We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team-specific sites to work with during game weeks. This week we have doubled up with Shakin The Southland, SBN's Clemson site, to provide you with two Q&As. If you haven't already, take a look at part one. Part two features MarkGordon of Shakin The Southland. We focus on the match-up of Florida State's offense against Clemson's defense, as well as a prediction for how it all unfolds.
TN: The Clemson defense replaced a lot of departed players from what was one of, if not the single best defense in the nation last year. Tell us a bit about the job that the Tigers have done in recruiting, as well as what Brent Venables has done coaching, to make this a true reload for what's again an excellent CU defense.
STS: Clemson lost six starters from last year's defense, and has not taken much of a step down. Recruiting on the defensive line has had a major impact on replenishing the Clemson defense, but I feel the true credit was due to the rotation in last year's defense. Although not starters, players such as LB Ben Boulware and DE Kevin Dodd managed to get valuable in game experience. Rather than plugging in players who were unfamiliar to the college football stage, Clemson was able to fill the holes left behind with somewhat experienced players who were familiar with game day action.
TN: We've seen Coach Venables call aggressive games in the past. How aggressive has this Clemson defense been this season, and how aggressive do you think they'll be against an FSU offense that has been quite boom/bust this year?
STS: Clemson's secondary has been noted to be the best that it has been in years, but a lot of that credit comes from the pressure being put on the quarterback leading to shorter coverage. During the Notre Dame 4th quarter comeback, you frequently saw the Clemson defense rush three and drop eight into coverage while allowing long passes and runs. The defensive line is talented enough to get to the quarterback, but when Clemson pulls back, holes can be found in the secondary. Look for Venebales to send linebackers on about 75% of the plays against the Seminoles.
TN: Sean Maguire's performance in his first start in Everett Golson's stead has some fans clamoring for him to remain the starter against the Tigers, regardless of Golson's health. Which quarterback would you prefer to see, and why?
STS: Personally, I do not want to see Everett Golson under center in this game. While the Clemson defense has been stout in most categories, a major issue this season has been the ability to bring down a mobile quarterback when the pressure gets to him. Last week, the Tigers frequently got to Jacoby Brissett, but struggled to bring him down in the backfield leading to big plays. Golson's ability to get outside of the pocket will likely earn him the start on Saturday afternoon.
TN: When healthy, Dalvin Cook is certainly one of the best backs in the nation. How has Clemson's run defense fared this season, and which players will be key in slowing the ‘Noles on the ground?
STS: I consider Dalvin Cook to be the second best running back in the country behind Leonard Fournette of LSU. Clemson's run defense has been very effective this season due to opponent's inability to run up the middle. Clemson has showed strong gap discipline and DT Scott Pagano and LB Ben Boulware frequently plug the middle. Clemson can be susceptible to the off tackle runs. DE's Devin Dodd and Shaq Lawson will have to seal the edges to make sure that Cook does not have success outside to fully contain the Seminole run game.
TN: Which match-ups do you like for the Clemson defense against the FSU offense? Which concern you?
STS: The favorite defensive match-up every week continues to be whoever CB Mackensie Alexander is covering. Opponents have completed only 6 passes against Alexander's coverage all season. He will more than likely be stuck to the side of Travis Rudolph to take away the big plays Rudolph tore off last week against Syracuse. The match-up that concerns me the most would be SLB Travis Blanks and his ability to cover tight ends and backs coming out of the backfield. Blanks began his career at Clemson as a Safety, but his mobility has diminished after two ACL tears on the same knee. If Blanks is forced to cover Cook out of the backfield, there will be a severe mismatch that could cause Clemson some trouble.
TN: How have Clemson's special teams fared to date?
STS: Special Teams has been the true weak point of the Clemson defense all season. The kicking game has been above average with walk-on Greg Huegel at the helm, however, Punter Andy Teasdall is coming off a below average performance against NC State, and kickoff coverage continues to be a problem. The two games that Clemson has had issues putting away this year (Louisville & NC State) both featured 100 yard kickoff returns for touchdowns. Clemson will more than likely utilize some pooch kicks and lean on Ammon Lakip to kick it deep in the end zone to keep the Florida State special teams off the score board.
TN: The Tigers opened as 12-point favorites over the ‘Noles for Saturday's tilt in Death Valley. Tell us how you see this one unfolding.
STS: I think the true determining factor of this game is the location. We all know that when Clemson and Florida State get together, you can throw the rankings out the window since both teams will be ready to play at their highest level. I see Clemson pulling out a 10 point victory in front of the home crowd.
Thanks to Mark for his time and insight! Our answers to STS' questions are here.