By Will Vandervort
No. 5 Florida State visits Death Valley Saturday night to battle No. 3 Clemson.
When the Seminoles have the ball: Quarterback Jameis Winston leads the ACC in passing efficiency and has emerged as one of the top players in the country. A redshirt freshman, he has completed 73.2 percent of his passes for 1,441 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has thrown just two interceptions in 123 attempts through the first five games. Florida State receivers Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin are considered by many to be the best set of receivers in the country, while tight end Nick O’Leary has five touchdowns on only 11 catches. Clemson’s secondary ranks 10th nationally in pass defense and has recorded nine interceptions, which also ranks in the top 10 nationally. The Tigers lead the nation in sacks with 24, including defensive end Vic Beasley’s nine, which also leads the country. Clemson’s defense has scored three touchdowns this year and has given up only 14 or less points the last five games – the first time that has happened since 1989.
When the Tigers have the ball: Quarterback Tajh Boyd needs only 164 yards to surpass the 10,000-yard mark for his career in passing yardage. With Winston getting all the hype, Boyd has quietly had an all-American type season that few have noticed. He leads the ACC with 1,783 passing yards and 1,970 yards in total offense. To add to his 15 touchdown passes, Boyd has also rushed for five more scores. Sammy Watkins and the Clemson wide receivers are every bit as good as FSU’s with Watkins 36 receptions for 582 yards and four touchdowns leading in the way. Watkins has caught touchdown passes of 64, 91 and 48 yards in each of the last three games. He also had a 77-yard TD reception against Georgia. Adam Humphries has 24 catches for 319 yards and two scores, while Martavis Bryant has 17 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. FSU senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner will try to help stop the Tigers potent passing attack. Joyner is the leader of the secondary that ranks second nationally in passing yards allowed at 149.0 yards per game. The Seminoles have concerns with their pass rush, however, as they have recorded only 10 sacks the first five games of the season.
Keep an eye on:
FSU tight end Nick O’Leary: The Seminoles tight end can pose some problems for the Clemson defense, especially in the red zone where he has caught five touchdowns. Look for Florida State to go to him early as it attempts to get Winston comfortable in the passing game being this will be is first hostile road game. O’Leary can also be a problem for he Clemson linebackers in coverage on seam and crossing routes.
Intangibles: Clemson is expecting more than 83,000 people in the stands. Earlier in the year Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said the crowd in Death Valley played a big role in their communication and led to delay of game penalties and timeouts. Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig had the same issues in last week’s game.
To win, the Seminoles must…
Get a pass rush: Florida State has one of the best secondaries in the country and there is no doubt, but even with that said, quarterback Tajh Boyd still threw for 290 yards and three scores in last year’s game. He threw for 344 yards and four scores in 2011 against the Seminoles. In other words, Boyd and the Tigers’ receivers are better than anyone the ‘Noles have seen at any time. To slow Clemson’s passing attack down, it starts with putting a pass rush on Boyd. That sounds easier than it is because the Seminoles have recorded only 10 sacks so far this season.
Limit Beasley: Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley leads the country with nine sacks, including three more tackles for loss. He also disrupts things in the run game, and has perfected his pass rushing skills. The Seminoles are very athletic on the offensive line and it will be interesting to see how their speed matches up with Beasley.
Get the ball to their wideouts: Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin are perhaps the best set of wide receivers in the country. Clemson’s secondary is much improved, but it has not seen a group like this. The Seminoles three wide receivers have caught 63 of Winston’s 90 completions.
To win, the Tigers must…
Stop the run: It sounds crazy with Winston’s skills and the set of big play receivers he has to say the Tigers need to make him beat them, but that’s exactly what needs to happen. Clemson cannot afford for FSU’s running game to be working and keeping the defense off balance. If Clemson stops the run, it shuts down the play action game and then forces the young freshman quarterback to make plays with guys like Vic Beasley giving chase.
Do what you do: Florida State likes to man up and play bump-and-run coverage in the secondary. Yes, the Tigers need to run the football, but since FSU is going to give them the looks they need to be successful, why not take advantage of it and put the ball in the hands of your best players – Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.
Red Zone execution: Clemson has struggled to score the last couple of games in the red zone after being the best at it last year. The main reason for these issues is simple – execution. Boyd missed Humphries in the end zone last week, the Tigers missed a field goal and botched a snap on another one. Against Syracuse they failed to score twice after getting in the red zone late in the second quarter. In the last two weeks, the Tigers have left at least 38 points on the field. They can’t afford to do that this week.