When second ranked Clemson welcomes Florida State to Death Valley on Saturday, the Tigers will be looking for their fifth straight win over the Seminoles. The Noles will be hoping to put on a better showing than they did last season in Tallahassee when the Tigers handed them a 59-10 beating, leaving the home crowd with nothing better to do than to catch up on some reading.
After their seven point road loss to Virginia, the 3-2 Seminoles have played better football, getting home wins over Louisville and NC State. Beating two less than mediocre teams in front of a half empty Doak is one thing, but playing the Tigers in The Valley is something else altogether, as evidenced by the 27 point spread.
Both teams are coming off of a bye week, giving both coaching staffs extra time to prep. The Tigers will be looking to get their offense on track after struggling to do much of anything against North Carolina two weeks ago. Despite the fact that Tarheels defensive coordinator Jay Bateman came in with an excellent gameplan that was executed almost flawlessly, the Clemson offense was its own worst enemy much of the day.
If Clemson wants to get its passing game going, Saturday could be the perfect time to work out some of the kinks. Pass defense hasn’t been one of FSU’s strong suits so far, and they have not faced a team that comes anywhere close to matching what the Tigers have on offense. The Seminoles rank just 65th in the nation in yards allowed per attempt (7.2), and just 62nd in passer rating allowed (128.72). In other words, QB’s far less talented than Trevor Lawrence have had their way against the Noles.
The pedestrian numbers are somewhat surprising considering the Seminole secondary isn’t lacking in talent. They have been better in their last two games, as they have started playing more aggressively and focused on making Louisville and NCST beat them with big plays down the field. The Cardinals were able to take advantage of some one on one opportunities downfield but the Wolfpack had no success at all. If Lawrence is accurate with his throws it could lead to a big day for sophomore QB.
The Tigers will unquestionably have to play better up front, with the Noles averaging almost 3.5 sacks per game, 16th best in the nation. They get to the QB with interior pressure, but Clemson is allowing just 0.80 sacks per game (5th nationally), and Lawrence has only been pressured on 24% of his dropbacks.
The biggest question facing FSU is whether they can protect James Blackmon and/or Alex Hornibrook. Blackmon and Hornibrook have been pressured on 42% of their dropbacks, and Brent Venables has not been shy about bringing pressure, and he will bring it from all over the field.
One guy who could have a big game in this one is DE Xavier Thomas. Pro Football Focus gives XT a Pass Rush Productivity of 17.2, which is 4th best in the nation among P5 DE’s. Tyler Davis ranks 31st among the DT’s with an 8.2. The Tigers are 9th in the country with 3.8 sacks per game and FSU is 125th in the nation, allowing 3.8 sacks a game.
The Noles have a star at RB in Cam Akers, however they have struggled to get him going. Florida State running backs have averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, ranking them 114th in the nation. That Tiger D is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry, good for 13th in the nation, and have held each opponents RBs to below their season averages in YPC.
Florida State has gotten off to quick starts in four of their five games, using the big play to give themselves early cushions. However, the defense has had all kinds of trouble holding onto those leads. If Clemson can keep the Noles from going up early, and keep that running game in check, all signs point towards the good guys prevailing and getting a fifth straight win over their ACC Atlantic rival.