A critical ACC showdown highlights Week 4 of college football action this weekend. The 10th ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Tallahassee to take on the 4th ranked Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night on primetime national TV. Both teams come into the game with perfect 3-0 marks, and both teams have aspirations for a conference and national championships.
Clemson have looked sharp early on, but really haven’t been tested by sterling opposition. The only win of merit was a 26-19 triumph over an overrated Auburn side at the Georgia Dome. The Tigers will get their first real test on Saturday and many people are wondering just how good Clemson really is.
The Tigers’ offence revolves around Tajh Boyd. The junior quarterback is the straw that stirs the drink for Clemson, as he is a dual threat to run or pass the football. Boyd has completed 73.3% of his passes for 747 yards, 6 touchdowns with only 1 interception. Boyd is also second in rushing for Clemson, gaining 75 yards over three games. Boyd will need to use all of his athletic prowess to escape a fearsome Florida State pass rush.
To aid Boyd, Clemson will need to develop a running game to counteract the Seminoles blitzes. Senior running back Andre Ellington had a huge game against Auburn in the season opener, rushing for 228 yards against Auburn, but hasn’t replicated that success in the last two games. Look for Ellington to play a large role if Clemson are able to defeat the Seminoles. One major drawback for Ellington is his smallish stature, and he is vulnerable to fast physical defenders. It is a big question mark whether Ellington can handle this hard-hitting Seminole defence.
Boyd’s favourite receiving target is junior DeAndre Hopkins. The 6’1 200 pound receiver leads the Tigers with 26 catches for 319 yards and 4 touchdowns. Possessed with speed and big play ability, Hopkins can stretch the Seminole secondary, which may quell the pass rush. If Clemson is able to pick up the Seminole blitzes, Hopkins may be left in single coverage which can be exploited.
Florida State’s strength is their defence, as the Seminoles have allowed the fewest points in all of college football. Granted, Florida State has had a cupcake schedule so this game will be a stern test for this defence. Bjoern Werner has been a beast at rush end in the early part of the season. The junior from Berlin, Germany has recorded 6.5 sacks in just three games this season. He had 7 all of last season. Werner gets off the line so quickly, that the help from the running back in pass protection, can’t get there in time to block the 270 lb end. Werner’s pursuit of Boyd will be a key matchup to watch for on Saturday night.
On offence, Florida State are led by EJ Manuel. The senior quarterback has a completion rate of 71.2% while throwing for 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. Manuel can run with the ball as well, rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown. While not as athletic as his Clemson counterpart, Manuel is known to be a better decision maker in the pocket.
Florida State has a triple threat in the backfield. Senior Chris Thompson leads the team with 254 yards and 3 touchdowns while averaging 14.1 yards per carry. Sophomore James Wilder has 220 yards and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Devonta Freeman has 147 yards and a touchdown. All three backs are relatively small in size, but remain fresh due to constant substitutions. This tires out defences as Florida State can run the ball with small backs, while minimizing the physical duress of the trio.
Manuel likes to spread the ball around in the passing game as he has multiple receivers to throw to. Freshman Kelvin Benjamin has 10 receptions for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 6’5 243 lb frame gives him a huge physical advantage over smaller defensive backs. Junior Kenny Shaw has 10 catches for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Rashad Greene is off to a slow start so far, but is confident that he will be a major factor on Saturday night.
Most experts think the key matchup will be Clemson’s offence against Florida State’s defence. But don’t discount the Seminole offence. It is well-balanced and can be physical. The Seminoles are also looking to avenge last year’s 35-30 loss at Clemson last year. Doak Campbell Stadium will be rocking in primetime, and I don’t see Florida State losing this critical ACC matchup at home. Seminoles take it big, 38-14.
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