By now, you've certainly heard several analysts, including our own, predict every aspect of the Saturday showdown between the 'Noles and CU. And numerous important points have been made, especially by our own Bud Elliott and Ingram Smith. One of the more important elements in the No. 16 Seminoles' road tilt against top-ranked Clemson concerns how well the FSU running game will perform against the Tigers' rushing defense. So what do the numbers suggest, regarding teams that Florida State has already faced?
Nationally, Clemson comes in ranked 14th against the rush, with 109.13 yards allowed, per game. The Boston College Eagles, whom the 'Noles have already faced, boast the nation's No. 1 run defense, as BC has allowed just 64.22 YPG on the ground-- and against Boston College, FSU nevertheless registered 98 tough rushing yards on the road.
That said, these stats seldom tell the whole truth, particularly given weak, non-FBS teams scheduled by most programs in the early going. So the most telling metric may well be a team's rush defense against FBS Power Five competition-- and that's where the numbers put the Clemson defense into somewhat of a gray area-- one that could very well determine the outcome of Saturday's top-20 matchup.
For even against premier competition, BC still comes across as the best ACC team against the run, and no. 7 nationally, conceding just 82 YPG on the ground. Clemson checks in at a beyond-respectable No. 9, with 87.4 YPG allowed. But the most interesting number here is that, right on the Tigers' heels, are the Louisville Cardinals, who are No. 12, surrendering just 99.33 YPG rushing to top-tier competition.
And across all games, the Tigers are actually much closer to the Cards than the Eagles (a stat in which CU and UL come in at 14th and 16th, giving up 109.13 to 111.63 YPG, a negligible difference). Why bring this up? Because any chance of the 'Noles taking out the country's top-ranked team will most certainly hinge on their ability to sustain a viable ground game, one that will help them to control the clock and keep Deshaun Watson and the talented Tigers' offense off the field, all the while extending possessions and effectively shortening the game.
And vs. a Louisville rushing defense quite similar to Clemson's, one that featured a talented, physical group of defensive linemen, Florida State did just that. Against UL, FSU's Dalvin Cook, with a hamstring at, perhaps, 75%, nevertheless rushed for 163 yards on 22 carries (7.41 YPC), with two TDs. He also caught the ball out of the backfield, which Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly referred to as an extension of the running game, four times for 60 more yards. Of course, imposing freshman Jacques Patrick is now in the fold as well for the Seminoles, after producing 162 yards on the ground, including three touchdowns, along with 62 yards receiving, against Syracuse.
So the question is this: concerning the Seminole ground game, will this look more like the BC road game, in which the 'Noles put up just a lone offensive score, or will it more closely resemble the Louisville contest-- when FSU registered five?
There are myriad other factors that will play a part in the ultimate effectiveness of Florida State's running game on Saturday, among them QB and offensive line play. But the simple truth is that FSU will need to rush more like it did against Louisville than it did vs. Boston College if it has any shot of knocking off Clemson in Death Valley.