Game Of The Week: #10 Clemson at #4 Florida State
The cream of the crop teams in the ACC face off Saturday night (8pm EST on ABC) in a game that could become an instant classic. The winner will almost certainly win the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and BCS hopes could be on the line as well.
The Clemson Offense: The Tigers got off to a roaring start last year, winning their first eight games. QB Tajh Boyd, a first-year starter, and WR Sammy Watkins, a true freshman, had much to do with that. But things went downhill from late October on as Clemson lost three of their last five regular-season games and were stomped by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl by a score of 70-33. In those last six games, Boyd threw nine TDs. He also threw nine INTs. He’s got a good arm, and good legs; with improved decision-making and a receiver like Watkins, the Clemson offense could be a force to be reckoned with. Don’t overlook RB Andre Ellington either. The senior has 4 TDs on the season already, after rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 TDs last year.
The Clemson Defense: Like the offense, the Clemson defense needs to be much more consistent. The team brough in new defensive coordinator Brent Venables from Oklahoma to help them get better on that front. Florida State has a strong run game that will put pressure on the Tigers’ front four, a unit which consists of just one returning starterm senior Malliciah Goodman. He plays alongside three sophomores on the defensive line. The Clemson secondary is much more experienced than their front four and should be able to defend most passing attacks fairly well.
The Florida State Offense: The offensive line is a big question mark. Last season the line coach chose to start multiple true freshman in the Seminoles’ bowl game. (They beat Notre Dame 28-27). The Clemson game will be the first real test for them this season. Senior QB E.J. Manuel isn’t a pure pocket-passer, but he’s reasonably accurate (65.3% completion rate as a junior), and with adequate blocking he can pick up some rushing yards as well. Senior Chris Thompson, who missed most of the 2011 season due to injury, and sophomore Devonta Freeman are one of the best one-two punches at RB in the country. The talent and depth in the ‘Noles receiving corps are ridiculous. If the Clemson secondary shuts down the passing game, expect Florida State to start running the ball without missing a beat, if the line can block for them adequately. The Seminoles are actually ranked higher nationally in rushing offense than passing offense – not a common occurance in Tallahassee.
The Florida State Defense: The loss of CB Greg Reid, who was kicked off the team August 1 for violating team rules, is a big one for the Seminoles. Rashad Greene has proven an adequate replacement for Reid in the return game, but he’ll be missed in the secondary as Florida State attempts to cover WRs Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, likely by jamming them at the line of scrimmage. Containing QB Tajh Boyd will be another tall order for the defense.
Prediction: Clemson will put up some points, but I’m not convinced that their defense can handle an experienced quarterback like E.J. Manuel, even with a young offensive line. Florida State 30, Clemson 24.