The stage is set for the top 10 showdown in Tallahassee. Is Florida State back? Will Clemson prove they’re a legitimate top 10 team? Tune in at 8 p.m. on ABC to find out.
What to look for:
— Can Clemson stop the run: Short answer, no. Long answer- Clemson’s linebackers aren’t talented or experienced enough to clog the gaps or read the right run play consistently. Sophomore Tony Steward (back-to-back ACL injuries) played last week against Furman and provided a spark on defense. Both Steward and MIKE Stephone Anthony, the two 5-star linebackers that headlined Clemson’s 2011 class, need to come up big tonight for Clemson. The Tigers don’t have a dominant defensive end, either. Malliciah Goodman, the lone senior on the line, isn’t nasty enough. Clemson just can’t generate sacks. Finally, Clemson’s secondary has holes. They have a knack for getting burned deep. Talented true freshman Travis Blanks plays the hybrid position well enough, but his inexperience may be exploited tonight. Though Florida State’s offense struggled last year (3.3 yards per carry), it’s no reason to think that is the case this year. Quarterback E.J. Manuel is dangerous outside the pocket. Running back Chris Thompson can cut, and he can run.
Why does this matter? Last week against FCS opponent Furman, Clemson snapped the ball 60 + times. That’s not what Morris wants to do. He wants upward of 90. Furman effectively ran the ball on Clemson and kept Clemson’s best play-makers on the bench. The time of possession weighed heavily in Furman’s favor. If Florida State copies Furman, which I feel confident they will, the talent disparity between those teams will tell the story of the impact of the run game tonight.
— How effective will Clemson’s offense be: This is gonna be a great match-up. Florida State likes to play man coverage, and Greg Reid’s absence in the secondary might be highlighted tonight. Clemson has top-notch play-makers that make if difficult to zero in on just Sammy Watkins. Last week there were a couple of series where the offense looked off-kilter and was confronted with third-and-long. Clemson can not afford three-and-outs or turnovers tonight.
— Is it really that big of a deal Clemson is two-touchdown underdog: It’s in Tallahassee against a team that beat Wake Forest by over 50 points last week, and is first nationally in defense in five categories (run defense, pass defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and total defense). Teams are averaging one point per game against the Noles. I don’t care who you play, that’s impressive. Jimbo has reared in quality recruiting classes, including the number one recruiting class in 2011 (Scout.com). Coaches can use this underdog status as motivating material, but fans shouldn’t be shocked.
— So, its FSU BACK? Win tonight- they’re on their way. Recruiting + Jimbo + tradition + winning on a big stage against a division rival = hard to argue otherwise.
MY PREDICTION: FSU 38, Clemson 23
Finally, give me Jimbo and Dabo instead of Nick and Lane any day, in terms of leading a program. They’re good men who inspire their young guys by leading by example. Take time to read these moving stories on Swinney and Fisher.
I’ll break down what this game means for Clemson and FSU (win or lose) tomorrow. Enjoy college football today, guys!