We're very fortunate to be joined again by Ryan Kantor of Shakin The Southland for the second of two Q&A features. We got a bit more specific about the game in this one, and somehow managed to spend time on issues other than those generated by public obscenities.
TN: We talked a bit about Clemson's QB situation last week, and you wrote that you believed that Clemson should start Cole Stoudt and work Deshaun Watson into the game at the appropriate times. What is it about this strategy that makes it the best option for Clemson against the ‘Noles, in your opinion?
STS: It's so hard to be confident in a one-game projection for either player. Watson certainly has a higher ceiling and does a better job stretching the field, which is why I think it is important to work him in. Throwing a few different looks and having some special plays prepared may be one of the few ways to pull off the upset. The last time we played in Tallahassee it looked like we had the ‘Noles on the ropes until the trick plays ran out and the Clemson special teams gave out. I can imagine a similar result this year, so finding any opportunity to confuse the very talented FSU defense is a positive in my book.
Once Watson is eased into the fire, if he is playing better than Stoudt, I have no qualms with him getting the majority of the snaps, however giving him his first career start in this situation is a bit risky. If he falters, as a 16 point spread indicates he may, do you then yank him and essentially say starting him was the wrong call? What does that do to Watson's confidence?
Let's work Watson in, play the hot hand, and do everything possible to steal points against FSU. Snap count is more important to the outcome of the game than who is the official starter anyway.
TN: Which offensive playmakers should ‘Noles fans have their eyes on in this one? Specifically, which guys can make FSU defenders miss in space in the screen game and horizontal stuff, and which guys will attempt to stretch the Seminole defense vertically over the top?
STS: What scared me so much about Clemson's week one loss to UGA was how absent explosiveness was from the offense. Clemson was unable to stretch the defense which in turn made the short passes more predictable and easier to defend. Artavis Scott had one big play, but that was about it for Clemson.
In week two, Scott broke out as he set the freshman receiving record at Clemson with 164 yards. He's a true freshman (early enrollee) slot receiver and needs to get a lot of snaps. He is the second string player at the position (behind Humphries), but is Clemson's best home run threat based on what we've seen this season. To win this game, Clemson will need some huge plays and Artavis Scott is emerging as the playmaker for that role.
TN: What sort of offensive output with the Tigers need to produce to pull the upset over FSU? We usually favor yards per play in these discussions, but for readability's sake, let's talk the total points CU will need to win.
STS: FSU has scored 37 in each of their first two games. If Clemson's offense doesn't hang the defense out to dry with quick three-and-outs late in the game (which could happen), then Clemson should hold them below that 37-point mark. As such, the Tigers probably need somewhere in the 31-38 range to leave with a win. Of course, if the Tiger offense puts the defense in position to fail, then it becomes irrelevant.
TN: In which position group battle are you most confident on Saturday night? Least confident?
STS: Clemson's defensive line is the strength of the team and though they lost the battle of the lines last season, they could certainly have a better showing this year. I don't think we can sit back and hope for coverage sacks. How will Winston's first half replacement Sean Maguire handle the blitz? I want to find out. Then, with Winston returning midway through the game, let's use our depth on the D-line to attack and wear down the FSU O-line and never let him get his bearings.
While FSU's D-line may be viewed as a weakness, I view Clemson's O-line as a bigger weakness. Last week we started Jay Guillermo at center instead of Ryan Norton. I believe Guillermo will start this week, though it's still up in the air. Either way, the shuffling is not out of depth, but necessity. RS freshman Tyrone Crowder played some at guard, as did David Beasley, but Reid Webster and Kalon Davis will likely start this week. Joe Gore has been starting at RT, but if he struggles Kalon Davis could move to tackle and the whole line would then get shuffled around. The bottom line is we haven't found a good combination and you don't want to be shuffling and searching on the road against the National Champions.
"Overall, it's a work in progress with those guys." - Chad Morris
Getting good blocking from our tight ends has also a struggle with the exception of Jay Jay McCullough. Chad Morris said "he [McCullough] was the most physical of all our tight ends in the Georgia game... He's earned the right to play more. He was more physical than any of them." I hope that holds true and we see more of McCullough, because the O-line needs whatever blocking help they can get.
TN: I expect FSU to throw a lot on early downs. Can the Clemson secondary slow down Jameis Winston and the ‘Noles' passing game and get FSU off schedule?
STS: If the offense can maintain a reasonable time of possession, then I believe there is a good chance, but it's hard to say. With Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland leaving for the NFL, the secondary is untested. UGA didn't bother passing much (I don't blame them) and SC State is SC State, so to be completely honest the real answer is we don't know. One of the fun things to watch will be five-star redshirt freshman CB Mackensie Alexander getting his first major test against an elite passing offense.
TN: How have the Clemson special teams performed this year? Will the Tigers be able to exploit FSU's most pronounced weakness, its punting game?
STS: Our special teams have been atrocious. Adam Humphries is still returning punts and isn't very explosive. It's someone irrelevant though because the blocking isn't good enough to allow many returns so you'll see mostly fair catches if the punts have average hang time. We managed to finish with negative punt return yards against UGA so I think you're safe.
TN: Florida State opened as a 22-point favorite against Clemson, which was quickly bet down to a still surprising (to me) 20.5, and then re-opened at 16 after the suspension news. How do you feel about this spread and how do you see this game playing out?
STS: Picking against the spread is so tough because you have to account for garbage time. Looking at the Georgia game, it was very close and evenly played until late. Before the Jameis Winston news I saw this going much the same way and I predicted a 17-point FSU win.
I still fear the offensive line could give out, three-and-outs could begin, the defense could fatigue, and then the ‘Noles will start punching it. This becomes especially scary if Winston enters the second half hot.
Prediction: I picked FSU to win by 17 before hearing about the suspension. We'll truly find out how good Chad Morris is now. We need to play fast and maximize possessions in the first half. If Clemson can get comfortable early, they can hold their own even when Winston returns. Our O-line worries me, so the injuries to the FSU D-line will be important, but if we don't completely fail there, I think Clemson can sneak it out 31-28.
Thanks to Ryan and Shakin The Southland for working with us these past two weeks! Our answers to their questions are here.