Saturday’s matchup between Florida State and Clemson is obviously a big deal. And since this is an ACC blog, it only makes sense that we discuss the game as much as possible. We’ve done so all week, but now it’s almost game day, and that means in-depth previews. I gave my short thoughts yesterday, but we want to dive in further. To help, I enlisted the assistance of none other than fellow ACC afficionado Hokie Mark — whom you know from his contributions here as well as his own site, ACCFootballRx. In this battle of ACC powers, he’ll be arguing in favor of Clemson, while I’ll present the reasons why Florida State should emerge victorious. Enjoy!
Yes, Clemson’s got the big game experience, the battle-tested quarterback and the home-field advantage. Those things are undeniable. But Florida State brings plenty with them as well. For one, “Famous” Jameis Winston seems to be just a small step behind Clemson’s Tajh Boyd as just a true freshman, and he even makes up for that gap in talent with what can only be described as “swagger.” Two Heisman moments already, a ridiculous stat line and almost irrational confidence in his abilities are all important characteristics in situations like this. With pressure looming down, the weight of Heisman potential, ACC titles and BCS National Championships within sight — sometimes irrational confidence is the only thing that can buy you a win.
Even if confidence isn’t enough though, he’s also got an impressive cast of characters to help him out as well. The running game is a multi-headed monster, with a variety of different backs who can also do some serious damage to an aggressively-blitzing Clemson front. Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder are a lethal combination, and resemble Syracuse’s attack enough (with a bit more talent too) to give the Tigers fits all day. The Orange ran for 323 yards vs. Clemson a couple weeks ago, and have supplied a blueprint for the ‘Noles to do the same. In the passing attack, Winston has the weapons to test Clemson’s secondary too, with Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene prepped to burn them on the outside. All of this made possible by Winston and what’s arguably the conference’s top offensive line.
Defensively, FSU’s certainly not the same group as last season, but that’s also not the worst thing. Sacks are way down (just 10 this year), as are turnovers (seven), meaning the team’s relying primarily on the offense and for the most part, shutting down opposing passing games. The Seminoles are second in the country against the pass, and despite not pulling down picks, they’ve been able to shut down some of the country’s top receivers just the same. From Alex Amidon to Tyler Boyd and Stefon Diggs, the ACC’s best pass-catchers have had very little success against FSU, and (surprise!) Clemson’s attack is also pass-heavy. For a team that can’t run the ball — and the Tigers really can’t — that poses a major problem. They’ll be challenged immensely to throw the ball, much like they appeared to be last week, and that puts pressure squarely on the long-dormant running game to produce. Can they? By itself, that could decide whether Clemson wins or loses, and whether or not their title hopes can survive another weekend.