Previewing the Clemson Tigers @ The Florida State Seminoles

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Clemson Tigers
@ Florida St. Seminoles

Saturday, Nov 8, 2008, 3:30 PM EST
Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium

Shut Up Drew Weatherford
The Conversation: Talking with Dr. B of Clempson Football
Wednesday running update and open comment thread

Complete Coverage >

Your announcers are a bunch of no-names.  That's often better as they'll do their homework and come prepared.



Other Nole blogs chime in:

Chantrant: Why didn't Brad Scott become the OC, and answers from another Clemson beat writer.  &  Inside the mind of Dabo Swinney: an interview with the Anderson Independent.

Scalpem: Humorous and good as usual with this "ridiculously quick preview."

The offense will be up later when I take a study break.This preview will be shorter until Saturday morning, at which point I will add more.  I have a midnight deadline on a paper, and I have to devote most of my time to finishing.  The preview will be incomplete until then.

I've seen Clemson play one game in person this year (Alabama), and 3 more games on TV (Losses to Wake, Maryland, and Georgia Tech).  Even after seeing 4 games, however, this team is still hard to read.

Know who did have a great read on them?  RockMNation (Missouri's blog)

Here's my biggest point of hesitation: Clemson has to replace FOUR starters on the offensive line, including both their all-conference LG and all-conference LT.  It appears there's plenty of talent in this unit, but...holy smokes, is that a lot to lose.  And no matter how great your RBs are, they're going to be limited if they're having to make their first move 3 yards in the backfield.  This is still likely the best offense in the conference, but I'm thinking good defenses will still be able to slow them down quite a bit.  This isn't a "they're getting their yards no matter the opponent" situation.

(One more point of hesitation: they were +13 in turnovers in '07.  That's hard to duplicate in back-to-back years.)

Let's take a look at the Tiger's games against D1 competition.

Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
Alabama 419 180 239 25 64.7% 6/40 0 41:13
Clemson 188 188 0 11 11.1% 6/43 2 18:47
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
North Carolina State 288 152 136 20 41.2% 7/40 2 32:57
Clemson 428 262 166 22 44.4% 7/75 2 27:03
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
Maryland 295 172 123 11 33.3% 9/70 0 27:24
Clemson 372 151 221 19 33.3% 6/50 3 32:36
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
Clemson 198 177 21 10 14.3% 7/59 1 24:08
Wake Forest 342 186 156 21 47.6% 3/17 0 35:52
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
Georgia Tech 298 91 207 12 37.5% 6/45 2 34:53
Clemson 249 198 51 12 25.0% 4/36 6 25:07
Team Total Yds Pass Yds Rush Yds First Downs 3rdD% Pen./Yds Turnovers Time of Poss.
Clemson 339 252 87 16 40.0% 5/35 4 29:01
Boston College 236 116 120 11 16.7% 3/30 2 30:59

18 Turnovers in 6 games is sloppiness and bad luck.  We saw that turnovers are often a product of bad luck when we faced Georgia Tech, who has similarly been plagued by turnovers.  We cannot rely on Clemson turning the ball over.

What we can do is play defense with controlled aggression.  Excuse me if this is simplistic, but Clemson's offensive line sucks.  The mainstream media fittingly glossed over this "minor" weakness of their football team.  They are playing better now that they have a little bit more experience after suffering from some early season injuries and they're playing with more motivation under Dabo Swinney than they were under Tommy Bowden, but we still need to exploit this weakness.

I'm not going to talk about C.J. Spiller very much in this space.  I know that we are scheming to stop him, and as you'll see, his line doesn't block for him.  He is an NFL back, and we have to control him.  We won't shut him down completely.

How should we exploit this weakness?  BY NOT BLITZING CRAZILY.  The offensive line doesn't move people off the ball at all.  They have been handled by some good defensive lines; notably GTech, Alabama, and Wake Forest).  Florida State's defensive line hasn't drawn much praise around here as of late, but they are still a good defensive line capable of winning this battle without help from the blitzers.

Why is not excessively blitzing so important?  When an offensive line can't move people, they resort to other tactics; usually misdirection plays, screens, or zone blocking principles.  Clemson doesn't zone block well like FSU does (it feels so good to say that).  They are a good screen team, however, and also run a good bit of misdirection.    If they can't take us out of the play, they must depend on us taking ourselves out of the play.  We should let our DLine play fast and loose, and let our LB's take care of business by reacting quickly.  If we blitz a lot here, I fear that we will be out of position and will be gashed for the big play.  Besides the obvious negatives of the big play, we really need to avoid allowing it against Clemson because...

Clemson cannot sustain drives because they are sloppy, poorly coached, undisciplined, not in sync, and imprecise.  Oh, they also don't run the ball and win  the battle of first down:

  • Against Georgia Tech, they had two- 40+ Yard drives in the 3rd quarter and did not have any other drives over 25 yards in the entire game.
  • Outside of a 70 yard drive, Wake held Clemson under 40 yards on all other drives.
  • Boston College allowed drives of 70, 80, & 70 yards, but--- those drives contained plays of 56, 45, 26, 24, and 23 yards.  Even when their drives were long, they gained: 174 of the 220 yards these drives encompassed were gained on plays of 20+ yards. 

Sometimes there is a good reason to blitz.  This is not one of those times.  We cannot afford to let Clemson hit us for big plays.  Playing base defense and using our athleticism to limit yards after the catch-- or even better to deny the catch, will be a much better game plan.  

Do you remember what I said about the VT game?  A refresher:

We can't consistently block their pass rush, and honestly, should invite them to blitz.  If they can get pressure with 4, why not let them bring 6 and give us single coverage?  We'll need to win this with big plays; probably deep balls to Surrency  Carr, or a series of screens.  We won't drive on these guys.

That is Clemson against us to a T.

It's an especially good game plan because Clemson's QB Cullen Harper has a million dollar arm (first round draft pick level), but a 2-cent head.  He sucks at throwing the underneath stuff and is sometimes really inaccurate.  Think Jeff George.  Does letting this guy throw deep balls against single coverage sound like the right idea to you?  I thought not.  Let's keep at least one man in deep zone coverage at all times.

Clemson will line up primarily in 3WR sets.  This is usually good for FSU as we have the speed at LB to stay in our 4-3 alignment.  In this game, however, Clemson has an NCAA track guy lining up in the slot.  I'm not sure if we plan to use man coverage on him with Myron Rolle but I will say a prayer tonight that we do not attempt this.  In keeping with the idea of "make Clemson earn it", this would be almost the reverse of what we should do.  We need to play more Nickel in this game.  I am fine with letting Corey Mangum play Ford if we have a deep safety.  Let's hope that Mickey doesn't dare Cullen to beat single coverage deep.  That's a dare he will lose. 

As for their other receivers...

Aaron Kelley is 6'5 and really good.  That said, I'm okay with Patrick Robinson playing him man-up, as long as we occasionally flash deep help his way.  Robinson is a very good cover corner, and Kelly is a lazy route runner with a lot of physical talent.

Tyler Gresham is 5'2 and white.  Insert [good route runner] [understands the offense], etc.  He doesn't have great hands though.  Tony Carter should do just fine against him. 

If I told you that our 2 corners should more than hold their own against an opposing team's best two receivers, that their offensive line sucked, and that their QB is wildly inconsistent but does have a big arm, how confident would you be? 

Their TE is a complete non-factor (though against us, he is good for 11 catches and 140 yards).

If we allow big plays on screens to Spiller or big plays to Ford this Saturday, you should be angry.

You might be thinking

"FSUncensored, BC runs a soft cover-3 and Clemson gashed them.  Didn't they try to limit big plays"? 

Yes, and yes.  BC has ZERO speed on defense, however, and they are incapable of generating pressure without a blitz, specifically off the edge.  Florida State doesn't have this same problem, since we have that Everette Brown guy.  There should be NO REASON TO BLITZ 6.  IF YOU WANT TO SEND WATSON OFF THE EDGE AND HAVE THE FS IN DEEP MIDDLE THAT IS FINE.  Please though, none of the crazy stuff.  Everette Brown already produces this reaction:


I figured I'd break out "Do Not Want Dog", since EB has another bad offensive tackle to feast on!  DNWD is the official mascot of offensive tackle fear.  It worked against Colorado and Va Tech.  

I'm not sure if Clemson will help on EB, but considering their TE sucks, they probably should.

My hopes are that we see a lot of Watson and Verdell in this game.  I love Nicholson, but I'm not sure his skillset works here.  Watson and Verdell's speed should be a huge benefit.  We need to make Harper throw accurately in the short and intermediate levels. 

Clemson's offense is poorly coordinated and not precise in any way.  This shows up in their over-reliance on the big play.  They don't play as a unit and I think you'll see this on Saturday. 

Our prime defensive play this Saturday should be: Cover-1 Blitzes.  One blitzer off the outside (preferrably allowing Moffett to come inside, opposite of brown), and a deep safety in coverage to take away the deep ball.  6 man blitzes against this team, however, are foolish and unnecessary.  

Let's do the goals:

The Goals for the Seminole Rushing Defense:

  • Keep Clempzun in 2nd and long: 33% of First Down Rushes for 2 or fewer yards.  (The STUFFED %)
  • Use penetration to get stops: 40% Win Rate on 3rd+ 4th n short rushing
  • Tackle Well: Less than 10 missed tackles (A Mickey Andrews Goal)
  • Don't have your good work go for naught: 1 or fewer draws of 3rd and 8 or Longer for first downs.  This is big!
  • No rushing TD's in the red zone.  Make Harper throw the ball accurately in tight spaces.
  • Take good angles to the football: No more than 4 runs over 15 yards and less than 2 runs over 35 yards. 

The benchmarks for the FSU Pass Defense

  • Harper under a QB Rating of 115 overall. (120 is about 18 completions in 30 attempts for 200 yards; 1 touchdowns and 1 interceptions.)
  • Limit Big Plays:  no more than 5 passes of 15+ yards, and nothing over 40.  See next goal.
  • Selective Pass Interference: do not give up the deep ball.  If they do throw it, interfere like crazy. 
  • Hit Harper: Play to the echo of the whistle.  Have a sack rate (sacks / (pass plays + sacks)) of 10% or more. (27 pass attempts and 3 sacks, so 3/30).  As Mickey said... "you never want to hurt anybody, but our kids understand that if a guy wants to take himself out of a ballgame that is his business. You have got to hit him, you have got to inflict some pressure on him with contact for that to happen...."
  • Be studs on 3rd and long: make the tackle when they throw underneath and don't allow them to get the 3rd down.  Limit Harper to a double digit QB rating on 3rd down and 7+
  • Do not fall for play action on short yardage downs: DB's rarely make these plays but are usually the ones burned for trying to help out too much. 
  • Confuse Harper  Mix the coverages enough to confuse Harper.  I'm annoyed that we give away our blitz too early.  Let's wait to walk down, and at other times walk down and then back out.
  • Create 2 turnovers.

Final Goals For FSU's defense

  • LESS THAN 4.75 YPP
  • No Plays of 50+ Yards.  I doubt CU can repeatedly drive on this team.  Let's make them try. 
  • 10 "Stops" Mickey defines a stop as a turnover, punt, or a surrender on downs.  That's fine by me. 
  • Less than 50% Red Zone TD Scoring
  • No scores off sudden change (make CU get a first down off a turnover.  Do not allow the home run immediately after a turnover)
  • Hold CU under 300 yards.  Mickey's goal is 300, but CU is a bit better than their record. 

CU's offense is ranked 90th by FEI for a reason.  They aren't that good. 

What will happen?

FSU will not get killed by big plays, but will give up some.  Clemson will foolishly abandon the run as they've done all year.  As you'll see when I write it later, Clemson won't have many plays to work with.  CU will rush 27  times (including sacks)  for 100 yards, and will throw 30 times for 200 yards.  They'll hit one play of 45+ yards, and score at TD.  They'll get a fg off of their lone decent DRIVE of the game.  They snag a field goal on a short field, and somehow get two more as well, for a total of 19 points.  Expect big days from Watson solid play from the corners.

Will that be enough?  Check back later in the day to find out.

Some stuff on FSU great Warrick Dunn:

This comes from Brandan from Nike. 

Hi TN –

As a voice on all things FSU, I thought you and your readers would be interested in a pep talk video Warrick Dunn recently gave to Lakeland High School as part of Nike’s 5 Days 2 Friday program.  Nike played the video on the jumbotron right before the Dreadnaught’s game against Boyd Anderson (which the Dreadnaughts won 27-22).  As part of the program, the company is traveling across the country and visiting various top-ranked high school football teams in the week leading up to a big game. Each week they make donations to local community organizations, host team dinners, station a NikeiD booth for students to design their own shoes, conduct SPARQ training sessions for local Pop Warner teams, etc. 

The Story continues


Nike 5 Days to Friday - Warrick Dunn (via CWSports)


Warrick Dunn isn't my favorite Nole Player ever, but he is my favorite person to ever put on the G&G.


Steele, Feldman, Accuscore, FEI, and almost everyone else picked FSU to win.  Count me in as well.

On offense, look for FSU to go on LONG drives.  I see a lot of really, really long drives, holding the ball, dominating the clock, and frustrating Clemson.  Running short on time here.  Not a ton of big plays.

The running game will be all about balance.  Expect us to exploit Clemson's considerable speed by using a lot of the zone read, but more importantly, by having Jermaine and Antone gashing Clemson on cutbacks.  I predict an awesome cutback run of 45+ yards by one of those guys.  Clemson will overpursue, so end-arounds, reverses, and trick plays are all in play. 

Clemson's pass defense is 75th in the nation in OPAED, which isn't great, but isn't as bad as some we've faced.  They will take away the easy stuff, but I do think we can throw the screens (and we should even if they aren't effective-- to slow CU down.)  Their corners are also short, so I expect to see us take some shots to Carr and Surrency.  Parker seems to be coming into his own as well, and could have a decent day.  He might be our best offensive player-- still.  CU will struggle with the Carr quarmire-- whether to guard the jump ball or play aggressively against the bubble.  I still expect them to give us the difficult throws if we can hit them (deep outs and in'sm skinny posts on a rope, etc)

So, your goals for Clemson?  Track this stuff as you watch the game, it makes it more interesting:

So, the goals for the FSU running game?

  • 45% of carries by FSU RB's on First down go for 3 or more yards (win first down).  This seems like a strange goal, but it is all about staying out of 3rd and long.  I know this number seems low, but I'm trying to set realistic goals here. 
  • 60% conversions running on 3rd/ 4th & 2 or less
  • 1 or fewer fumbles (Not fumbles losT, but Fumbles)
  • 40 yards rushing from Christian.  This does not count sacks.  I will parse our the sacks.

The goals for the Passing Game?

  • Less than .33 drops per 5 throws (works out to 2 or less per 35 throws)
  • QB Rating of 120+   Clearly, we're not a high completion % pass game, but Jimbo has stated that he doesn't care about that.  Low completion % but big plays are fine by me.  A rating of 125 is roughly 15 completions in 27 attempts for 205 yards; 1 touchdowns and 1 interceptions.
  • No careless throws into the flat.  This is big, since these almost always go for a Pick-6. 
  • Special Sack Rate  (sacks + Holdings on dropbacks / sacks + pass attempts + holding on dropbacks) of less than 14%.  Yes, 14%.  That isn't a typo.  If we have 30 pass plays, we must not allow more than 4 combined holding penalties and sacks.  Obviously, I would prefer 4 holdings and zero sacks, as we don't risk injury or fumbles with the holding, and as we all know, the team that commits more penalties usually wins the game.  it's true.
  • 7 Yards per Attempt.
  • 2 plays with 15+ YAC
  • No more than 1 BadReadBadThrow (BRBT) per 15 passes.  This is very important if they play zone. 
  • No more than 1 bad blitz pickup miss per 15 attempts (Marcus Sims, this is you).  CU  doesn't blitz much, and I doubt they bring 6+ guys more than once or twice.

General Offensive Goals

  • 5.3 YPP(Yards Per Play).  66 Plays at 5.5 YPP = 365 yards. 
  • No Personal Fouls (except clipping, I'm fine with that here).  I know that the team committing more penalties usually wins the game, but these are non-aggression penalties. 
  • Less than 2 turnovers
  • No more than 1 bad snap (McMahon, please step your game up and play like what a FROSH AA should play like as a Soph)
  • 60%+ Red Zone Touchdowns (Kicking is losing).  We've done a decent job of this this year.

So, what will happen?

With CU putting up 19 points, FSU will need 20+, and they will get it.  FSU runs 39 times (including sacks) for 160 yards (not a great average, but it includes sacks), and throws 27 times for 200 yards.  We will probably commit 2 turnovers, but hopefully they are not costly.  I think we hold the ball for mor ethan 33 Minutes, while getting 2 td's and 4 field goals, as CU gives up some yardage but not huge points.   Despite the low sack totals, CU's DLine is very talented, as is their secondary.  None of their LB's would make our ROSTER, however, and we will eventually exploit that advantage.

Gano will make us forget about the kick coverage woes.

FSU 26, CU 19

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and of course, there will be more to come later.

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