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Can Clemson Still Be the Team to Beat in the ACC?

Saturday, early afternoon showdown. It is the second conference game of the season for both teams who are looking to be the Alpha of the ACC. Clemson has sat atop the conference almost untouched for nearly a decade and Florida State looks to change that. FSU definitely has the team to do it this year. A team built through the transfer portal opposed to Dabo Swinney’s old-school approach to recruitment. Already with one loss in conference play the Tigers will have a tough challenge to face to avoid going 0-2 in the ACC. All the noise about Clemson’s falloff and the need for a change in philosophy could be silenced this week or be intensified more than ever.

Who does Florida State Have?

In many people’s eyes, Florida State is back to being a national championship contender. One reason for this is because of head coach Mike Norvell. This is Norvell’s fourth season as Florida State’s head coach. In his four years, he has an overall 21-16 record and is currently sitting at 3-0 this season. Coming into this game FSU is ranked fourth in the nation. Many have them as sure playoff contenders this season as week four approaches. Quarterback Jordan Travis is in contention for more than that this season though.

On Offense

Travis is also a top contender for the Heisman Trophy award this season. He is fourth in our current Heisman rankings and with very good reason. The four-year starter, after transferring from Louisville, came off a 2022 season that saw him throw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. So far this season he has completed 53 of 84 passes for 739 yards eight touchdowns and only one interception. Travis also has 17 rushes for 96 yards and a touchdown. He is truly one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Travis plays with so much poise no matter what is going on in a game. The senior has a strong arm, is very accurate, is a good decision-maker, and is great at making plays out of seemingly nothing at times. Everyone on this Seminoles team feeds off of what he does to opposing defenses.

Next to Travis is running back Trey Benson. Benson was a 2022 All-ACC running back for Florida State after transferring in from Oregon. Benson is a big running back weighing in at 225 pounds who runs very strong. He currently has 33 rushes for 164 yards and four touchdowns. He also has three receptions for 28 yards. Benson is not at all the last of the weapons around Travis though. At 6’7 237 pounds wide receiver Johnny Wilson has been a huge target for Travis in his two seasons at FSU. In his time at Florida State Wilson has 54 receptions for 1106 yards and five touchdowns. Already with 11 receptions for 209 yards in 2023, the tall receiver knows how to use his size to make plays downfield when needed.

Alongside Wilson are two more transfers Norvell brought in this season. One is Keon Coleman who transferred in from Michigan State. The 6’4 and 215-pound wide receiver has 12 receptions for 170 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. He is the go-to receiver for the Seminoles in red-zone situations. The other recent transfer who has boosted the passing game for FSU is tight end Jahiem Bell. The 6’3 239 pound South Carolina transfer is great in the short passing game. The Seminoles really like to get him the ball in space and let him make plays. Bell comes into the game with seven receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns.

On Defense

On defense, FSU is very stout. Especially up front across the defensive line. The Seminoles’ defensive line is talented and has some good depth. All eyes are typically on junior Jared Verse though. Verse transferred to FSU from Albany in 2022. In that 2022 season Verse collected 47 total tackles, nine sacks, and one fumble recovery. He earned himself first-team All-American honors by The Athletic as well As All-ACC honors. Verse also earned the most All-ACC votes on defense last season. So far in 2023 Verse has seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, and has assisted on a sack.

What Does Clemson Have to Do?

Ultimately, Clemson has a tall task ahead of them preparing for this Florida State team. Unlike most though we do believe they have a good chance of winning this game. It is going to take the Tigers playing their best and most complete game thus far though.

On Offense

On offense, it will start with the run game. Florida State is not an easy team to run the ball against with how good their defensive line is. The Tigers have two very good running backs they will have to get going though. Establishing a run game will take pressure off of Cade Klubnik in such a big-time game that’s sure to have a wild atmosphere.

It will be important for Klubnik to settle in early to do the next most important thing which is to execute the explosive plays. Clemson in the last two weeks has shown the ability to make some big plays down the field. One time was on the 69-yard touchdown pass to Beaux Collins against Charleston Southern. There was also the 30-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Brown last week against Florida Atlantic. Florida State is prone to giving up big plays. Against Boston College last week FSU gave up 13 explosive plays. Looking to Brown some more could be key to getting those explosive plays against the Seminole defense. However, the Tigers must take advantage of the big plays whenever they become available.

On Defense

On defense, they must play as advertised. This applies to all levels but especially for the defensive line. All off-season it has been said how talented this defensive line is and now is the time to show it. Stopping the run will be very important for them. When Benson and the rest of the FSU run game struggles it makes it much harder for the offense to get what they want. Also keeping Travis in the pocket and making it collapse on him will be huge for making him feel the pressure.

Besides that, the defense must build off of the last two weeks. Linebackers Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter must be great and should try to confuse Travis and FSU play callers’ on what they are doing on any given snap. The defensive backs are going to have the toughest challenge against the size of the Seminoles’ receivers. If the corners and safeties stay disciplined, especially on scramble plays they can give them trouble. Wilson already has had some problems dropping passes this season.

Proving Themselves right

This is a huge game for the Clemson program. There has been much talk about the direction it is heading in right now. Swinney and the Tigers have a chance this weekend to prove themselves right. Last week they cut out the turnovers and it made them look so much better. If they can do it again and play their best game to this point, they could prove they are still the top dogs of the ACC.

Photo Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY NETWORK


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