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Florida State football v. Clemson: Preview and prediction

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John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

This is almost certainly the most important game Florida State will play during the 2014 regular season. It's the game that typically sends the winner to the ACC title game from the Atlantic Division, and it's the game FSU needs to win if it wants to have a likely safety net of getting in to the college football playoff even with a potential loss.

Time: 8 ET | Line: FSU -14.5 | O/U 60

V. Clemson's Defense

The task will be made tougher because Jameis Winston has been suspended by the school for the first half of the game. In his place will be Sean Maguire, a fellow redshirt sophomore. Read all about Maguire here.

Clemson's defense has gotten better every year under Brent Venables and looks to do the same this year. Like any good defense the Tiger's attack starts up front with seniors Vic Beasley and Corey Crawford and while neither appeared much on the stat sheet in the last contest between these 2 teams that could change this time around. FSU struggled quite a bit in running the ball against Oklahoma State (a line that is definitely not as good as Clemson's) and while they were fine in pass protection they are going to need to step things up a bit to face this Clemson front 7. Grady Jarrett is also a terror in the middle, and Clemson has some nice depth. Several Tiger defensive linemen will be playing in the professional ranks when all is said and done.

(It's important to note that Crawford did not play against Georgia, and when his backup went down, Georgia smelled blood in the water and destroyed the third-string defensive end in the run game. No longer suspended, Crawford will be back for the Tigers.)

Expect FSU to test the Clemson secondary early and often, even with Maguire. We have seen that Jimbo Fisher would rather give his young quarterbacks easy throws on early run downs than run the football into a stacked front and then ask an inexperienced player to make big throws on third-and-long.

Clemson has an athletic pair of safeties in Jayron Kearse (who may actually be playing nickel back this week) and Robert Smith, but FSU could test Clemson's DBs as they are sometimes undisciplined. It's hard to get much of a read on the Clemson secondary at this point in the season as they have yet to face anything close to a good passing attack (Georgia's is pretty lackluster).

Even with Winston out expect FSU to come out throwing and adjust based on how Maguire and the WRs perform. The Noles will still mix in runs but will likely rely more on a quick passing game to help negate the effect the tough Clemson front 7 can have on the game. Also, expect Clemson to blitz and force Maguire to run through his reads much quicker than he wants. This could lead to another big game for Nick O'Leary.

This game could very well hinge on FSU's ability to avoid turnovers and 3-and-outs. While that could be said for nearly every game, the pace at which Clemson runs their offense wears down defenses late in games. It's up to the FSU offense to help limit the number of plays Clemson can run. Conversely, the best way to beat the Clemson defense is by wearing them down, much like UGA did.

Tempo will be important as well. While I don't expect that FSU will try to simply run the ball and survive the first half until Winston can come in, I do expect that FSU will want to play at a slower pace. The purpose for this is two-fold. First, it limits the number of plays that FSU has to run with Maguire, and two, it limits the number of plays that Clemson can run -- almost always a goal against tempo teams.

Goals

  • More than 5.5 yards a play before garbage time (275 yards on 50 plays, 330 yards on 60 plays, 385 yards on 70 plays)
  • No more than 1 turnover
  • 66% or greater TDs in the red zone

V. Clemson's Offense

Clemson lost a lot off of last year's offense (QB, top 2 WR, 1 RB and 3 OL) and the struggles have been somewhat predictable. One of the major reasons they lost the game to UGA was that Clemson's defense just wore down in the second half thanks to its offense completely collapsing. While Clemson does only return 2 starting linemen they don't lack for experience and the line should be stronger than the one UGA faced as David Beasley returns after a suspension. However, Clemson routinely fields a smaller offensive line so FSU should have plenty of opportunities to push them around, particularly with FSU's defensive ends against the offensive tackles for the Tigers.

Senior Cole Stoudt takes the reigns of the Clemson offense this year but freshman Deshaun Watson will get some playing time. Watson certainly has the higher ceiling and may currently be the better QB of the 2 but either he does not have the grasp of the offense required or Clemson is protecting him from UGA and FSU's defense so as to not hurt his confidence. Stoudt does not do much to stretch the field vertically (he was victimized by some drops, however, so it is not quite as bad as the numbers show) but will get the ball outside to play makers on screens and short patterns. When Stoudt is in the game I do not expect FSU to bring much pressure as that tends to open up holes in the short passing game. However, expect Charles Kelly to bring some heat with Watson under center. Again, Watson hasn't played a ton but the general rule is to blitz young QBs and adjust as they do.

No matter what QB is in the game FSU must be disciplined up front. Just like every year under Chad Morris Clemson's offense will feature a lot of misdirection behind the line of scrimmage with jet sweeps, reverses, and zone reads forcing the front 7 of the defense to account for all 6 non-offensive linemen. In particular DeMarcus Walker needs to do a better job of not crashing down on the QB. Clemson is likely to run most of it's zone reads to the non-Mario Edwards Jr side so the other end needs to play smart, whether that's Walker or Chris Casher.

Even though they lost a lot of talent at the skill positions Dabo Swinney recruits well and the Tigers do have players that can burn FSU. However, since it's early in the season none of these players have had much of a chance to separate themselves from each other. The bigger problem for FSU could likely come from their own heads. Neither Jalen Ramsey or Tyler Hunter looked great against Oklahoma State, who runs a somewhat similar offense to Clemson, but both will need to make sure they do not get beat deep.

It's not likely Clemson will be able to run the ball well against FSU. Clemson's undersized line and competent but not great running backs don't inspire much confidence going into Tallahassee. And Clemson's edge blocking has been atrocious early in the year, thanks to poor tight end play. If Clemson is able to run it'll likely be because the Noles defensive line is worn down meaning the FSU defense has already run into other issues.

While his blocking is poor, tight end Jordan Leggett is definitely a receiving threat that Clemson will try to isolate against FSU's linebackers and safeties.

Keep an eye on whether receiver Charone Peake is fully healthy. If he is, he is the best deep threat for the Tigers, but he did not look it against Georgia.

There's little to suggest Clemson's offense should be able to consistently move the ball unless Deshaun Watson comes in and plays at a Jameis Winston-like level. Even then it could be tough as the Tiger offensive line isn't the greatest around. Clemson will run their offense as fast as they can but they're likely going to need big gains (most likely on plays like fake screens) to keep drives going as there just isn't much about this offense that scares you so far this year -- though there is a lot of athleticism. If FSU can mind its P's and Q's there is a chance for a repeat of last year's defensive dominance.

One constant when facing a tempo offense is the need to get lined up. Clemson, like most tempo teams, attempts to get chunk yards and cheap plays because the defense is not set. Alignment and assignment will be the keys.

Goals

  • Less than 4.5 yards/play allowed before garbage time (225 yards on 50 plays, 270 yards on 60 plays, 315 yards on 70 plays).
  • Force 2 turnovers
  • Less than 50-percent touchdowns allowed in the red zone.

Special Teams

Clemson's special teams haven't looked all that great this year (could be sample size though). The Tigers gave up a game tying TD to Todd Gurley shortly after taking the lead in the second quarter and UGA never looked back. The Noles certainly have the ability to make Clemson pay if the coverage units are not fixed.

Bradley Pinion looks to be a fine punter averaging almost 61 yards/punt and has gotten a touchback on almost half of his kickoffs. Ammon Lakip has looked alright as a placekicker but hasn't had much of an opportunity to show off what his leg might be as he's yet to attempt a field goal over 40 yards and has a long of 38.

Prediction

Even without Winston FSU has the better team. They should win but the game could hinge on Sean Maguire's ability to avoid disaster. The defense that gets the early turnovers and/or short series will most likely win that game. That team looks to be FSU.

Florida State 28, Clemson 20 | Chance of winning: 75%

Bud: Florida State 30, Clemson 17

Staff Predictions

PhenomeNole: 41-17. Defensive line dominates Clemson's OL. Think Maguire plays well. Noles lead 21-7 at the half.

Dylan Kidd: I think the Seminoles will struggle on offense for a good portion of this game, but will play well on defense. Give me FSU eeking out a 23-16 win over the Tigers that will never, ever be comfortable.

TimScribble: 27-24 FSU

jmnpb996: 38-17. Noles offense still moves without Winston. Defense gets back PJ 100%, and both interior and edge DL depth issues resolved. Morris doesn't run with as much pace as expected and abandons run on schedule in fifth minute

Kyle Griffs: I think it's close at half, something like 10-7 or 14-10. Clemson scores early but Maguire game manages the first half efficiently enough to keep us in it. Jameis comes in in the second half and opens up the air attack, while the defense buckles down. 31-17 final for the 'Noles.

pbysh: 34-24 FSU

Alan Mundy: 35-20. FSU will come out throwing the ball on early downs to build Maguire's confidence and take advantage of a Clemson D that will likely be over-hyped.

ricobert1: 34-22, Noles. I like numbers.

Fsued: 28-17 Noles. Ugly game – close at the half, JW provides a minor spark. Will feel more like a relief than anything.

Andy Wright: 24-21 Noles. Awkward game as both teams don't know how to approach Jameis being out.  Noles come from behind with Jameis back in.

Onebarrelrum: I didn't feel comfortable with the spread before the suspension. I was leaning towards a 37-30 type of game. Since Vegas thinks Winston is worth 4 extra points a half, I'll go 33-30.

Matt Minnick: Jared stole my score, so I will Price is Right him and say 40-17. I actually woke up today more confident than I was on Monday. I think the suspension leads to the defense getting its edge back.

Adam Brown: I expect everything mis-direction and trickeration they've got to come out.  Curious if Maguire can handle it.  35-30 FSU.

Dustin Tackett: I think Clemson comes in and stacks the box against FSU, trying to rattle Maguire and force him to beat them with his arm. But with a big, stout offensive line, Maguire has enough time to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups on the outside. The Florida State defense forces two turnovers, one of which goes for a score. Winston, as he did in the Cuse game amidst quite a bit of scrutiny, rolls. 'Noles win 41-17.

NoleThruandThru: 31-20 FSU.

nolesblogger: Clemson will try to maximize the number of possessions in the first half and will have some success on offense. They stack the box and bring tons of pressure against Maguire. Offense stalls on some drives but also hits some big plays against man to man coverages. Close game at the half. FSU gets some separation in the 4th to win 30-20.

FrankDNole: FSU is not going to be able to stop CU the way we expected, but CU will have the same problems stopping FSU. Ugly game with little defense. Jameis will not have it and Jimbo brings back Maguire late to try to salvage the game.   CU 38-FSU 35. The loss will drop the Noles to around 10th in the polls, but we will be able to use the Winston suspension and distraction as an excuse.

Michael Rogner: Macguire plays Lou Gehrig to Jameis' Wally Pipp by throwing for 250 yards and 3 TDs in the first half. Jimbo stays with the hot hand and the Noles roll 45-27. Beatty rugby punts like a mofo on his few 2nd half attempts. The fans do something that is more stupid than funny.