With less than two minutes gone in the first quarter, and on Clemson’s third offensive play No. 4 Florida State, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd connected with Nuk Hopkins for a 60 yard touchdown pass which gave the Tigers their first points of the night. It was the first touchdown the nation’s top-ranked defense had allowed all season, and demonstrated exactly what college football fans can expect every time they tune in to watch the Clemson offense. Saturday night proved just how explosive, dynamic, and full of big play potential this offense is capable of as Clemson put up 37 points and over 420 yards against Florida State.
However, while Saturday night’s performance all but solidified Clemson as one of the best offensive units in the entire country, it only provided Tiger fans with more questions than answers about a Clemson defense that gave up 667 yards against Florida State, the third most yards allowed by a Clemson defense in school history. Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel had a monumental night, connecting on 27 of 35 passes for a career high 380 yards while also rushing for 102 yards on 12 carries on his way to leading the Seminoles to a 49-37 win in Tallahassee. It is now time to look back and see how Clemson fared in the keys to victory I established going into last week’s game.
Reviewing the Clemson Keys to Victory
1) Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
One of the strengths of running the hurry up no huddle offense is it creates substitution problems for opposing defenses. In order for Clemson to be successful they were going to need to test the depth of the Florida State defense. Unfortunately for Clemson, the depth of Florida States defensive line passed with flying colors. Clemson was able to run 77 total offensive plays, but a series of three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half helped contribute to a 35-3 run by Florida State that all but put the game away.
2) Run to set up the Pass
During the week leading up to the game offensive coordinator Chad Morris seemed fairly confident that Clemson would find a way to run the ball effectively against Florida State’s front seven. Using a number of new formations, misdirection, and running plays specifically designed to get Sammy Watkins the ball (5 carries for 37 yards), Clemson was able to rack up 137 yards on the ground. However most of these yards came as Clemson put together a 21-14 halftime lead. In the second half Clemson was too quick to give up on the run game as running back Andre Ellington only garnered two rushing attempts in the second half. When Clemson got away the run, Clemson’s pass protection began to break down as well. If the Tiger’s had stayed more committed to the run it might have eliminated the second half three and outs that led to the major momentum change in the game.
3) Win the Turnover Battle
Clemson did win the turnover battle as they were able to recover two fumbles while only giving the ball away once on an interception. However it was the timing of the Tiger’s turnover that hurt them the most as it came with only eight minutes remaining in the game and with Florida State leading by 11. Boyd’s decision to try to force a throw to a covered Nuk Hopkins on the sideline with 8:41 remaining in the fourth quarter led to a Nick Waisome interception that set up the Seminoles inside Clemson territory, ending any realistic chance of a comeback. However up until that point, Clemson had done a good job protecting the football despite playing an elite Florida State defense in a hostile environment.
Last Saturday’s match-up was billed by many as the “unofficial” ACC Championship since most believe Clemson and Florida State to be the two best teams in the league this year, despite both playing in the same division. For the first three quarters of Saturday’s game Clemson was able to delay FSU’s return to perceived national elite status due to offensive coordinator Chad Morris creatively finding ways to get Clemson playmakers the ball in open space. However, despite how well any offense performs, very rarely is any team going to go on the road and beat a Top 5 opponent when surrendering 667 yards. When it came down to it Clemson’s defense just did not make enough plays, especially in the second half when the Tiger offense began to stall. Clemson will now look to rebound and get back into the win column when they travel to Chestnut Hill this upcoming weekend to take on Boston College (1-2).