In a thrilling Saturday afternoon game, Clemson lost 31-24 to Florida State in overtime. It was a game that showed many things for fans to be upset about but also to look forward to. The glaring issues seem to be the same ones that showed in the loss to Duke. A costly turnover, a missed field goal, and a young quarterback still trying to figure it out all played a role in the Tigers losing the late lead. On the flip side though, Clemson has shown again if they do not beat themselves they could still be one of the best teams in the conference and the nation. Florida State is a team projected to make the college football playoff this season and the Tigers controlled the game up until the very end. Clemson had over 100 more total yards as well.
Offense Puts it Together
This Clemson offense has shown when they do not give the ball up they are very efficient. They can both run the ball well as well as throw it. The run and short passing game work so well against opposing defenses. Cade Klubnik has gotten comfortable in his ability to get the ball out quickly and his receivers’ ability to get yards after the catch. They don’t get a ton of explosive plays but they have shown they can go downfield when the opportunity is there. Overall the offense had 429 yards of offense with 146 of them coming in the run game. That was 124 more rush yards than Florida State had.
Will Shipley finally seemed to get going a bit in the run game rushing 18 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 38 yards and another touchdown on the day. Phil Mafah did not score this week but still ran well getting 69 yards on his 10 rushing attempts. He even broke one run for 46 yards. Klubnik was the only other player with a rushing touchdown in the game running one in from a yard out. That was one of two touchdowns he had on the day as he also passed for one. On the day Klubnik completed 25 passes of his 38 attempts for 283 yards and a touchdown. He played on par with Heisman candidate Jordan Travis through the game who went 21 of 37 passing for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
The QB Question
Klubnik has definitely already improved much over the short season so far. But he still does things though that show how much he still has to go. For example, the third down play in overtime was one where he should have made a different decision. It was surprising the coaching staff called a play giving Klubnik the option to throw a screen in that situation. It is understandable not to want to give the FSU defense an easy look too. Klubnik also has to know in that situation though the run was the option to go with.
Defense Shows Out
The defense for the Tigers has really gotten their confidence back over the last few weeks. After an average performance at Duke, they have stepped up and started showing how good they can truly be. This week was no different as the Clemson defense played a very strong game against a very good Seminole offense. For one they held Florida State to only 22 rush yards on the whole day. Trey Benson could not get anything going. The Tigers’ front seven played lights out. They put pressure on Travis all day, especially in the second half where the defense gave up no touchdowns. Travis was sacked twice on the day, once by Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and another by Xavier Thomas.
Both these players had great games on Saturday. Trotter had six total tackles with one tackle for loss and the sack. During the first drive, Trotter seemed a little unsettled but once he got going he was dominant. Thomas has been coming along more and more each week. He is really starting to remind people just how good he is when he is healthy. Against the Seminoles, he racked up four total tackles with two tackles for loss, a sack, and a quarterback hurry.
In the end, Travis and his receivers proved to be just a little bit too much for the Tigers’ secondary. Keon Coleman had an amazing day catching five passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns. The second touchdown he caught was the one that put the Seminoles ahead in overtime and would end up the game-winner. It was the first time Florida State led the whole game.
Same Woes Hurt Tigers
What ended up hurting the Tigers is the same thing that did the first two weeks of the season, turnovers. Winning the turnover battle was again going to be crucial if Clemson was going to win this game. This again proved to be true. Clemson lost the turnover battle just 1-0. That one turnover though was returned for FSU’s only touchdown of the second half. That was also the score that would tie the game 24-24 when Clemson had the lead most of the game until then.
The other thing that has hurt the Tigers is missed field goals. Against Duke Clemson missed two costly field goals. This week with a new kicker the Tigers missed another field goal with 1:45 left in the game that would’ve given them the lead back. Dabo Swinney needs to find a kicker for this team because they are letting too many points get away.
Clemson has beaten themselves in both losses this season. In both games, they won on the stat sheet but not on the scoreboard. The Tigers have shown again their problem is not at all a lack of talent. Talent-wise the Tigers can still hang with anyone in the country. The Seminoles are on track to be in the 4 team playoff this season and Clemson was ahead of them most of the game. The most promising thing about Clemson is the amount of young talent the Tigers have.
Don’t be surprised if as the season moves on and guys start feeling the wear and tear, more young guys start seeing opportunities in preparation for the next few years. While the playoffs may be out of reach, and even an ACC championship game is going to be very hard to make (but not impossible), Clemson still can do some great things this season. They could make a mid to late season run if they can stop beating themselves. Cut out the turnovers, score in the red zone, and as Klubnik keeps maturing this Clemson team will become much better.
Photo courtesy: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports