Championship football was put on display Saturday afternoon.
Two boxers went blow for blow, and FSU finished with a knockout punch that propelled them to 4-0. After being suspect for most of the first half, the defense allowed 0 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. On top of that, Kalen Deloach made a season-defining scoop and score that will very well saved the game and year.
The defense continued their inconsistencies throughout the game but stepped up when the Seminoles needed them, too. It's time to look at what went right and what went wrong.
What Went Right
Let’s start with the obvious. DeLoach came bursting through the guard and tackle, forcing a sack-fumble — and, not only did he make the play, but he took it back the other way for 6.
All defensive scores are valuable, but the timing made this play special. The offense just went three and out, and Mafah, on the first carry of the drive, ripped a 46-yard run, setting Clemson up in opponent territory up 7 with the 3rd quarter winding down. DeLoach tied the score and sucked the life out of the Clemson crowd. Afterward, FSU did not give up a point, conceded only one big play (a 16-yard Will Shipley run), and held Shipley to 16 yards on five carries in the 4th quarter. DeLoach picked the perfect moment to stamp his impact on this season, which carried over to finish the game.
In that same vein, FSU did a magnificent job stuffing the run against one of the better back tandems in the country. The defensive tackles stopped the run to have some fun. They earned the right to rush the passer. Whatever phrase was needed, Will Shipley did not have the takeover game he so often does against FSU. Besides his garbage time run to end the second half, the Clemson running back longest run went for 16 yards. FSU consistently did a great job taking the outside shoulder of the end blocker to funnel all the runs back inside and not let Shipley bounce. They consistently stayed in their gaps, and the Clemson offensive line could not push the Seminoles off the ball. 11 out of Shipley’s 16 runs went for 3 yards or less. Florida State heard the call from last week and went to play in the run game. Garrett Riley continued trying to use his quarterback as a runner, but he did not succeed either. FSU got pressure on Klubnik multiple times, none more prominent than the Patrick Payton shoestring tackle ahead of the missed Clemson field goal in the 4th quarter. Even though Clemson finished with 79 plays and over 35 minutes in time of possession, the Seminoles played downhill in the run game the entire day.
Not only did the run defense come to play, but Adam Fuller finally stopped playing zone in the second half and allowed the Seminoles to start playing faster. Their speed flashed all over the field as Fuller constantly dialed corner blitzes and tried to light up Klubnik. His gambles, for the most part, paid off as the Clemson QB threw for less than 100 yards in the second half, and from my count, FSU had 4 tipped passes at the line of scrimmage. The defense did not work in the first half (will be discussed later), but with an unlocked playbook, Clemson went 0-4 on third downs of 9 or more yards, and Klubnik averaged only 7.8 yards a completion in the second half down from almost 15 yards in the first.
What went wrong
In the first half and parts of the second, the game looked like a continuation from Boston College.
The Seminoles refused to adjust, as the Tigers returned to the same fake screen and slant pattern repeatedly. Cade Klubnik finished the first half with a passer rating over 170 and only had five incompletions. The style of play made FSU look like they were playing with ankle weights, as they had one tackle for loss in the first half, 0 turnovers, and one sack (on a meaningless play at the end of the first half). Clemson finished the first quarter with three big plays in the passing game as Florida State turned the team 105th in explosive play rate before the game to look like the Kansas City Chiefs. This stems from Florida State sitting in the zone and daring Garrett Riley and company to pick them apart. They answered the bell, scoring on 3 out of their first four drives in the game, one so efficient they did not face a third down.
Clemson’s struggles to start the year have been on offense, and inexplicably, the Seminoles did not force a three and out the entire game. It was another game when we were forced to wonder if Fuller did not drink a morning coffee as the defense looked sleepy and slow.
Florida State hurt itself again with situational football and discipline. Clemson finished the first half 3/6 on third down(plus a first down due to a penalty) and 1/1 on 4th down. Florida State seemed to tighten up in the second half. However, Clemson kept drives alive in the second half with a conversion off the Renardo Green pass interference and a couple of others on blown coverages.
Speaking of flags, FSU had plenty on the defensive side with two 15-yard penalties on defense tackles, Fabien Lovett and Braden Fiske, as well as a holding call on Tatum Bethune in the first quarter that gave Clemson a fresh set of downs at the 1-yard line. This result allowed Clemson to run 79 plays and dominate the game through time of possession.
Florida State only touched the ball two times in the first quarter, which made the offense in and out of rhythm throughout the afternoon. The defense still looks to have significant inconsistencies that continue to arise from game to game, but they stepped up when needed and got the job done today.