Roy Martin: FSU vs Clemson Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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Chansi Stuckey is the only receiver in Clemson history to have consecutive games with multiple scoring receptions.

Saturday’s resounding victory against Florida State revealed two things. First, Clemson is capable of great things when they play up to their potential and execute their game plan.


Secondly, and much more painfully, they have underachieved to some extent this season. Despite reveling in a victory that would have been nearly impossible just a few years ago, the thought crossed many fans’ minds that they would be in Jacksonville in three weeks but for some untimely lapses.

This team’s split personalities have caused coaches and fans alike to run the gamut of emotions. Saturday was close to the highest of highs, but it is important for everyone to maintain an even keel.

Florida State is still extremely talented and one of the most respected programs in the country, but they are not the juggernaut they once were. They have played 27 first or second-year freshmen and suffered a number of key injuries, not to mention the fact they do not have the depth they sported all through the 90s and the earlier part of this decade.


OFFENSE


Clemson entered the game amid questions of who would be the starting quarterback and, to some extent, who is the best quarterback on campus. Charlie Whitehurst answered the call with a solid effort that proved why he has earned the right to receive a pass once in a while.

It was another ho-hum day for the senior as he completed 70% of his passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns. If not for a couple of drops and one miss, his performance may have gone in the record books as one of the most efficient in school history.

His yardage total was not that astounding nor did he make any truly spectacular plays that made you say “wow”, but it was evident his leadership and big game experience were key factors.


James Davis and Reggie Merriweather did not have the numbers they have grown accustomed to in recent weeks, but they were enough of a presence to keep the defense honest. Their efforts allowed Rob Spence to mix up the play calling (38 runs, 36 passes). Enough cannot be said about the importance of such balance against a defense unit such as FSU.

I have been extremely critical of Chansi Stuckey much of the season and rightfully so. However, he deserves some praise after his second consecutive big game. Just two weeks ago he was still searching for his first receiving touchdown of his career.

He now has four such catches and is the only receiver in Clemson history to have consecutive games with multiple scoring receptions. He ran very precise routes when going down the field and did a good job of finding the proper lanes when catching the screens that have been his bread and butter all year.


The real stars of the day were the offensive linemen. Despite three second quarter sacks, they gave Charlie plenty of time to operate and the backs good enough holes to break some big runs.

The most notable aspect of their performance was how they were able to negate FSU’s speed by working to the second level. Time and time again, blockers were able to initially double a defender in order to allow one man to sustain the block, and then they chipped up to scraping linebackers. They also excelled in the open field, which is why so many of the screens were successful.

Enough credit cannot be given to Rob Spence and his creativity. His screen-and-lateral and the lateral to Chansi that resulted in a dropped touchdown by Curtis Baham demonstrated his ingenuity. They were deviations to the slip screen that worked so well all day and, as much as many want do not want to believe, has worked so well much of the year.

DEFENSE


I saw Levon Kirkland on the sidelines a number of times during the game and could not help but think he had to be reminiscing back to the glory days of Clemson football. After all, Vic Koenning’s defense looked a lot like the units that were Clemson’s trademark throughout the 80s.

Keeping any team out of the end zone is an accomplishment, but limiting the Seminoles to just six offensive points is nearly unheard of. The mind boggling aspect of the entire performance is FSU never even threatened to find the end zone.

Ends Gaines Adams and Charles Bennett were amazing. Adams wreaked havoc from start to finish. He was credited with just 1.5 sacks but his push caused a lot of problems for Florida State that do not show up on the stat sheet.


Bennett had three tackles for loss, a sack, and two quarterback hurries. Much like Adams, he made a number of plays that did not register in the box score. He did an outstanding job of forcing play to go where they were not designed to cut by fighting off blocks.

There were times when the casual observer had to feel sorry for the FSU tackles. They had no answer for Adams’ speed, and when they did manage to cut him off, he used a solid bull rush or a number of moves to force Weatherford to get rid of the ball sooner than hew would have liked.


The interior linemen also had their best game of the year, especially Cory Groover. They repeatedly snuffed out screens, worked off blocks to run down plays, and made it easier for the end by not giving Weatherford any room to step up when they collapsed the pocket. They picked the biggest game of the year to finally take control of the line of scrimmage.

The linebackers and secondary performed extremely well, mostly because they finally received some help from the front four. Specifically, Duane Coleman is to be commended for his performance in his first start.


He quietly led the team in tackles with nine and had a huge pass break up. There is no question he still has a lot to learn and is not the most technically sound defender, but he makes up for his misgivings with an intense competitiveness that others would be well served to imitate.


Tye Hill has not had his name called a lot this year because teams respect his ability as a defender, but he continues to improve each week. It was amazing to watch how quickly he closed on Lorenzo Booker on a pass to the flat then come up a few plays later to make a sure open field tackle on a run.

It is sometimes hard for me to get a feel for all that is going on during a game because I like to focus on a specific position or group. After watching some of the cut ups that last couple of day, I can say with confidence that Koenning deserves a ton of credit.

The linemen ran a number of twists, the linebackers repeatedly came from depth, and the defense did a good job overall of disguising their coverages. FSU completed just 38% of their passes mainly because their quarterbacks and receivers were confused much of the day.


Not counting incomplete passes, FSU ran 16 plays that resulted in negative or no yards and ended the day having been sacked six times. In the end they were only 5-of-19 on third down and passed for just over one-third of their season average.

SPECIAL TEAMS


If not for another mistake by the punting unit that led to a touchdown, the game would have been completely dominated by the Tigers. Cole Chason had his fourth punt of the year blocked but actually fared fairly well the remainder of the day.


It is hard to believe, but the problem has nothing to do with the scheme. Many teams are now using it and having a lot of success. As I have said in the pass, the C gap is the most vulnerable spot. The tackles need to do a better job of punching their man on their release and the outside personal protector has to kick out much like the wing on the field goal unit.

Jad Dean missed his only attempt at a field goal. Bowden said his decision to go for the 56-yarder was to silence his critics, but that was more than likely a comment that was intended in a joking nature.

The coverage unit did a great job of limiting the Noles and maintaining field position. They have made a vast improvement in the last four weeks, which has taken some of the pressure off of Dean.

The FSU staff must have been extremely impressed with the schemes Clemson implemented last year, or they thought Justin Miller was still on campus, because they did everything in their power not to kick it deep. Aaron Kelly took advantage of the short kicks with a number of solid returns.


SUMMARY


It could not have been a more fitting farewell for the seniors that have done so much for the program over the last four years. Aside from the blocked punt, it was a complete game.

The game plan on both sides of the ball was impeccable and the execution was as good as it has been all year. I think the one factor that has not been talked about very much is all that was accomplished in the off season.

This game was basically won during winter and summer workouts. For the first time since early in the Ken Hatfield error, Florida State was not physically superior by leaps and bounds.


Not only were Clemson’s gains in speed, size, and strength evident, their depth was nearly on the same scale. There were times when six freshmen were lined up on defense and a nearly the same number contributed on offense.

It is hard to say just how much this win will mean to the program, but if it is any indication of what is to come down the road there is a lot of hope for the future.

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