TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In 2018, Clemson beat Florida State like no one else has before.
The Tigers (7-1, 6-1 ACC) ripped through the Seminoles for a 59-10 victory, handing the ‘Noles their worst defeat at Doak Campbell Stadium. The 59 points were also the most points an FSU team has allowed at home.
With Florida State (2-6, 1-6 ACC) playing with a depleted roster and in the midst of its worse season since 1975, most expect No. 4 Clemson to exceed the 2018 margin when the two rivals reconnect today at noon in Tallahassee, Fla. The Tigers are, after all, a 35.5-point favorite according to Las Vegas.
However, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney does not see it that way.
“I can just tell you from watching them from the beginning to where they are now, they have gotten better. They are improving,” he said. “They are not worried about their record. They are worried about building their program and getting better.
“We are going to have to play well. These guys are competing a high level. They are playing with a little more discipline. They are better positioned. They have a bunch of young guys up front that are trying to compete. They have a young quarterback that they can really build around. As I said the other day, he is a problem.”
Though Florida State has lost three straight games, Swinney is correct, the Seminoles have shown some improvement. After losing to Louisville by 32 points, they fell to Pitt by 24 points and then suffered a 16-point defeat last week at NC State.
However, Clemson is coming off its first regular-season loss in three years and it is hungry to bounce back, especially after having last weekend off.
Who has the edge?
Clemson’s defense vs. FSU quarterback Jordan Travis: Notre Dame’s Ian Book was a thorn in the side to Clemson’s defense on Nov. 7. The Tigers could not contain him, as he used his ability to escape and make plays on the run to keep the Irish head of the chains and convert on third down. Though Travis does not have Book’s experience, he does have his athletic ability and perhaps even more. Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables compared the sophomore to Lamar Jackson in terms of his ability to escape from the pocket and make plays with his legs. He had an 88-yard touchdown run against Pitt earlier this year. He leads the Seminoles with 469 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He also leads the team with 864 yards and four touchdown passes.
Trevor Lawrence vs. FSU cornerback Asante Samuel: Lawrence will be back on the playing field for the first time in nearly a month after missing both the Boston College and Notre Dame games due to COVID-19 and protocols. Lawrence is champing at the bit to get on the field today and prove he is just as good as he was before the he tested positive for the coronavirus. However, Lawrence did admit earlier this week he has been rusty when it comes to connecting with his wide receivers. That could be good news for Florida State corner Asante Samuel. He is the one guy in the FSU secondary that can give Clemson fits. He ranks fourth in the nation with three interceptions and second with two fumble recoveries. His nine passes defended are seventh nationally. Samuel is tied for the ACC lead in both interceptions and fumble recoveries and is second in passes defended.
Clemson running game vs. FSU’s run defense. Notre Dame held the Tigers to 34 rushing yards on 33 carries on Nov. 7. It was the worse rushing performance by a Clemson offense since 2011. What makes it even worse is the fact Clemson has the best running back in the history of the ACC in the backfield in Travis Etienne. The Tigers desperately need to get the two-time ACC Player of the Year back on track in the running game and what better place to start than against a Florida State defensive line that is missing two starters in All-American candidate Marvin Wilson and senior Cory Durden at defensive tackle. Wilson is out for the year with an injury, while Durden announced on Thursday he is opting out for the remainder of the season. FSU ranks 11th in the ACC in rushing yards allowed, yielding 193.5 per game. Etienne has run for 634 yards this season and has 10 rushing touchdowns.
Bottom Line: Florida State might be improving, and the players are definitely playing harder than they did at any point in 2018 and ’19. However, Clemson is hungry to prove it is still the best team in the ACC despite its upset loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago. The Tigers are on a mission and the mission begins today in Tallahassee. Don’t look for the Tigers to show any mercy.
Prediction: Clemson 59, Florida State 10
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