TALLAHASEE, Fla. — Third-ranked Clemson travels to Tallahassee, Florida for a primetime ACC Showdown with No. 14 Florida State tonight at eight o’clock on ABC.
The winner of this game has gone on to win the ACC Championship in each of the last five years and has played in the championship game seven consecutive years. A win by the Tigers will put them in firm control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division considering the Tigers already own a win over Louisville, who knocked off the Seminoles earlier this year.
So who has the edge in tonight’s primetime game? Here are the key matchups to look for.
Clemson’s Jake Fruhmorgen vs. FSU’s DeMarcus Walker: Clemson’s sophomore offensive tackle had his issues against Boston College’s Harold Landry, who is third in the ACC in sacks with eight through the first seven weeks. Landry, an NFL caliber defensive end, had two sacks, forced a fumble and had another hit on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. After the game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said it was the worst game Fruhmorgen had played in his time at Clemson thus far. His assignment tonight is to block All-ACC defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who is second is second in the ACC with 8.5 sacks. Unlike Landry, who is known more as a speed rusher, Walker has power, as well as speed, to get around Fruhmorgen. The Seminoles will stand Walker up at times on the outside, and put his hand on the ground. They also move him inside at times to confuse protections. The good news for Clemson is Fruhmorgen has proven he can block an NFL caliber end. He held his own against Auburn’s All-SEC defensive end Carl Lawson in that one-on-matchup. Advantage: Florida State
Clemson’s red zone defense vs. FSU’s red zone offense: Florida State has converted on 31 of its 33 red zone opportunities this season, which ranks second in the ACC at 93.9 percent. The Seminoles have converted 66.7 of those opportunities into touchdowns with 22 overall. Clemson’s defense on the other hand ranks second in overall red zone defense, stopping opponents 69.6 percent of the time in 23 overall attempts. However, the opposition has scored a touchdown just 43.5 percent of the time (10 touchdowns), which ranks first in the ACC and 10th nationally. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s red zone offense vs. FSU’s red zone defense: The Tigers have struggled in the red zone at times, especially against NC State and Louisville, where they turned the ball over a combined four times in the two games inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers had just two all of last year. Currently, Clemson ranks 13th in the ACC in red zone efficiency at 75.8 percent, scoring 25 of the 33 times it has moved the ball inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers have only been able to get 19 of those opportunities to cross the goal line, which also ranks 13th in the conference at 57.6 percent. The Seminoles defense overall has been average at stopping the opposition inside their own 20. FSU ranks seventh in the ACC as opponents have scored 79.3 percent of the time. Even better news for Clemson is the Seminoles have allowed 20 touchdowns in 29 red zone attempts and alarming 68.9 percent conversion rate for their opponents, which ranks 12th in the conference. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s linebackers vs. FSU’s Dalvin Cook: When it comes to running the football, Dalvn Cook is the kind of running back that is going to get his yards no matter who he plays. The All-ACC running back has 900 yards this season and his averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He has averaged 168.0 yards per game in the Seminoles last four. Though Clemson wants to limit Cook’s production as much as it can tonight, the key to stopping FSU’s offense is take away Cook’s ability to hurt his opponents in the passing game. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher loves to use screen passes and even more this year considering his offensive line has not been able to protect quarterback Deondre Francois, who has been sacked 21 times. The screen game slows down a pass rush and Fisher does a good job disguising them and getting the ball to Cook at the right time. He also loves to slip Cook out on wheel routes down the sideline from time to time. Cook is third on the team in receptions with 21, while his yards also rank third with 356. His 17.0 yards per catch average leads the team as he is the Seminoles’ best big-play threat in the passing game with a minimum 10 receptions. Though they have done a decent job stopping screen passes to the running back, Clemson’s linebackers have struggled at times this year in covering the backs down the field, and tight ends for that matter. It’s the only real weakness on a defense that has been very consistent this season. It’s an area, the Seminoles are clearly going to try and exploit. Advantage: Florida State
Clemson’s Wayne Gallman vs. Florida State’s run defense: This is really more about Gallman and the offensive line’s ability to create a running game which has been inconsistent at times this year. Granted, things changed against NC State when Gallman left the game on the first series with a concussion, but the Tigers still need to do better than 117 yards on the ground. It was the lowest rushing total in the last two seasons overall for the Tigers. That’s where the offensive line comes in. They have to do a better job getting a push than it has shown at times. They can do it, the Tigers rushed for 201 and 230 yards respectfully against Louisville and Boston College, two of the ACC’s best rushing defenses. The Seminoles on the other hand have not been good at stopping the run. FSU is allowing 155.1 yards per game on the ground, and 4.5 yards per carry. However, the ‘Noles have appeared to get that under control somewhat as they held Miami to 62 rushing yards and Wake Forest to 68 in their last two games. When Gallman has rushed for 100 or more yards in a game, the Tigers are 15-0, including last year’s 23-13 win over FSU in Death Valley when he rushed for 103 yards on 22 carries. Gallman’s ability to run the football opens up everything else in Clemson’s offense, including quarterback Deshaun Watson’s ability to run the football as well. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: This game will come down to Clemson’s ability to execute on offense, especially in scoring opportunities, whether that is the long ball or in the red zone. The Tigers will have those opportunities tonight, but can they execute. If they do that, and take care of the football, like I think they will do, then Clemson will win this game and my gut tells me they can win it easily. If not, and they turn the ball over three or more times, then Clemson will come home with its first loss of the season. I’m going with my gut here. I think the Tigers finally put it all together and play their best game of the season.
Prediction: Clemson 45, Florida State 17