After a close call at Boston College last week, the Seminoles (3-0, 1-0 ACC) will look to bounce back against the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Tigers. Is Clemson (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vulnerable after the early season loss to Duke or will they be more than the Seminoles can handle this Saturday?
Each week, we’ll be speaking with members of the beat that covers FSU’s upcoming opponent, getting all the details from those who know those teams best. This week, we’ll talking shop with Ryan Kantor of Shakin the Southland.
It’s hard not to start with the elephant in the room, the Duke game. Clemson drove the field all through the second half but struggled with multiple turnovers. We know Duke is improved but how much of that game was early season mistakes versus cracks in the Clemson armor?
I think you have to say both are true, right? Like they missed two field goals. They’ve now replaced their field goal kicker with a walk-on who was not on the team like two days ago, right? So that’s not early season flubs, right? That’s real.
They had three turnovers — really four, if you count turnover on downs where Cade Klubnik slid instead of dove. He would have had it but he slid, he started the slide but he didn’t make it.
They lost the game on that. So that’s not a fluke, that’s, you know, a lack of experience. And I think some of that carries over, we’ve also seen them get a lot better, particularly second half. Basically the last game and a half, more or less, they’ve been really good. So I think you’ll see Clemson play better than they did against Duke, just like I’m sure you’ll see Florida State play better than they did against Boston College.
I think Clemson is better than that. But it’s not a total anomaly, either.
Clemson had a big change on offense this year with Garrett Riley coming over from TCU to coach the quarterbacks and call the plays. It’s been tossed around that they want to play with “Lethal Simplicity”. The goal is not making it too complicated and letting the playmakers have freedom. How do you feel the offense has performed so far, even with the limited competition since Duke?
I think you’re seeing Garrett Riley make a stamp that’s improved. And to be fair, I thought, Brandon Streeter, you saw improvements from what Tony Elliott had done the year prior. And part of that’s the talent but I think you can kind of see creativity regardless of the players on the team.
Last year I was begging — your two best playmakers are running backs, get them both on the field. Your receivers aren’t getting it done, take one off and put a running back, or take the tight end off. And they do that all the time now, so it’s that sort of thing he’s willing to play to where this team's strengths are. When Adam Randall had a 28-yard reception, they sprint up to the line and immediately handed off for a 19-yard touchdown so that they use tempo more.
I like the offense. I think it’s better devised, but they’re still not that explosive. And, we felt like this “guy could get anyone open, right, like anyone can play wide receiver for Garrett Riley,” but you know, he’s still got to have some playmakers with some speed. And I think that’s an issue.
It’s the Cade Klubnik show for Clemson after he and DJ Uiagalelei split time last year. The sophomore has struggled with turnovers this year but do you feel he is taking steps in the right direction and what do you feel are his strengths/weaknesses?
He’s inexperienced. He didn’t start last year, they maybe should have used them earlier. But I think they probably saw some of these rookie mistakes or kind of high school plays. And so they didn’t trust him as much, but he’s definitely a faster runner and more accurate passer than DJ was. But he makes mistakes, like there was a play in the last game where Adam Randall ended up making a catch but he failed to send a wide receiver in motion so the whole spacing was off.
I think he’s got a ton of talent. Give him six years he could be as good as Jordan Travis or better, but he’s a sophomore. He’s just not super experienced.
The Tiger that most concerns me is running back Will Shipley. Last year, he torched FSU for over 120 yards on the ground. Should the Seminoles expect another large dose of Shipley?
I think Phil Mafah is also a great running back. It’s interesting that you’re kind of worried about Shipley because I’ve been a little frustrated. He just fights so hard for every yard. That’s what makes him great. He leaves it all on the field. That’s why you love them. But neither he nor Phil Mafah has like Dalvin Cook speed, you’re not going to get beat on that 60-yard run. And that plays into Clemson not being super explosive. It’s gonna be hard to stop him, but it’s just tough to not make a mistake when you have these really extended drives. So I don’t even think Clemson’s as mistake-prone as it seems. I think they just have more opportunities for mistakes because they don’t punt a ton on these long, long drives
So yes, I think Shipley is great. I think you’re gonna see a heavy dose of him I think he will be effective. But I still think Clemson needs an explosive play to win the game.
Clemson has had a different leading receiver in each of the first three games but I feel like the biggest threat is Antonio Williams. What makes Williams so dangerous and what other receivers or tight ends should fans know?
Antonio Williams, I think by a decent margin, is the best wide receiver Clemson’s got. He’s like a 5’11”, 6’0” shifty punt returner type. They’ll play him in the slot — I think they should play him off-ball wide receiver out wide just to get their next best receiver opportunities — who might be freshman Tyler Brown out of Greenville. He’s got the second-highest PFF grade, not a ton of snaps, but he’s explosive. He had an explosive play against Florida Atlantic and they they need that speed.
They lost Cole Turner to a muscle tear against Florida Atlantic, he hadn’t had a big season, but he was kind of their deep threat they were hoping for, so without him I just feel like you gotta get speed on the field. You gotta get someone who can get those explosives, which has been the problem the last few years,
Beaux Collins is a guy who is, I don’t know if it’s necessarily the most well known, but he’s the guy who projects as like a more typical number one outside wide receiver. He’s just not very consistent. He’s not a super, super fast guy. But he can go up and get it.
Adam Randall — it feels like every year Dabo picks a guy or two or three and just hypes them and gets everyone’s expectations up. And then they’re not ready and it’s just like, were you wrong? Are you hyping them to just do it? I don’t get it. He actually played well in the last game. So if he’s turning the corner, I think that’s huge. That could be a big X Factor. But it’s a thin wide-receiver group.
One last question on the offense, if I read correctly, the Tigers returned 4/5 starters (including old friend Will Putnam) and tend to adopt the same method as FSU in cross-training their lineman. Do you feel the big guys up front are a strength this year?
I hate the constant shuffling of guys who are starters but they’re not starters at the new position so they still take a step back. What’s nice is this year, the four starters all returned and it’s everyone but the left tackle and they put in a new left tackle and left everyone the same.
I do think it’s a strength — I don’t know that it’s you know, like old-school Alabama, but I think it’s a solid line. I feel good about them. performing adequately to better so yeah, I do feel good about them. I think it’s gone from maybe weakness most years to at least a slight strength.
Switching it up to the defensive side of the ball. Over the years, the defensive line has been a rotation of 5-stars. There’s still some studs lurking but has the line taken a step back? Or will Xavier Thomas, Tyler Davis and crew be more than enough for the Seminole offensive line on Saturday?
I do really like the defensive tackles. You know you got Peter Woods, the phenom freshman five-star who’s reserve/co-starter kind of thing. Ruke Orhorhoro is very good. Tyler Davis is one of my favorites. He’s not going to rack up stats but just gums up the inside run
The defensive ends have been not as dominant. XT was a five-star — he’s been here five years and hasn’t really put together a full healthy, great season. A lot of hype going into this year, but he hasn’t been great against the run. I think he’s a good pass rusher but he hasn’t really kind of shown out. Justin Mascoll at the other defensive end spot is technically the starter. He’s a six-year guy. He’s had a fairly nondescript Clemson career, frankly, after being a fairly big prospect. He’s fine. He’s adequate. But he hasn’t had a sack since 2020.
Honestly, the guy to watch his freshman TJ Parker, he’s already making waves. He’ll be a starter next year. I think he’s he’s got to keep an eye on number 12.
Speaking of studs, the linebacking group has two preseason All-ACC entries in Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter, not to mention the emerging Wade Woodaz. Is it fair to say this is the strength of the defense?
When healthy and playing like they should be? Yeah, I think that’s probably right. Barrett Carter had a slightly slower start to the year, but Trotter is an exceptional middle linebacker and I think Wade Woodaz is emerging as a really really great strong-side linebacker.
When Woodaz comes off, they’ll go to a nickel, they’ll put Andrew Mukuba into the nickel role. He played safety the last few years but now they’ll use him there and he’s kind of a spark plug. Khalil Barnes, he’s a true freshman. He played really well against FAU. So they’ve got they’ve got some bodies there.
Finally, the secondary struggled last year with injuries and communication and just general overall mistakes. I know you handled part of the preseason preview on the secondary, what’s your overall thoughts on the Tiger third level?
Nate Wiggins last year, early on was pretty bad. And you saw him develop which was great. He comes back and he had a pick-six on his very first play — he’s an NFL guy. I think he’s gone after this year.
Sheridan Jones used his COVID waiver. He came back. They don’t even throw his way, he’s solid. He’s rock solid. And then they had two big fresh, two highly touted freshmen last year, who are now sophomores who probably shouldn’t have played as much as they did last year, but they were thin so they got some experience.
Jeadyn Lukus was banged up at times, he had a shoulder issue but now he’s healthy. He looks really really good. And then Toriano Pride. So they’ve even got some depth cornerback. And then I mentioned Mukuba, he’s playing some nickel. He’s typically a saint or previously a safety. RJ Mickens, I like a lot. He gets overlooked for some reason. But he tends to lead the team interceptions, like every year. It seems like he’s very, very good. And then you have Jalyn Phillips who’s a veteran. He’s steady. He had a sack against FAU he’s pretty solid. So I yeah, I liked the secondary. I think it’s I don’t know that. You know, now that we’re talking through it. The defense is fairly balanced. I mean, good quarterbacks, maybe not super elite safeties, but they’re solid. quarterbacks, excuse me, linebackers, the starters at least are elite. The defensive ends might have some questions but the defensive tackles are phenomenal. Super, super deep. It’s really a pretty balanced defense, to be honest.
Do you feel like there’s any area that Florida State could potentially have an advantage offensively?
There was a particular play in the Boston College game where Florida State had nothing available, and Travis just sneaks off to the side and zips for 10 and a half yards. That’s just backbreaking. I just wonder how well Clemson will do in kind of setting that edge containing him and forcing him to beat linebackers. If he gets out on the edge or if they want to work it to the outside on little tosses or passes in the flats, those worry me. He can get on the edge and pick up those 10 yards and just, you know just totally disheartening. So that’s that’s what I’m worried about. And of course, obviously explosive plays have been Clemson’s struggle on offense — and they were pretty bad about it on defense last year. I think that’s solved, the secondaries a lot better now. But those wide receivers are so talented for Florida State.
Let’s wrap it up with your expectations for Saturday?
I think this thing is pretty much a toss-up. If the Clemson that played first half of FAU comes out, they could beat Florida State. If it’s the one that came out against Duke, they’re gonna get blown out.
But again, same goes for Florida State. If they play like they did against Boston College, Clemson is not going to commit 18 penalties and let them win. Right. They’re gonna get blown out.
I think Florida State’ll probably play closer to how they did against LSU, and I think Clemson’ll pretty well too. It’ll be a close game — I could see Clemson maybe losing by a field goal, 31 -28, something like that. And I’m not very confident in that pick but if forced, I would probably take Florida State by field goal. Clemson doesn’t really have a kicker — they brought on a grad student who had left the team. So we’re just gonna see how he does.,I guess. Dabo even said, “we’ll see how warmups go,” so that seems ominous.
Florida State Seminoles vs. Clemson Tigers
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- Media Monday: Mike Norvell, FSU coordinators look back on Boston College, preview Clemson
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