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Game Preview: Florida State vs Clemson

Clemson (7-0) Bio Flash:

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney

Last Year’s Record: 14-1, (8-0 in ACC)

Key Players: QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Mike Williams, CB Cordea Tankersley

Game Introduction:

Both teams will come into Saturday fresh off a bye week. Florida State looks to right the ship this season and upset the #3 team in the country. Clemson may be undefeated, but four of their seven wins were by one possession. This includes a six point win at home against Troy, and the Tigers have looked susceptible to an upset many times this year. Florida State, meanwhile, can’t seem to be the team that everyone thought they would be this year. Can the ‘Noles save the season with a W or will Clemson continue to roll? The game kicks off at 8:00 PM on ABC at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Headlines:

Deshaun Watson is nearly impossible to contain

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has been pretty good so far in his career. Last year, he was a Heisman finalist and led his Tigers to the National Championship. This year, Watson’s helped Clemson to a 7-0 record and #3 ranking. What makes him so special is the combination of his arm and athletic ability. He has the ability to push the ball downfield accurately like a pocket passer, but can evade pass rushers and would be tacklers with his superb athletic ability. However, his stats have taken a bit of a dip this year, especially on the ground. Last year, Watson scored 12 rushing touchdowns and had over 1100 rushing yards. Through seven games this year, Watson has 279 rushing yards and just one rushing touchdown. His average yards per carry has dropped from 5.3 yards to 3.9 yards. Watson hasn’t been as effective running the ball this year, and that’s good news for a Florida State defense who has traditionally struggled with dual threat quarterbacks.

Taking care of the ball will be huge for both teams

You hear it all the time: “The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.” The saying is true, and I believe the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game. FSU CB Tarvarus McFadden currently leads the power-5 in interceptions, but he will be matched up against stud Clemson wide-out Mike Williams. Williams missed all of 2015 with a neck injury, but has emerged as Deshaun Watson’s favorite target in 2016. At 6’3, 205 pounds, Williams has both the size and speed to torch defenses. McFadden’s play against Williams will be huge in determining the outcome of this game. DeMarcus Walker will also play an important role in forcing turnovers for the ‘Noles defense. He has 8.5 sacks on the year, and putting Watson under constant pressure could force him to make some bad throws. Francois has been up and down as far as taking care of the ball goes this year, but nothing out of the ordinary for a redshirt freshman. He will have to be accurate and precise Saturday, because Clemson boasts one of the country’s best corners in Cordea Tankersley. Both Watson and Francois will have to be cautious with their throws because every turnover in this game will be costly.

Deondre Francois holds the keys to FSU’s upset bid

Dalvin Cook had an incredible game last year against Clemson, but Francois will be the X-factor on Saturday. His decision making and accuracy will go a long way in deciding this game. If the passing game can be prove to be a threat, Clemson won’t be able to load the box to guard the run. This will give a guy by the name of Dalvin Cook more room to wiggle, and that’s always a good thing. Francois will need to continue his great play on third down, because this Clemson offense can score quickly. Consistently moving the ball down field through the intermediate passing game will be a huge key for this Florida State offense, and it all starts with 12.

The ‘Noles need Ricky Aguayo to get the ice back in his veins

Perhaps the comparisons to his older brother Roberto were a bit premature. Through the first four games, little Aguayo made 11/12 field goals. Over the last three, he’s just 3/7. He also hasn’t hit a field goal over fifty yards yet, and leg strength could become a concern down the road. FSU is undefeated in games Aguayo hasn’t missed a field goal, and 1-2 in games where he has. That includes an 0/3 performance against North Carolina. If the ‘Noles want to win, Aguayo is going to have to step up.

Burning Questions:

Can Florida State’s offensive line block this stout Clemson front?

Florida State’s offensive line has been a roller coaster this season, and blocking this Clemson front seven is the next loop. LB Ben Boulware is an anchor for this defense, and is great at diagnosing plays. Clemson is especially loaded at defensive tackle, where senior Carlos Watkins and freshman Dextor Lawrence have been terrorizing opposing offenses. If Florida State is going to run the ball, this offensive line is going to have to nail their assignments and technique.

Who steps up at WR for the ‘Noles?

Francois’ favorite target has varied by game. It has gone from Bobo Wilson against Ole Miss to Kermit Whitfield against Miami with Travis Rudolph somewhere in between. However, Bobo Wilson has been ruled out against Clemson. Who steps up at WR will depend on head coach Jimbo Fisher’s play calling. If Fisher calls short screens and outs like he did against Miami, Whitfield will have to step up. If Fisher wants to favor the intermediate passing game, Rudolph will be the go-to guy. No matter what the game plan is, Florida State is going to need a playmaker on the outside to help out Francois.

 How does Florida State slow down all of Clemson’s weapons?

This starts with Josh Sweat and DeMarcus Walker. They can’t let Deshaun Watson sit back and get comfortable. If that happens, Watson will have time to pick apart the ‘Noles’ secondary. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will also have a huge role in slowing down Clemson’s high-powered offense. He will have to know when to dial up blitzes, and when to switch between zone and man. The execution of the Kelly’s defensive calls will play a huge part in this game. If FSU consistantly blows assignments and coverages, we could be looking at another Louisville-like blow out. But if Florida State can keep Deshaun Watson and Clemson on their heels, they have a shot of forcing them off the field.

 Will this game turn into a shootout?

This game has the potential to be a shootout, but I think it stays somewhere in the 30’s. Florida State’s defense has been playing better as of late, and Clemson’s defense has been pretty solid all year. Both of these offenses can light up the scoreboard, and if this game isn’t a shootout it still should be close.

Forecast:

Deondre Francois is going to have to play great, but he can’t get this win alone. He expertly drove Florida State down the field to take the lead against North Carolina, only to have the Noles’ defense let him down. FSU’s defense will need to play confident early and get the crowd in the game.  If Clemson gets a big lead early, I don’t think the ‘Noles have what it takes to comeback. FSU will need to keep it close the whole game, and go into half no more than two possessions down. However, Deshaun Watson has played in more big games than Francois, and has the experience edge. This and the nature of the two teams this year is why I think Clemson pulls this one out on the road, 34-31. Florida State is more than capable of pulling this game out, but I think the weapons on Clemson’s offense are ultimately too much. A last chance drive by Francois will fall short, and the ‘Noles slip to 2-3 in ACC play. Should be a great day of football on Saturday, and I hope you enjoy the game.

Ben Brewton

Writer at Nole Gameday covering football and basketball. FSU alum. Follow me on twitter (@Ben_Brewton) and we can talk sports. On the 8th day, God created college football.



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