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Five Things to Know about Clemson

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It’s that time of year again.

Florida State and Clemson face off in primetime in a battle of ACC powerhouses. Unfortunately, this matchup looks a little different than we thought at the beginning of the year. The Seminoles come into this game at 5-2, essentially eliminated from both the ACC title game and any national championship hopes. Meanwhile, the Tigers enter at 7-0 but are not running over teams like many thought they would in the preseason.

For each team, this game means something different. For Florida State, the Seminoles hope to come out of this matchup with a win to rejuvenate the second half of their season and spark a run towards a New Year’s Bowl game. For Clemson, this is yet another game that the Tigers have to find a way to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Although the Tigers own the head-t0-head matchup with Louisville and are early favorites over Florida State in Tallahassee, this game is one of those matchups where both teams play harder than expected.

With that being said, what should Florida State fans know about this year’s Clemson squad?

1. Clemson’s defense is elite.

In 2015, Clemson replaced seven starters from the No. 1 ranked defense in 2014 and still finished as a Top-10 unit. This offseason, many projected Clemson’s defense to take a step back after replacing another ten starters. So far this season, the Tigers are defying expectations and are fielding one of the best defenses in the country. Through seven games, Clemson is giving up a paltry 4.3 yards per play (good for sixth in the country) and 331.3 yards per game (13th in the country). The Tigers are also ranked second overall in the defensive S&P+ rankings, behind only Michigan.

It starts up front. Clemson’s defensive line might be the best in the country with superstars Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins and freshman phenomenon Dexter Lawrence. Ben Boulware is back again at linebacker for another run at a national championship. Meanwhile, Clemson’s secondary (which is allowing 184.8 passing yards per game) is lead by senior Cordrea Tanklersly, another starter from last year’s squad.

Overall, Clemson’s defense might be the best that Florida State will face all year. If the Seminoles cannot get off to a fast start against this unit, then they might be in for a long night.

2. Clemson’s offense has not lived up to the hype.

All offseason, Clemson’s offense was billed to be one of the greatest in college football history. Clemson returned Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson at quarterback, thousand-yard rusher Wayne Gallman at running back, and 6-4, 220-pound wide receiver Mike Williams was recovered from a neck injury that cost him all of 2015.

So far, their offense has not lived up to the hype. The Tigers currently rank 24th in offensive S&P+ and 35th overall in yards per game with 461.5. While their defense has been able to shut down opponents, the offensive side of the ball has not been able to roll over teams like they did last year. As such, this is why Clemson has played some close games through the first half of their season. They opened with a 19-13 win over Auburn, narrowly beat Troy 30-23, and just last week squeaked by North Carolina State 24-17.

While this offense has all the talent in the world, it has underperformed so far. If Florida State wants to win this game, they need to hope that the rut continues for Clemson’s offense.

3. Deshaun Watson is still very good.

Despite the offense not living up to the hype, Deshaun Watson is still one of the best players in college football. Last year, Watson became the first player in FBS history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards. While he might not replicate those insane numbers, he is still putting up great numbers on a weekly basis. Through seven games, Watson has passed for 1,950 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is inaccurate at times, but is still hitting 63.6% of his passes on the year.

While Watson is not receiving a lot of Heisman hype at the moment (namely due to another talented quarterback in the ACC stealing the limelight), he is still one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football and a player that Florida State will have to slow down in order to win this game.

4. Mike Williams is the best wide receiver prospect in the country.

NFL scouts are salivating right now over Mike Williams. At 6-4, 220-pounds, he looks the part of a No. 1 wide receiver for a professional squad. Unfortunately, Williams missed all of 2014 due to a neck injury and was not able to take part in Clemson’s run at the national championship. But this year, he is back with a vengeance. Through seven games, Williams has totaled 39 receptions for 578 yards and four touchdowns. While most of his production came against Auburn (9-174-0) and NC State (12-146-1), he is one of the few receivers in college football that is capable of completely taking over a game.

With the struggles that Florida State’s secondary has had, containing Mike Williams will be a serious test. He will probably be the first receiver off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft and a player that will run wild on Florida State’s secondary if given the chance.

5. Dexter Lawrence is an NFL player right now.

The No. 2 overall recruit in the 2016 recruiting cycle was a player named Dexter Lawrence. Once upon a time, Florida State was thought to be in it for the talented defensive tackle from North Carolina. But when all was said and done, Lawrence signed with Clemson. A lot of recruiting analysts were very high on what Lawrence could become for the Tigers.

But no one thought that he would be this good this early. At 6-5, 340-pounds, Lawrence looks like an NFL player at defensive tackle. Through seven games, Lawrence has totaled 44 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and 17 quarterback hurries. His 44 total tackles are fourth on the team and the most by any defensive lineman on Clemson’s roster. Even as a true freshman, Lawrence is much more powerful than upperclassmen interior linemen. He wins with power, but also has surprising athleticism and agility for his size. He is able to both go through blockers and around them as he makes his way to the quarterback.

If Lawrence could declare for the draft after this season as a true freshman, he would be a Top-5 pick. The fact that Clemson has him on campus for two more years after this season is absolutely insane. This kid would start for a handful of NFL teams right now.

If Florida State wants to beat Clemson, it starts with blocking Lawrence up front. Single blocking this kid would mean disaster for the Seminoles offense. When paired with Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins up front, this defensive front has the potential to be a game changer in this matchup.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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