This is the type of match-up the Atlantic Coast Conference has been begging for. It is the type of match-up the conference was anticipating to occur on a more regular basis when it expanded in 2004 by adding Miami, Virginia Tech, and then Boston College in 2005. However this weekend will feature only the conferences ninth ever game between two AP Top 10 ACC teams when #10 Clemson travels down to Tallahassee to take on #4 Florida State in primetime.
However, forget about whatever national reputation the ACC might have. When these two teams take the gridiron against each other Saturday night, trying to enhance the image of the conference in which they play in will be the last thing on their minds. Instead, this game represents the most important step in determining which team is one move closer to accomplishing their goal to represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship game at the conclusion of the season. Both of these teams understand what’s at stake in this Top 10 match-up between two division rivals with desires to establish themselves among the nation’s elite.
Clemson enters the game as a 14 point underdog, much to the surprise of many Tiger fans. Yes, it’s understandable that almost any team going to take on a Top 5 opponent on the road in a hostile environment is bound to be an underdog of some sort. However, Clemson fans making the trip down to Tallahassee will certainly go into the game expecting it to be a lot closer than what the experts are predicting. Clemson fans are pointing to the fact that Clemson has won six of the last nine meetings against Florida State, as well as the success the Tigers had the last time they traveled to play Florida State where they outgained the Seminoles in every offensive statistic before losing 16-13 on 55 yard field goal by Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins at the end of regulation. If the Tigers are to go into Saturday night’s game and this time claim a win in front of the Florida State faithful (it would only be their third win at Doak Campbell Stadium since 1989) I anticipate that they will have to excel in these three phases of the game….
Clemson Keys to Victory
1) Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
Under second year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the Clemson offense has started the 2012 campaign in explosive fashion. So far through three games Clemson’s offense has averaged 517 yards per contest. Clemson will need to test the depth of Florida State’s defense by avoiding turnovers and three and outs on offense. Clemson will look to target anywhere between 80-90 offensive plays and if successful, will look to test the conditioning of a Florida State defensive unit who haven’t been involved in a full four quarter game yet this season. The Clemson offense is very comparable to that of Pac 12 juggernaut Oregon and the pace at which the Tigers run their no huddle offense could prove to be their offensive weapon on Saturday night.
2) Run To Set Up the Pass
Clemson will be going up against one of the deepest defensive front sevens in all of college football. Statistically the Seminoles are the top ranked defense in the country, and regardless of the competition Florida State has faced up to this point, this will most likely be the most talented defense Clemson will face all season. In order to get the ball to playmakers such as wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins, Clemson will have to generate some sort of rushing game to keep the defense honest. If Clemson is able to have success on the ground, look for a game that was very similar to last year’s when the Tigers scored 35 by staying balance. If the Tigers can stay committed to the running game the offense should be able to beat the Seminole’s aggressive secondary on play action passes. Clemson’s offensive line looked formidable while helping the Tigers gain 320 yards on the ground in their week one win over Auburn, but determining how they will hold up against Bjoern Werner and the Florida State defensive line is the single biggest question mark entering Saturday night’s contest.
3) Win The Turnover Battle
If Clemson is going to claim the school’s first ever road win against a nationally ranked Top 10 opponent this weekend, winning the turnover battle will be essential. During the Tiger’s eight game winning streak to start the 2011 season Clemson committed only eight turnovers. Over the final six games the Tigers went 2-4 and committed 16 turnovers. Clemson does not have an elite defense and if they’re going to be successful Saturday night, they cannot afford to give the Florida State offense extra possessions. However if the Clemson defense can stop the run and put pressure on Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel to make plays with his arm, there will amble opportunity to generate some turnovers while giving the ball back to the Clemson offense. The more plays this offense is able to run, the more likely the Tigers will be to leave Tallahassee undefeated and in control of a return to the ACC Championship game come December.