After last year’s Florida State-Clemson game was called off because of a coronavirus case with the Tigers, one of the ACC’s best rivalries resumes this weekend. Here are five random thoughts on the game:
1. FSU has a chance at the upset.
That’s not something I expected to write after the first two weeks of the season, but the programs have gone in opposite directions.
The Seminoles are the first team in ACC history to go from 0-4 to 3-4. Some of that trend comes from the competition — Syracuse is shaky, and UMass is awful — but Mike Norvell is making progress midway through his second season.
Clemson, however, is an unexpected mess. The Tigers have struggled against the middling ACC teams they’ve destroyed over the previous five seasons. One unimpressive game can be a fluke, but Clemson has looked that way for five games in a row. The Tigers are mediocre. And the Seminoles have improved enough that FSU fans should expect a competitive game.
2. The root of Clemson’s offensive issues might be in Tampa.
Before he took over the Bulls, Jeff Scott developed stars like Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and East Lake High product Artavis Scott as Clemson’s receivers coach.
These Tigers do not have any gamebreakers like Watkins or Hopkins. Their average pass gain is 5.5 yards — more than half a yard worse than any other year since Dabo Swinney became the full-time head coach.
Clemson’s offense has many obvious problems, including a struggling line and subpar quarterbacking. But it’s fair to wonder how much Scott’s departure has factored into the Tigers’ shocking fall.
3. Jermaine Johnson should have a big game.
Johnson has somewhat quietly played like an All-American since transferring from Georgia. He has more tackles (45) than any other Power Five defensive lineman and is among the ACC’s leaders with seven sacks.
Clemson’s offensive line is vulnerable. Expect Johnson to exploit it and rattle quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (or sophomore Taisun Phommachanh, if the Tigers make a change).
4. The key to the game is simple.
FSU has found its identity in the run game. The Seminoles lead the nation with 6.9 yards per rush this month, but Clemson has a top-20 run defense (3.22 yards allowed per carry). That means the Seminoles probably aren’t going to be able to pound their way to sustained drives.
Instead, FSU will need to win with explosive plays. Only eight teams in the country have more plays of at least 60 yards than FSU (five).
“Our playmakers have got to rise up,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented.”
Pitt did last week, with both offensive touchdowns covering at least 20 yards. The Seminoles will have to perform similarly to have a chance.
5. A win would still be huge for FSU.
Even though this is not a typically strong Clemson team, an upset would be massive for Norvell’s rebuilding project.
“We’re still our own work in progress,” Norvell said.
To keep progressing, Norvell needs to build on this positive momentum. Beating Clemson would do that.
The Tigers have the nation’s longest home winning streak (31 games). Snapping it would resonate to players and recruits. So would topping a team that remains one of the most talented in the country.
FSU also has a feasible shot at bowl eligibility — an important step for the program’s growth. If you’re optimistic enough to pencil in wins over underachieving Miami and a Boston College team that’s lost three in a row, the ‘Noles will still need one more victory. Clemson could help get them there.
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