WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW AND PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON vs. FSU
- 2021-10-30 12:22:25
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s the annual Breast Cancer Awareness game, and Clemson will be honoring the late, great Bobby Bowden as well as Tommy Bowden on Saturday. It will be Tommy’s first time in Death Valley since he was the head coach in 2008. Bobby Bowden, of course, passed away in the summer from cancer. He was not only one of the most legendary winners in all of sport, but he was one of the best human beings in sports as well. I’m not sure how I feel about this being the Breast Cancer Awareness game because the last time the Tigers wore the pink accessories against FSU, it was that 2013 massacre with both teams ranked in the top 5. Winston and the future national champs took the Tigers to the wood shed that night, and it all started with a pass popping out of the pink gloves into the arms of the Seminoles for an interception! Hopefully, there won’t be any déjà vu on that front.
The Tigers are coming off a disappointing 27-17 loss at No.23 Pitt in their first-ever game at Heinz Field, and it was the same song and dance we’ve seen all season. Great performance by the defense, holding Pickett and the nation’s No.2 offense to just 20 points (28 points less than their season average), but the offense once again tripped all over itself and did just enough to lose. As we’ve seen in most games, the offense got off to a good start, taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but it wouldn’t score another touchdown until its last possession of the game in the fourth quarter. DJ made a perfect pass to Shipley down the seam, which should have put the Tigers up 14-0 and taken the crowd out of the game, but as we’ve seen all season from the receivers, Shipley dropped the pass on a critical play, and then Pitt would go on to score 21 unanswered points with all the momentum from the crowd. Who knows what might have happened if Shipley had caught that pass. We know what would have happened if DJ hadn’t thrown the shovel pass for a pick-six. The Tigers would have at least been within 3 points at the end of the game, giving the defense a chance to get the ball back with a chance for the tie or win. That’s at the very least. If Shipley had caught the TD pass and DJ hadn’t thrown the shovel-six, the Tigers would have won the game and would be sitting pretty in the ACC Atlantic race. DJ threw another interception in the first quarter on first down from the Pitt 26 yard line. The Tigers had at least a field goal in their pocket, so the 2 interceptions literally gave Pitt its 10-point win. And DJ had only 3 interceptions in the first 6 games with none in the previous 2! That’s the kind of year it’s been, though, with the offense making mistake after mistake, resulting in either a narrow win or a heartbreaking loss. It all started with losing the Georgia game thanks to a pick-six, which was Justyn Ross’s fault. The other common denominator of this season has been the unprecedented number of injuries, and that cost the Tigers at Pitt as well. They went into the game missing 3 of their top 4 receivers in Ngata, Ladson and Williams, and Matt Bockhorst, the anchor of the offensive line and heart and soul of the team, went down in the first quarter with a torn ACL! That’s the kind of season it’s been, folks. The Man upstairs, for whatever reason, has decided that 6 straight playoff appearances is enough for the Tigers and it’s time for another program to get a chance. That’s the only way I can account for all of these injuries because I’ve never seen anything like it in 30 years of following Clemson Football, and I’d wager nothing like it has happened before anywhere. The Tigers have had 19 scholarship players—mostly one’s and two’s—miss games due to injury or Covid. That’s almost half the team! And 14 players are out for the season, including several starters and an All-American in Bryan Bresee. Dabo has had to start 43 different players already in just 7 games. By comparison, they started 32 players in 15 games in 2018! They’ve lost their starting RB for several games, multiple starting receivers and haven’t had the same starting offensive line more than once yet. If you ask me, it’s miraculous that this team is 4-3, losing only to 3 ranked teams away from home, and was within 2 plays of winning each of those! Just about any other team would be 1-6 with this many injuries and the schedule the Tigers have faced. That being said, all Dabo and the Tigers can do is push on and try to get better.
Let’s hope they have gotten better this week because you don’t get a break in the ACC. Florida State may have a 3-4 record, but they are a couple unlucky plays from being 6-1 with a win over Notre Dame, and they have a lot of confidence after winning their last 3 games. This will be the first time in over a decade that Clemson and FSU will play with neither team ranked, but you can bet it will still be a grudge match as if the ACC Championship were riding on it, as it has every year since 2008! It’s still the Tigers and the Noles, folks, so buckle up. And if you haven’t read our story on the transition of power from FSU to Clemson, click HERE! On to the matchup….
Clemson trails the all-time series with FSU 20-13, but the Tigers have won the last 5 meetings…Clemson (82-10) is three wins behind Alabama (85-6) for the most since 2015. The Tigers (125) trail only Alabama (134) for the most wins since 2011. They have 6 more than Ohio State. Clemson leads the nation in Power Five wins (88) since 2013. Alabama has 86 and Ohio State has 82 over that span....Clemson has beaten at least 12 Power Five opponents in 4 of the last 6 seasons. In college football history, that feat has only been achieved 4 other times. Alabama, LSU, Georgia and FSU each accomplished it once….The Tigers have won 10 or more games for 10 straight seasons, the third-longest streak in history behind FSU (14) and Alabama (13), which is also an active streak…The Tigers’ streak of 6 straight outright conference titles is tied with Oklahoma’s active streak for the third-longest in history. Oklahoma won 12 in the 40’s and 50’s and BYU won the WAC 7 straight times in the 70’s and 80’s. However, Clemson is the only program to have won 6 straight conference championship games….Clemson has finished in the top-4 of the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons, tied with Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams for the fourth-longest streak in history. FSU did so 13 straight seasons under the late great Bobby Bowden, while USC and Miami have each done so 7 straight seasons….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation at .807. Nick Saban is second at .798….Dabo’s 143 wins are already tied with Steve Spurrier for 6th-most by a coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 13th full season. He could quite conceivably top Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo is tied for fourth-most games as an ACC head coach….Clemson has been ranked No.1 in the AP Poll in each of the last 6 seasons, which is the third-longest streak of all time behind Alabama (14) and Miami (7). Alabama’s streak is also active….Clemson had by far the longest active streak ranked in the top 5 of the AP Poll at 57 straight weeks before dropping to No.6 because of a pick-six in the opener against now No.2 Georgia. Alabama was second at 21, followed by Georgia and Oklahoma with just 4 each. If Clemson had remained in the AP top 5 until the end of the regular season, it would have surpassed Alabama’s all-time record of 68. Clemson’s current streak of 97 straight weeks in the AP top 10 is tied with Alabama for the longest streak in history behind Miami (137)…Since 2011, Clemson has finished with an equal or higher ranking than its preseason ranking every year except for 2019 and 2020, the only two years the Tigers have been ranked No.1 preseason. The Tigers were ranked No.2 and No.3 in the 2021 preseason polls…
Mike Norvell has a rough start to his tenure, taking over a decimated program and having to deal with Covid in his first season as the head coach, but he’s done a great job in the last month getting the Seminoles to stay invested after a brutal 0-4 start, the worst start to a season since 1976 in Bobby Bowden’s first year. As mentioned, they lost a few last-second heartbreakers to Notre Dame, Jacksonville State (led by former Clemson QB Zerrick Cooper) and Louisville, but they’ve turned things around with a 3-game win streak over Syracuse, UNC and UMass. The 35-25 road win at UNC was the most impressive and one that not many saw coming. The turnaround has been largely thanks to the switch back to Jordan Travis at quarterback. The athletic, dual-threat QB started the opener against Notre Dame and played well, but he had to leave the game in the 4th quarter when his helmet came off, and Norvell decided to leave UCF transfer McKenzie Milton in for the rest of the game. Milton played well, but the Noles would lose on a field goal in overtime. Most thought that Milton would be the starter in August, so it was a bit of a surprise that Norvell went with Travis against Notre Dame. After the Noles dropped their next 3 games with Milton behind center, Norvell decided to go back to Travis, and that has completely reversed their fortunes.
Travis is one of the most athletic quarterbacks you’re going to see, and he can throw the ball too. He is extremely difficult to sack and is very dangerous when he scrambles. He can either turn it up field for a 70-yard touchdown run or he can buy enough time to find an open receiver. He had just 13 pass attempts in the win at UNC a few weeks ago but ran 14 times for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. The biggest threat at receiver is 6’0, 175-pound junior Ontaria Wilson (#80). He has just 12 catches this season, but 3 of them have gone for touchdowns, and he averages 17.2 yards per catch. Look out for TE Camren McDonald, too. He leads the team with 18 catches and has 2 touchdowns. Tight ends have given the Tigers fits over the years, so I expect him to make some plays on Saturday, especially when Travis is flushed out of the pocket. As for the running game, the Noles have a formidable two-headed monster in 6’0, 221-pound sophomore Jashaun Corbin (#0) and 5’10, 192-pound freshman Treshaun Ward (#8). Corbin averages 7.9 yards per carry with 5 touchdowns, and Ward averages 7.4 yards per carry with 3 TD’s. He also has a touchdown catch. They love to throw to both backs. In fact, they each have more catches this season than any of their receivers.
Defensively, look out for DE Jermaine Johnson (#11). The 6’5, 262-pound senior has 6.5 sacks this season, almost one per game. As a team, they average 2.71 sacks per game, which is No.32 nationally, tied with Auburn and Notre Dame, just behind Alabama. They have 6 interceptions this season, same as Clemson, and have recovered 3 fumbles. One of the big reasons for the Noles’ 3-game win streak is the turnover margin. They gave up 11 turnovers in their 0-4 start but have just 3 turnovers in their 3-game win streak. The Seminoles’ rush defense is No.79, allowing 158.43 yards per game on the ground. Their pass defense isn’t much better, ranked No.71 and allowing 230.4 yards per game, but both have been better in the last 3 games.
Many Clemson fans have put all of the blame on DJ for the Tigers’ struggles to score points this season, and I have said that it was unfair. His poor play at times has been part of the problem, sure, but the Tigers could have won all of their games, with the exception of Georgia, by double digits if other players around him had executed like they were supposed to. Every single game, we’ve seen players drop perfect passes—several for touchdowns—costly penalties, missed assignments, you name it. However, DJ did throw two critical interceptions at Pitt, and those two plays alone cost the Tigers at least a tie and overtime, probably the win outright. After the shovel-six, Dabo gave many Clemson fans what they’ve been begging for since the third or fourth week of the season and gave backup Taisun Phommachanh a shot. I’ve been telling people for weeks that the offense wouldn’t be any better with Taisun, especially if the other players keep literally dropping the ball, and now they’ve seen it for themselves. Taisun led the offense to a field goal in his first possession but went three-and-out on his next one, almost throwing an interception. I think Dabo just wanted to send a message to DJ, and to his credit, DJ responded in the right way. He didn’t pout or get upset on the sideline. He came back into the game and led a scoring drive that he finished with a 6-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 10. Unfortunately, that would be the Tigers’ only possession of the 4th quarter, as Pitt was able to eat up 8 minutes to end the game.
I have to believe that all of the mistakes are completely psychological at this point. There is no other explanation I can think of, other than injuries, but there is no physical reason the healthy players should be repeatedly dropping balls, jumping offsides, etc. this late in the season. I think it’s akin to a second baseman that suddenly can’t make the 30-foot throw to first base to save his life. It would be nice if the Tigers had played UConn earlier in the season so they could get this monkey off their backs and get some offensive rhythm and confidence. It’s not that they don’t care or aren’t trying. I think that they want to play well and win so badly that they are pressing too hard and choking. It’s similar to the last couple losses to South Carolina during that 5-year losing streak. The Tigers had the better team in the last couple meetings and should have won, but they wanted to end the streak so badly that they dropped passes, fumbled the ball and made other blunders that cost them the game. Perhaps this offense needs a sports psychologist. After this many games, I don’t know what else it’s going to take for the offense to stop shooting itself in the foot. Let’s see how DJ responds this week, though, after being benched at Pitt and coming back to lead a touchdown drive. Maybe that will turn things around for him and in turn give the offense a spark. Losing and mistakes are contagious, and winning certainly is as well. Sometimes it just takes one good game or even one play to turn things around for a team, and Florida State is a perfect example of that.
As for the injuries, it was heartbreaking to see Bockhorst’s career come to an end last week with another torn ACL. It will be his 5th knee surgery, and he has decided that is enough. He will forego his final year of eligibility and retire from football, but he will continue to be a valuable extra coach on the sideline and an inspiration to this team, no doubt. If you didn’t watch our interview with him the other day, click HERE. The tear-jerker is a must watch! As if that weren’t enough, Dabo told us on Tuesday that co-starting RB Kobe Pace will be out this week with Covid. They finally get Shipley back at running back and immediately lose Pace. That’s the kind of season it’s been, folks! So it will be the two freshmen, Shipley and Mafah, carrying the load at running back this week, with former walk-on Darien Rencher third string. TE Braden Galloway, of course, is also out for the season. On the bright side, the Tigers should get center Hunter Rayburn back along with WR’s Ngata and Williams. That should help the offense! LB Jake Venables has missed the last couple games and will be a game-time decision. The other good news is that Tyler Davis is back! He surprised the coaches by making an early return last week and really had to lobby to get back on the field. They had him on a pitch count and only let him play 25 snaps, but Dabo told me that he would be full-go this week. Ruke and Tre Williams have really been shouldering the load at tackle, so it will be great to have Davis back in the rotation. Keep an eye on Mukuba at safety. He only played 12 snaps last week but wasn’t injured, so it’s a little unclear why he didn’t play much. Mickens and Phillips got the majority of snaps at safety opposite Nolan Turner. We’ll see if Mukuba is back in there for most of the game on Saturday.
Be sure to click HERE about two hours before kickoff for a final player availability report!
After 6 straight games against FBS opponents, watching the Tigers do the same things over and over on offense and fail to score even 20 points, it’s hard to imagine this week will be any different. I don’t know why, though, but my gut is telling me that they finally start to turn things around. Dabo said that he thinks they’ve turned a corner in the run game, and that should open up the passing game and play-action. The biggest thing I’m looking for, other than DJ avoiding interceptions and making the easy throws accurately, is no dropped balls! We haven’t seen a single game this season without any drops of easy catches, and I hope that this will be the first. Jordan Travis will make some plays with his feet and in the passing game, but I think the Tigers’ defense will shut him down for the most part. And Death Valley should be rocking with a sellout crowd to make it even more difficult for the Noles!
Make it 6 straight wins over FSU (7 if you count last year’s forfeit). The Tigers keep their hopes alive in the ACC Atlantic race and extend the nation’s longest active home win streak to 32 games!
The Prowl toward a 7th straight ACC Title continues….
CLEMSON 31 Florida State 17
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