty good at running the ball, ranked third in the ACC, and early success on the ground could open things up thru the air later. Stop the run, force the Noles into long third down situations, and hope that whichever quarterback is in there makes a mistake. This is one of those games where Clemson’s linebackers have to come to play. The offensive line is good enough to block the defensive line at times, and it will fall to the linebackers to make plays. As well as Clemson’s defense has played in recent weeks, you have to like this matchup. But can somebody PLEASE watch the wheel route?
ADVANTAGE: Slight to Clemson
The Tigers finally got a long kick return last week, and the rest of the special teams have been solid, except for field goals. This week, redshirt freshman Chandler Catanzaro will handle the duties, and he said that kicking a game-winner on the road in Tallahassee wouldn’t faze him. I hope he’s right. Punter Dawson Zimmerman was named as one of the 10 finalists for the Ray Guy Award early on Friday, but his best play of the season might have been his one-handed grab of an errant snap late in last week’s game against N.C. State. If that one gets away, all ACC dreams are probably gone. The Noles have an exciting returner in Greg Reid, and punter Shawn Powell has averaged over 45 yards per kick this season, good for 17th in the nation. Kicker Dustin Hopkins is 10-of-14 on field goals, but missed a heart-breaker last weekend against UNC.
Jimbo Fisher has had an interesting first season as head coach. A win over lowly Samford had Tallahassee buzzing early, but a demolition on the road at Oklahoma stilled the joy somewhat. Then came a five-game winning streak, including a demolition of their own against Miami, and the buzz was back. Now the Noles have a two-game losing streak, and like Clemson, are fighting for their ACC lives. Both of these programs feel like they have the support and facilities to dominate the Atlantic Division, and both are trying to get back to that point. Dabo and company have faced questions all season, and last week’s win over a ranked N.C. State team was the best win of the season. A win over FSU on Saturday would provide momentum heading into the final two weekends, but questions still persist about the offense. These two staffs are fighting over some of the same recruits as well. Winner gets a leg up on next season…
The Clemson defense is playing well. The offense isn’t. FSU is at home, and trying to avoid a three-game losing streak. The Tigers are 0-3 on the road. As much as I want to pick the Tigers to win, there isn’t a lot to hold onto. Both teams make critical mistakes at inopportune times, and this one will be close from beginning to end. The bookies in Vegas always give the home team three points, so a late field goal ends this one. Besides, I’m superstitious, and picked against the Tigers last week and they won. If they win this one, I might never pick them again. So….
FLORIDA ST. 19, CLEMSON 16