By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Two years ago Oklahoma limited Florida State to a touchdown and 246 yards in Tallahassee. After Clemson beat them later that season, Jimbo Fisher told me the Tigers needed to get better at linebacker.
Dabo Swinney hired Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator. Brent Venables.
There’s no secret to beating Florida State, whether it’s Jameis Winston or Charlie Ward at quarterback, Venables said. “Explosive plays, who wins that battle, turnovers and the run game,” he said. “To me those are the three things, the three elements. If you win two of the three you’ve got a chance to in. You win all three you’ll win 100 percent of the time.
“You won’t win any of them you’ve got no chance whatsoever.”
Much of the angst for Clemson fans this week has been about disrupting Florida State’s offense with redshirt freshman Jameis Winston at quarterback.
Kick or receive after the coin toss?
Toward The Hill or away from it in the fourth quarter?
How much noise is enough? Let’s measure it.
Somehow it seems to be a lot of unnecessary noise.
When it became evident to Jimbo Fisher that Winston was his team’s best option at quarterback this season, the experience of the players around Jameis Winston gave him peace.
Five games into Winston’s career, it appears he has transcended the anticipated learning curve. In a program that produced two Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback, “Famous Jameis” bears the look of a third and Saturday’s game with third-ranked Clemson in Death Valley could be the litmus test.
“I know he’s listed as a redshirt freshman, but he doesn’t look like a freshman,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He looks like a full grown man to me.”
Pro scouts are already eager to get their hands on him. “I believe Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the future at the quarterback position,” wrote scout Bucky Brooks, talent analyst for NFL.com.
Winston’s relative inexperience should seem to make Clemson’s defensive strategy simple on paper. Squeeze his comfort zone – if you can determine exactly where that is.
From the pocket he has been lethal, probably better now than E.J. Manuel – the only quarterback taken in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft – ever was in an FSU uniform. And though he prefers to make plays with his arm, Winston can be a load on the run, near “Newtonesque” at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds.
“He’s hard to bring down,” said Clemson end Corey Crawford.
In the pocket or on the move it’s problematic, more Marcus Mariota than Aaron Murray. In some respects Winston may be a bigger version of Tajh Boyd. By all account he likes watching cartoons.
“He’s got strength. He’s got touch. He’s got accuracy, poise,” Venables said. “Never too high, never too low, (and) that’s not coach-speak. He’s exceptional.”
And much like Clemson with Boyd, FSU seems to be at its best with Winston as a triggerman with an array of weapons. Former Heisman winner Desmond Howard of ESPN GameDay said Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin may be the best set of receivers in the country. Yet Winston’s safety net has been tight end Nick O’Leary, with five touchdowns catches among his 11 receptions this season.
Howard asked how Clemson intended to cover them at once. Venables said it starts up front.
“Obviously you want to disrupt their timing somehow, some way,” Venables said. “Whether its good tight coverage and you hope those people up front can beat people. I’d rather he be confused and harassed.”
In all likelihood, FSU will try to force Clemson to honor the run. DeVonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., had success last season in Tallahassee, but this isn’t the same defense that FSU gashed for 287 yards.
“They do a lot off their play-action game and their play-action game is no good if their run game is no good,” Venables said. “Last year they owned the line of scrimmage, and that has to be the big part of the game.”
Last week Clemson limited the nation’s most productive rusher to 70 yards largely by maintaining its integrity and mixing the blitz with a predominantly four-man rush.
Occasionally Clemson has been guilty of a lapse in judgment that resulted in a big play. Of the 14 touchdowns surrendered this season, seven are from outside the red zone and five were of 50 yards or more. Limiting the big play, winning the battles at the line and in turnovers – generally creating havoc in a hostile environment – ultimately determine the outcome.
“He hasn’t made any decisions that are glaring,” said Venables of Winston. “He makes good decisions, keeps them out of negative plays (and) makes a lot of special throws. He’s playing well beyond his years.”