Keys to Florida State vs. Clemson


by - Correspondent -
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Rumors have spread like wildfire this week in regards to Tommy Bowden’s future. He has been fired three times, asked to resign once, given an extension twice, and taken a job with another school all in a matter of five days.

Meanwhile, Terry Don Phillips has decided that naming just one head coach is not good enough. Therefore, he has assembled a staff consisting of Danny Ford, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Walt Harris, and Rich Rodriguez thus far. He will make the announcement of the change once he finds three more coaches to round out the staff. Candidates to fill those positions are Bill Parcells, Barry Switzer, Jim Donnan, and – believe it or not – Lou Holtz.


The truth is that there are very few people other than Terry Don Phillips that really know what is going on. It is possible that no one other than Dr. Phillips knows what is happening. He has surprised the masses before and smart money says he will do the same again. For now, the rumors are good for nothing more than a few laughs and trips to Fantasyland.


Lost in all the hoopla surrounding whether fans should order a Danny mesh hat or Nike golf visor is the fact that a game is actually taking place on Saturday night in Death Valley. Florida State comes to town looking to secure another outright ACC championship and hopes of playing for another national title.

Florida State is not the team most people want to face when their job is on the line. For Tommy, facing Florida State may be the best thing that could happen to him. A win over the Seminoles is about the only thing that would momentarily quell some of the negative rumblings.

OFFENSE


As good as the Georgia defense was in the first game of the season, it appears the Florida State defense may be better…possibly a whole lot better.


There are only two first year starters on the Seminole defense. Take those guys out of the equation and the other nine players have started an average of 29 games. Even with the two first-timers included, the Florida State defense averages 25 starts per man. There are seven seniors and four juniors listed at the top spot on the depth chart. There are five juniors and one senior listed at the second slots.


The scary thing is they may be more athletic than they are experienced. They have great size and some of the best speed in the country. Linebackers Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware could be one of the speediest linebacker duos in the history of college football. Both are great against the run and pass. Boulware will actually lock up with wide receivers in certain man coverage situations.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett has 19 tackles for loss this season and owns the Florida State career record with 62. They have returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season and six current players have made taking one the distance in their careers.

This abundance of speed allows defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews to play a lot of man coverage. By playing man, he increases the number of guys that can rush. Bringing all four linemen, along with one to three linebackers, may open up some passing opportunities, but the Seminoles are so fast that most quarterbacks do not have a chance to capitalize. In essence, they are willing to risk giving up a big play in order to make a big play.

Slow starts have killed the Tigers in the past. In the last 11 games, Clemson is only averaging 5.6 points in the first half. Of the 180 points they have scored during that span, only 37% of them have occurred in the first two quarters. If they are to have a chance this year, that must change.


It will not be an easy task. Florida State is 1st in the ACC and 12th in the country in total defense. They allow just 284.7 yards per game and their opponents have been successful only 26.7% of the time in third down situations. They are second in the nation in scoring defense. They have given up only nine touchdowns in nine games while allowing a mere 10.8 points per contest.


They have been able to do this by getting pressure (28 sacks) and forcing turnovers (25). An average of 2.77 turnovers and 3.1 sacks per contest means opposing offenses are not having a lot of fun. And speaking of opposing offenses, they have taken the field 16 times after Florida State turnovers. The Florida State defense has limited them to two touchdowns and two field goals. That may be the most telling stat when it comes to assessing their defense.


Clemson’s offense has to play better than it has in quite some time. The key for them is to not make mistakes, and score touchdowns when they make it to the Red Zone. Big plays will probably play a very important role, as it does not look like the Tigers will be able to successfully pound out four, five, and six yards a clip.


Being able to establish a running game early on will allow the Tigers to keep Florida State guessing. Otherwise, look for Florida State to line up in a lot of man coverage and blitz as many as possible. If so, screens and draws may be the most effective means of slowing down the Seminoles.


DEFENSE

It seems as if the M.O. of the Seminoles is they play as well as quarterback Chris Rix plays. If he is on, they usually roll. If he struggles, anything can happen. Unfortunately for Clemson, he always seems to have a very good day when facing the Tigers.

Barring some type of career ending injury, Rix will soon pass Chris Weinke as the all-time leader in passing yards and total offense at Florida State. He currently ranks second in both categories and is 12th on the ACC charts for total offense. There is no doubt he is a very good athlete and has the ability to be a very good quarterback.

Craphonso Thorpe is coming off of a career game as he racked up 217 yards and 2 touchdowns on 7 catches against Notre Dame. He is the fastest guy on the team and on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award.


The offensive line averages 6’4½”, 315 lbs. They are not as experienced as many of Florida State’s lines of the past, but these guys are solid. Tackles Alex Barron and Ray Willis are the biggest and most experienced of the bunch. They have played well all season as they have shown an ability to deal with speed rushers off the corner in passing situations while making powerful blocks in the running game.


The Florida State skill guys are all fast and agile. Greg Jones is the guy Clemson fans remember the most because he is a South Carolina native that has torched the Tigers the past two seasons. Craphonso Thorpe and P.K. Sam are the top two receivers. Thorpe averages 39 yards per catch on his 9 TD receptions.

Florida State’s offense is very balanced. They run the ball 49% of the time and average 3.84 yards per carry. Rix is completing 58.7% of his passes for an average gain of 8.46 yards per attempt. They put an emphasis on the big play and will routinely go deep.


Consider that their average touchdown drive is 5.9 plays and 62.5 yards. That is over 10 yards per play. They have 15 touchdown drives of 70 yards or more and 8 touchdown plays of 35 yards or more. Against Wake Forest they had 5 drives of 1:17 or less that resulted in 31 points. That is not to say that cannot work the clock when needed. In a tight game against Virginia, they held the ball for 11:41 of the final 15 minutes.

Against Clemson they are averaging 35 points per game – 32.7 when playing in Death Valley. The Seminoles have not been shutout since a 31-0 loss to Miami on September 8, 1988. In the 194 games since that time, they have averaged 37 points per contest.

Believe it or not, Clemson may actually match up a little better against Florida State than they did against Wake. Florida State’s philosophy is to run right at people and throw a lot of play action passes. As witnessed against North Carolina and Wake, misdirection running play and passes off of that action is what has given Clemson the most problems.

Florida State is averaging two turnovers per game and Clemson needs to force at least that many if they are going to be competitive. They must also control the number of big plays and force Florida State to grind it out with long scoring drives. The harder they have to work to put points on the board the more of a chance there is that they shot themselves in the foot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is what cost Clemson the game last year. A repeat performance and the Tigers are doomed.

Leon Washington is an extremely dangerous return man. Against Wake Forest, he set a new Florida State record with 159 yards on 7 punt returns. Clemson fans know all to well how explosive he is after watching him take a kickoff back last year.

Place kicker Xavier Beitia is on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award. He has made all 37 extra point attempts and is 14-of-17 on field goals. He has a long of 48 yards and is 5-of-6 in the 40-49 yard range.

Punter Jesse Stein is on the Ray Guy Award watch list and is second in the NCAA with a 38.6-yard net punting average.

Clemson will presumably have to punt often Saturday night. They must find a way to be consistent and not give up any big returns. If that mean kicking it out of bounds, then so be it. Florida State is averaging 11.6 yards per return. Therefore, a 40-yard punt equates to a 28.5-yard punt. As important as field position will be it is a must that their net punting average be much, much better than that.

SUMMARY


Georgia is the best team Clemson has faced to date. If not for a slew of injuries, they would probably be the best team on the schedule. As it stands, Florida State is extremely healthy and they are the best team Clemson the Tigers will see this year.

The offense faces its toughest task of the season because of Florida State’s speed. The offensive line has yet to see a team this experienced. There will be times when they will look like deer in headlights. The key is for them to minimize those occurrences and play solid enough to give the backs and receivers ample opportunity to make plays. The rotation that includes four freshmen and one sophomore will have to do a lot of growing up on Saturday night. Win or lose, this is an experience that will make the guys in the trenches much better in the long run as it is very possible they will never again face a defense as athletic and experienced.

The defense must shake off last week’s horrendous performance and enter the game with a mindset akin to that of a heavyweight boxer. As long as they can withstand the initial blows and make the Seminoles fight for everything they get, the Tigers will have a chance to limit the number of points put on the board. There is nothing fancy about Florida State’s offense. They just line up with great athletes and come right at you.

Very few people believe Clemson has a chance and for good reason. The Tigers have not beaten Florida State since 1989 and many of their losses since that time have been blowouts. In purely athletic terms, this may be Clemson’s best team to face FSU in a long time. Unfortunately, Florida State is as good and battle tested as they have been in some time. Despite Clemson’s improvement in athletic ability, they are still a few notches below the Seminoles.

The atmosphere on Saturday night will be truly electric. What may start out as a great game, will eventually give way to Florida State’s superiority. The Seminoles win 35-14.

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