|FSU Run Game vs Clemson Defense
Statistically, this is the top matchup of the game and may go the furthest in determining the outcome of the game. The reason is this, if FSU can establish an effective run game than they can keep the clock moving and run an effective play action passing attack. If Clemson is able to shut down the FSU run game and the Noles are forced to win with the passing attack, then the visitors could be in for a long night. Dalvin Cook is without a doubt one of the top backs in the nation and is cleared to play, but he’s coming off both a hamstring injury that has hampered him for the all of October and an ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game against Syracuse. The Noles also saw really good things out of freshman Jacques Patrick last week in his starting debut. He gives the Noles a different look in the backfield with a bigger bruising style. None of this really matters without good offensive line play, though, and they have been inconsistent. Kareem Are is supposedly healthy, though he was still running second team in the open part of practice this week. He’s an upgrade over backup Chad Mavety who has filled in for Are. It looks like FSU will also be without starting RT Derrick Kelly. FSU has the #6 ranked rushing attack according to S&P+.
Clemson has been excellent against the run this season giving up just 3.05 yards per carry, good for 10th best in the country. Adjusted for opponent, they have the #4 ranked rushing defense in the nation according to S&P+. This is in large part due to a very good front four with talented players across the line led by Shaq Lawson.
With Cook and the emergence of Patrick for short yardage and change of pace, I’m going to give a very slight advantage to FSU here.
|FSU Passing Game vs Clemson Defense
Florida State’s passing game has been average at best this year. They’ve struggled to protect the quarterback at times, at times the wide receivers have been unreliable, and Everett Golson has been inaccurate and hasn’t been comfortable in the pocket. Last week against Syracuse, the passing game looked great with Sean Maguire leading the way. However, Syracuse’s defense was probably a big part of that. At this point it’s unknown who is going to start, but I believe it’s going to be Maguire. With Maguire, expect better pocket presence, a more accurate QB with a fuller grasp of the FSU offense, but also someone who can get rattled under pressure and who doesn’t have the athleticism to extend plays like Golson does. The Noles rank as the #33 passing attacking according to S&P+, and I think that is a tad inflated compared to their actual production this year.
Clemson has the #6 passing defense in the nation according to S&P+. They have a very good pass rush with 24 sacks already on the season. The aforementioned Lawson has 6.5 sacks while Kevin Dodd has added 4.5 sacks. They also boast one of the nation’s best corner backs in Mackensie Alexander. TJ Green is also solid in the defensive backfield and Cordrea Tankersley leads the team in interceptions with 3, including one for a touchdown.
If FSU can establish a run game, then I like the matchup better with Clemson having to crowd the box and negating the ability to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback. This is an advantage to Clemson, though, with their ability to beat the FSU OL and a solid defensive backfield that can cover an inconsistent receiving corps from FSU.
|Clemson Run Game vs FSU Defense
Clemson has a very good running game led by talented sophomore Wayne Gallman. Gillman is averaging over 100 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. In addition, quarterback Deshaun Watson is threat with his legs and he’s the Tigers second leading rusher 48.25 yards per game. Clemson still incorporates a good bit of zone read and quarterback runs as they did under former offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The Clesmon offensive line has been very good this year and they have good size, especially on the right side of the line. The Tigers rank as the #7 rushing attack in the nation according to S&P+. They only average 4.85 yards per carry, but that’s against a really good set of defenses so far and they’re committed to the run averaging 45 carries a game.
Florida State has been very good against the run this season ranking #25 in the nation in run defense based on S&P+. The Noles are giving up 3.87 yards per carry and have surrendered just 4 touchdowns on the ground all season. The Noles will be getting back Terrance Smith, who has been out since injuring himself in the game against Wake Forest, and Nile Lawrence-Stample is expected to play after suffering what Jimbo Fisher called “a light concussion” last week against Syracuse. The Noles will need both of these players Saturday to stifle the Clemson run game.
I like Florida State’s ability to win at the point of attack with their defensive line playing very well. In addition, the return of Terrance Smith, with his speed and experience, should boost an already formidable run defense. Although S&P+ doesn’t suggest it, I like FSU in this matchup.
|Clemson Pass Game vs FSU Defense
Deshaun Watson is a special quarterback that is putting up excellent numbers this season. He has the Clemson passing attacking near the top in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating. The Tigers also have a good wide receiver corps that features six players (including the TE) with 15 or more catches on the season. That said, he does have a favorite target in Artavis Scott, who has 47 total catches, more than double the next highest total. Scott has one of the lower yards per catch numbers at just over 10 yards though, as he is featured often in short, quick passes and bubble screens. S&P+ ranks Clemson as the #1 passing attack in the nation.
The Florida State defense boasts arguably the top corner back tandem in the nation. Combined Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White have surrendered just 14 completions on 47 pass attempts with 1 TD allowed and 1 INT. Those numbers are really insane. The Noles have also found a solid pass rush with freshman Josh Sweatt and junior Demarcus Walker really playing well. I think the Noles would have a really good shot of slowing the Clemson passing game if it wasn’t for one thing – slot receivers. Since the loss of Trey Marshall, first to targeting ejection against Miami and then the rest of the season due to injury, the Noles have been susceptible to big plays by slot receivers. Stacy Coley for Miami had a career day lining up in the slot and Louisville had several big plays across the middle lined up on the inside corner/Star. Marshall’s backup Tyler Hunter has largely been replaced by former walk-on Javien Elliott. It’s a good story and Elliott has played well, but it’s a spot that Clemson could take advantage of.
I like FSU’s matchup on the outside as Ramsey and White are both excellent, and they’re both physical corners who have played a Clemson staple, the bubble screen, well. I think Hunter Renfrow could have a field day out of the slot though. The return of Terrance Smith does help the middle of the field a bit for the Noles and Derwin James has really established himself as a future star. Clemson is going to have success through the air and they have the advantage here.
I saw this stat right before writing this and had to laugh, Florida State is 116th in the nation averaging just 3.35 yards per return but Clemson is 125th in the nation with just 2.11 yards per return. Naturally, this means we’ll probably see a 70 yard punt return for a touchdown this weekend. Cason Beatty, for all the criticism, has been pretty good this year and is averaging better than 43 yards per punt. For the first time this year, the Noles may have an advantage in the punting game as Andy Teasdall for Clemson is averaging under 40 yards per punt. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo, even with a down year by his standards, is one of the top kickers in the nation and was just named a Lou Groza Award semifinalist. Clemson also boasts a solid kicker in Greg Huegel, who is 12 for 14 on kicks this year. Both teams feature explosive playmakers in the return game who haven’t really broken a return all year, but are a threat to do so at any time. I don’t see a real decided advantage either way.
This is Clemson’s year. The Tigers are excellent on both sides of the ball, have balance on offense, and a very good defensive line. Throw in an elite quarterback and that is certainly the ingredients for a National Championship caliber team. Florida State certainly isn’t chopped liver on the other side and they have boatloads of talent, probably moreso than Clemson, but it’s young and needs time to develop, particularly on the offensive line. The Noles have also suffered from erratic quarterback play and injuries. The numbers, stats, and circumstances point to a Clemson victory and that’s why they’re favored by 12.5 – the first time in history Florida State has been a double digit underdog in a regular season ACC game. If everything goes Florida State’s way – slow the Clemson rushing attack and make them one dimensional, establish a solid attack with Davlin Cook to open up the playaction passing game and give Sean Maguire time in the pocket, win the turnover battle, and win the big plays – then FSU certainly has a shot to win this game. I don’t think that’s going to happen though and I see Clemson winning the game, fairly comfortably in a game that never really feels as close as the final score indicates.