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Florida State vs. Clemson: Defensive breakdown, analysis

FSU fails to hold Clemson under 20 points

FSU v Clemson Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

DEATH VALLEY, SC: The Florida State Seminoles football team (3-4, 2-2 ACC) will try to upset the unranked Clemson Tigers (4-3, 3-2 ACC) on the road today. Clemson’s offense has yet to score more than 19 points against a Power 5 team this year. A Pittsburgh defense that held Clemson to 17 points last week gave up 31 to Miami in the first half earlier today. Is FSU’s defense up for the challenge? It will be up to them to keep the ’Noles in this game today.

Florida State is missing the following players on defense: starting Buck safety Sidney Williams, backup CB Meiko Dotson, and backup Stud Jadarius Green-McKnight.

For Clemson, the struggling QB D.J. Uiagalelei will get the nod, but FSU might see backup Taisun Phommachanh as well.

First quarter

  • Bad kickoff and Clemson will start at the 35-yard line. Amari Gainer blows up the first play from scrimmage for a 4-yd loss, think Clemson was trying to run a screen. Nothing for Will Shipley on 2nd down gives a 3rd and long and Akeem Dent makes a great tackle in space on the screen to force a three and out.
  • Fabien Lovett doesn’t bite on the run fake to Shipley and tackles Uiagalelei for a loss. Uiagalelei likes to attack the sidelines and other quick throws underneath. They convert two first downs on an out and RPO slant, but are struggling to get anything going in the running game. FSU has also not been great at defending running quarterbacks. Another first down on a WR screen, Two WRs Clemson got back for this game have first downs early, including Ngata. Clemson gets away with a hold on the block. Uiagalelei is a one-read QB and doesn’t see the field well. FSU gets another stop as Uiagalelei’s pass is batted down, but Clemson converts a 46-yard FG. FSU’s opponents haven’t missed a kick yet this year.
  • Defense takes the field again with the first lead over Clemson since 2016. Spot concept from Pistol almost gets picked as Kevin Knowles tried to jump the route, but once Knowles misses the ball the receiver gets 9.

FSU 6, Clemson 3

Second quarter

  • Next play D.J. has a guy deep, it would be a tough throw, but his genuine attempt to complete the pass on the run ends up 10 yards out of bounds instead. Then Shipley picks up another first down. FSU has got to defend the run better, and they do on the next play. Throw to Shipley on angle route underneath and D.J. Lundy whiffs bad. Dent also takes a poor angle and misses some tackles. Jarrian Jones got toasted on a double move. Should FSU be selling out to stop the run? Clemson is attacking FSU’s linebackers in coverage, which is a great strategy and it works when they use Shipley, but Uiagalelei can’t do anything. Clemson sets up for another long FG, this time from 49, and for the first time this season an FSU opponent misses their FG.
  • Clemson runs outside zone and gets a 63-yard run. Absolutely terrible defense and the longest run by far that FSU has allowed this year. Derrick McClendon got destroyed, as did Jarques McClellion, others missed tackles, like Malcolm Ray. Clemson also attacking FSU on the edge. 3rd and 7 at the 11-yd line, a chance to hold the Tigers to 3 here — Clemson comes out in a 2x2 formation and they throw a fade at Travis Jay on the outside who can’t make a play on the ball and he gets Moss’d for the TD, against a TE I think.
  • WR screen to Justyn Ross, Jones tries to jump around a block, but it doesn’t cost them as other defenders rally. Fabien whiffs against Shipley in space; tough tackle to make. On 3rd and 2 Clemson runs QB power and converts. Shipley is destroying them in outside zone, was hoping to see a lot more from this DL against a depleted and poor Clemson OL. Clemson gets a free play on Offsides pentalty and Jones allows an easy catch on the sidelines. Jones’ game would be a lot better if he played with more physicality. Uiagalelei’s ball placement is awful, but receiver is wide open in hook/curl zone linebackers are supposed to be in. At least the throw limited the yards after the catch. FSU’s defensive line is just getting washed off the ball, they take Jarrett Jackson for a ride. Clemson is using formations to control the numbers in the box, running outside zone and cutting it back, using the threat of Uiagalelei’s ability to run and FSU’s front is playing poorly. Not just DC Adam Fuller getting a bit outcoached here, but FSU’s players aren’t doing their jobs.
  • Clemson has 17 points and the ball at midfield with 89 seconds before halftime. FSU is in danger of allowing more points in one half than Clemson has scored in a whole game against any other P5 team. But FSU forces a quick 3rd and long. Bringing outside pressure. FSU diagnoses the draw and Clemson punts.

Clemson 17, FSU 13

Halftime stats

  • Yards per play allowed: Was over 4 before the big run, went up to 7 after the TD midway through the 2nd Q. Got as high as 7.4 before finishing at 6.5. Awful stuff. 248 total yards of offense.
  • Uiagalelei: 12/18 109 yards 1 TD. Also has 3 rushing attempts for 3 yards.
  • Clemson has 139 yards total rushing on just 20 carries, averaging 7 yards per rush. RB Will Shipley has 78 yards on 12 carries and a TD.
  • Third downs allowed: 2/6, so at least it’s not all bad.
  • 13 first downs

Third quarter

  • Jashaun Corbin gets stuffed on 4th down and FSU’s defense is put on a short field in FSU territory near midfield. Uiagalelei is having his best game since Notre Dame last season, go figure. They run an RPO slant and Jarvis Brownlee gets beat for 29 yards. Screen to Shipley to the field and Jammie Robinson gets blocked out of the play. Kalen DeLoach looks lost. 3rd and 5 at the FSU 20-yard line. Clemson runs mesh and might’ve had something but FSU has a well-timed blitze, Uiagalelei scrambles and takes a shot at the end zone and throws it too far out of play. He seems to always scramble to his right. Clemson’s FG from 37 is no good so for at least a little bit longer Clemson doesn’t set a new high this year for points against a P5 team. Huge for Clemson to not get any points that drive.
  • Quashon Fuller blows up a run on the edge. 3rd and 14 and Uiagalelei finally does it, he floats a pass and Omarion Cooper is sitting under it and picks it off. McClellion had good coverage over the top in a Cover 2 look (maybe quarters). Looks like Clemson was going for the hole in Cover 2.
  • Clemson starts backed up in their own end zone. Another OZ 1st down. Fuller sends Jammie on a corner blitz and he’s held badly, which is called, and Keir Thomas sacks Uiagalelei, so penalty is declined. FSU playing lots of quarters. FSU forces another 3rd and long, this time 9. Brownlee playing way off with inside leverage, Clemson runs Ross on an out under Brownlee and picks up 12, looked like FSU was in Cover 3. FSU starting to reassert itself against the run, stringing together good plays vs it.

Clemson 17, FSU 13

Fourth quarter

  • 3rd and 6, blitz doesn’t get there, DJ is accurate to the sideline to Ross and it’s another 1st. Shipley stuffed on the next play, Thomas playing well. Clemson tries to run a screen but the receiver falls down, then it’s stripped! Gainer recovered! Jammie Robinson ripped it out. Gainer and Dent have played really well today.
  • But, FSU turns it right back over. Clemson is trying to give this game away but FSU won’t take advantage. More inside zone (IZ) gets nothing. Bad ball placement again makes it 3rd and long 9 to FSU. Uiagalelei throws up a jump ball but Jones is called for DPI. Jones was face guarding but didn’t make a lot of contact. Then Clemson tries to run a reverse and drop it, Jackson recovers but it’s ruled an incomplete pass. Good coverage on another 3rd down and Uiagalelei just throws it away. Clemson tries another field goal, B.T. Potter is 1/3, and he misses another, this one from 30 yards. The Tigers are trying to give this game away.
  • Lovett has played very well today, stuffs Shipley on IZ on 2nd down and 1. Clemson was gonna run again on 3rd and 1 but their OL false starts. On 3rd and 6 Jermaine Johnson strip sacks Uiagalelei and Johnson converts a scoop ‘n score! Clemson’s offense (Uiagalelei) can’t protect the ball. What an incredible sequence, doesn’t happen without Lovett’s run stuff on 2nd.
  • Clemson starts with great field position, thanks to unsportsmanlike on Johnson following the score and a great return by Shipley. Lundy run fits his gap and stops Shipley after 4. FSU running lots of Cover 2 but playing off to the field. Lovett stuffs the run again, pulling a hump move. Next play a pass rush stunt gets to Uiagalelei, Keir Thomas gets there first. Clemson punts. Clemson down to 5.1 ypp.
  • After an FSU punt, Clemson has good coverage. Knowles faceguards with good coverage and knocks the ball away but the refs again call DPI. Dent does a great job running the alley and taking D.J. down on a run to the flat. Dent has played very well outside of one series today. Uiagalelei scrambles again and Lundy is late to the sideline and commits a bad foul with a late hit out of bounds. Next play Dent whiffs in the hole and Shipley scores from 21 yards out. Lovett had gotten washed out. Jammie Robinson also whiffed. Clemson sets a new point total against FBS teams with 23. Clemson aided by 45 yards of penalties.
  • Clemson just trying to run out the clock and FSU forces a late punt with 30 seconds left in the game.

Clemson 30, FSU 20

Final Thoughts

FSU was more than competitive in this game and had plenty of chances to win. Clemson’s offense may be terrible and tried to give the game away so many times, but their defense is elite. FSU’s defense didn’t play all that well against Clemson but they weren’t horrible either. The defensive line was frustratingly inconsistent. The refs didn’t do FSU any favors. I don’t blame this defense for this loss; I think this one is more on the offense that couldn’t get anything in the second half.

D.J. Uiagalelei and Will Shipley both had their best games of the season.

In the end, FSU just needs better players, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.

End-of-game stats.

  • Yards per Play: 5.3 before Clemson’s final drive where they just ran the clock out. 373 total yards of offense. Shipley had 22 carries for 124 yards and 2 TDs, plus 4 catches for 24 yards. Clemson averaged 5.2 yards per rush.
  • Offensive success rate of just 32%. 22 first downs.
  • Uiagalelei: Finished 19/31 for 189 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT and a fumble.
  • Third downs: 4/13 on third downs, averaged 7.5 yards to go.
  • Leading tackler: D.J. Lundy with 11.
  • Sacks: Keir Thomas with 1.5. Johnson with 1 and a score, and Ray with 0.5.

Defensive MVP:

Keir Thomas and Fabien Lovett played very well today, but I’m going to go with Jermaine Johnson for his game-changing strip-sack scoop ‘n score that gave FSU the lead late.