WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.4 CLEMSON AT FLORIDA STATE
- 2022-10-15 14:58:12
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s hard to believe that this will be the Tigers’ last ACC road game already. If they can win this one, they will virtually seal the division with all of their remaining home games—Syracuse, Louisville and Miami—at home. The Tigers are riding the nation’s longest win streak into Tallahassee for another ACC Atlantic showdown with their old rival, Florida State. For years, this was the matchup that would decide not only the winner of the division but the ACC as well. From 2009 to 2020, the winner of this game won the division, and from 2011 to 2020, the winner won the ACC Championship. It hasn’t been much of a rivalry over the past five years, with the Tigers dominating the Noles and winning the last 6 meetings (7 if you count the Noles’ forfeit in 2020), but FSU has the best team it’s had since 2016. Interestingly enough, the Tigers’ 30-20 win over No.10 NC State a couple weeks ago gave them their 37th straight home win, which tied FSU for the longest streak in ACC history. If not for the last-second 48-yard field goal by Pitt in 2016, the Tigers would have broken Miami’s all-time record of 58 straight home wins. The Tigers would have 59 straight home wins, dating back to the 2013 loss to FSU. The Tigers have scored at least 30 points in each of their first 6 games, and it’s only the third time in the program’s 127-year history that they’ve done that. Quite an amazing turnaround from where the offense was just one year ago! The only other two times they accomplished the feat were in 2020 with Trevor Lawrence and in 2000 with Woody Dantzler and Rich Rodriguez running the offense.
Last year’s meeting was a thriller in Death Valley and a rare game in which both teams were unranked at the time. The teams traded leads all the way into the fourth quarter, as the Tigers trailed 20-17 following DJ’s sack-fumble forced by Jermaine Johnson inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line, returned for a touchdown with under 8 minutes left. The Tigers went 3 and out on their next possession, but the defense forced a 3 and out to give the ball back to the offense with less than 4 minutes left. Two big penalties put the Tigers in the red zone, and Will Shipley busted a 21-yard run to retake the lead 24-20 with less than 3 minutes left. After each team punted, the Noles had one last chance to win the game with less than a minute left, but Barrett Carter recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown as time expired to give the Tigers a 30-20 win. It wasn’t counted as a one-score game because of the final score, but it essentially was just that, and the Tigers are now 34-7 in one-score games since 2011. That win over the Noles, by the way, began the Tigers’ current 12-game win streak, which is now the longest in the nation.
The last time the Tigers played the Noles in Tallahassee was the historic 59-10 rout, the Noles’ worst home loss of all time, but this is a much different FSU team this year. The Tigers have knocked off two of the top teams in the division in Wake and NC State, while the Noles are coming off close losses to those two teams over the last two weeks, and they know that a win over the Tigers will put them right back in the division race, whereas a loss will virtually eliminate them from contention. So expect the Noles to put everything they’ve got into this game, and I expect a near sellout crowd for the nationally televised primetime kickoff, which will be a stark contrast from the half-empty nooner we saw in 2018! The stakes don’t get much higher than this. On to the matchup…
FSU leads the all-time series with Clemson 20-14 dating back to 1970, but the Tigers have won the last 6 meetings…This will be the Tigers’ 3rd straight primetime game on ABC. The last team to do that was Oklahoma in 2015. It will be the Tigers’ 4th straight game on ABC, and they will play a 5th straight next week against No.20 Syracuse…Teams that are currently ranked in the top 15 have a combined record of 83-3. Clemson has accounted for 2 of those losses with consecutive wins over No.14 Wake Forest and No.15 NC State. The only other team with a win over a current top-15 team is No.1 Georgia with its season-opening win over No.12 Oregon….With a win Saturday, Clemson will tie the fourth-longest win streak in program history at 13. That would trail only a 15-game win streak in the 40’s, a 17-game win streak and a 29-game win streak, each under Dabo…A win Saturday would make 7 straight for the Tigers over the Seminoles (FSU backed out in 2020, but it was not officially counted as a loss). That would be the Seminoles’ second-longest losing streak to any opponent. They lost 8 straight to Florida from 1968-1976…Clemson is going for a 3rd straight win in Tallahassee for the first time in series history. It would be just the 5th program in history to do so…Dabo is going for his 200th win since joining the Clemson staff in 2003…Clemson is 33-4 in true road games since 2015, and the Tigers have won 45 of their last 47 games against ACC Atlantic teams, losing only in double-overtime at NC State last season and at Syracuse in 2017 without their starting QB and kicker… Clemson is 44-7 in night games since 2015, including 8 straight wins…Clemson is the only team with multiple wins over teams currently ranked in the top 15…The Tigers have won 65 straight games when leading at halftime…Clemson has won 37 consecutive games as an AP top-5 team against unranked opponents, the longest active streak in the nation…Clemson is 98-3 against unranked teams since the start of the 2012 season…Dabo won his 156th game last week. He took the sixth-fewest games (186) to reach 150 wins. Urban Meyer holds the record at 176 games, followed by Barry Switzer, Gil Dobie, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Switzer and Paterno are the only ones who, like Dabo, won all 150 games at one school….Clemson has the second-most wins and second-best win percentage since 2015 behind Alabama. The Tigers are 95-10 over that period while Alabama is 98-8. Ohio State is 3rd with a record of 85-10 since 2015. Clemson is also 2nd in wins since 2011 with a record of 137-21. Alabama is 146-14 and Ohio State is 129-20….Clemson has the most Power Five wins (97) since 2013. Alabama is 2nd with 95 and Ohio State is 3rd with 89….Clemson holds the all-time record for most wins over a 5-year span with 69 from 2015-2019….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation (minimum 10 years) at .813. Nick Saban is second at .803 and Jimbo Fisher was 3rd, but his losses in his last two games and Lance Leipold’s win at Kansas has pushed Leipold (.754) ahead of Fisher (.750)….Dabo is currently tied for 11th on the all-time win percentage list but climbing quickly. He’s just one spot below legendary Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilkinson, who Dabo could pass for 10th next season….Dabo’s 156 wins are already the third-most of any coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 14th full season. By the end of the 2023 season, Dabo should topple Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo has the most active wins (156) that are all with one school. Mike Gundy is 2nd with 154 at Oklahoma State. Dabo is 9th on the active win list, one win ahead of Mike Leach….With a win in the Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State last season, Dabo tied Bobby Bowden for most bowl wins (11) by any ACC coach in history….
Sitting at 4-2, Florida State could easily be 6-0 this season and should at least be 5-1 and ranked in the top 25. Now in his 3rd season at FSU, it looked like Mike Norvell may have turned a corner when the Noles beat LSU in New Orleans to open the season. After controlling most of the game, the Noles almost had one of their vintage collapses that we’ve seen so many times over recent years, but they finally won a close game thanks to a blocked PAT to prevent overtime for the 24-23 win. But last week, the Noles basically beat themselves at NC State, handing the game to the Wolfpack several times. The Noles led 17-3 at halftime but were shut out in the second half thanks to dropped passes, turnovers and penalties. They had 10 penalties in the second half alone, and they still had the ball in field goal range with a chance to win. But with less than a minute left, on 2nd and 8 at the NC State 22, well inside range for the game-winning field goal, Jordan Travis threw his second interception of the game to give NC State the 19-17 win. He had just one INT coming into the game. It was a comedy of errors by the Seminoles, and if they play like that again, the Tigers will win by 4 touchdowns or more. However, I have a feeling lightning won’t strike twice in a row, and the Tigers will probably get the Noles’ A game on Saturday night.
The Seminoles go as QB Jordan Travis goes. The 6’1, 201-pound fifth-year junior is one of the most athletic and dynamic quarterbacks in the country. He’s passed for 1,407 yards with 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions with a 62.8 completion percentage. Ironically, he had his best running game of the season last week at NC State, rushing for 108 yards, but 71 of those came on one play. However, he keeps plays alive with his legs and is great at finding open receivers in the scramble drill. He can also take it the distance on any given play if a defense doesn’t have a spy on him at all times.
Travis has a perfect mix of weapons at the receiver position that closely resemble what we’re used to seeing at Clemson over the years. 5’11, 211-pound junior slot receiver Mycah Pittman (#4) is a transfer from Oregon who is similar to Amari Rodgers. He’s very much like a running back at the slot position, and he’s a dangerous return man as well. He has 21 catches for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. 6’0, 171-pound senior Pokey Wilson (#80) is their field receiver with 18 catches for 298 yards and 2 scores. Their most dangerous threat—especially if he gets hot—is the physically imposing boundary receiver, Johnny Wilson (#14). At 6’7 and 235 pounds, the sophomore is like a tight end playing wide receiver. He averages 20 yards per reception with 21 catches for 417 yards and 3 TD’s this season. That’s the tenth-best yards per catch average in the Power Five. He absolutely torched Louisville with 7 catches for 149 yards and 2 scores. The Noles don’t have as dominant a tight end as we’ve seen in years past, but 6’4, 240-pound senior Camren McDonald (#87) can get the job done and is good for one or two big plays per game. He has 8 catches for 151 yards and no scores this season.
The Noles are equally solid at running back with a three-headed monster. 5’10, 189-pound sophomore Treshaun Ward (#8) is a speedster who averages 6.8 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns this season. 6’1, 215-pound sophomore Trey Benson (#3) is more of a punishing runner, but he averages 6.4 yards per carry and also has 3 scores. Yet another sophomore, 6’0, 187-pound Lawrance Toafili (#9) averages 4.2 yards per carry and has 4 TD’s this season. While Ward gets the lion’s share of the carries, they rotate all three backs to wear defenses down. Incidentally, Ward injured his collarbone at NC State last week, and he is questionable for Saturday.
This will probably be the most complete offense the Tigers have seen this season, and where the Noles have made the biggest strides is up front. For years, the Noles’ offensive line has been their biggest weakness, and it’s been a jail break to the quarterback for defenses—especially those with defenses as talented as the Tigers’ have been. However, they are much-improved up front this season thanks to experience and the transfer portal. They lost starting right tackle Bless Harris in the opener and potential starting center Kayden Lyles in August, but they are still playing much better as a unit than they have over the last 5 years. The Noles have allowed just 1.17 sacks per game, which is No.24 nationally. They are No.25 in rushing offense at 204.17 yards per game.
Defensively, FSU has great athleticism all over the field, like they always do. It all starts with DE Jared Verse (#5). The 6’4, 251-pound sophomore transfer leads the team with 4 sacks despite missing a couple games with an injury, and he’s extremely disruptive in the backfield. Junior LB Kalen Deloach (#4) has 2.5 sacks, and freshman DE Patrick Payton (#56) has 2. Junior LB Tatum Bethune (#15) leads the team with 45 tackles, including a sack, and a fumble recovery. Junior DT Fabien Lovett (#0) and junior LB Amari Gainer (#33) are both questionable for Saturday night. The Noles have 15 sacks this season, the same number as the Tigers. They’ve produced just 8 turnovers (4 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries), which is ranked No.74 in the country.
For once, FSU doesn’t have one of the best place kickers in the country. Sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald is was pretty good last year at 10-13 with a long of 53, but so far this season, he’s 5-10 with a long of 47.
FSU is ranked No.59 in scoring offense (31.3 points per game), No.25 rush offense (204 yards/game), No.47 pass offense (261.7 yards/game) and No.22 total offense (465.8 yards/game). The Noles are no.36 in scoring defense (20.8 points per game), No.87 rush defense (155.3 yards/game), No.13 in pass defense (170.3 yards/game) and No.25 in total defense (325.7 yards/game).
The Tigers are finally getting healthy on the defensive side of the ball! Backup RB Kobe Pace will miss the next few weeks with an injury, but the Tigers may have every player back on the defensive side for the first time this season. The only defensive player that is questionable is CB Sheridan Jones, who hasn’t played since the LA Tech game. The Tigers have been missing 4 to 7 defensive starters in every game this season, so I can’t wait to see how they look on Saturday night with a full arsenal, especially on the defensive line with Xavier Thomas and Bryan Bresee back in the lineup. Xavier Thomas finally made his season debut last week, and in just 6 snaps, he had 2 sacks and a forced fumble, earning him his first ACC Player of the Week honor of his career. He looks practically unblockable and should make a big difference on Saturday. The Tigers will also be just about whole in the secondary for the first time in weeks, with Mickens, Venables and Greene back, possibly Jones as well. Dabo told me that they will continue to move Mukuba around between safety and corner all season, but Nate Wiggins and Toriano Pride have played much better at corner in the past couple games since the Wake debacle.
DJ has continued to improve week to week as one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football this season. He made several incredible passes last week and is starting to manipulate the defense with his eyes to create open spaces for receivers. The offensive line has also done an outstanding job protecting him and giving him a clean pocket for several seconds. DJ has taken advantage by finding open receivers in the scramble drill. He made a rare poor decision last week on a first-half interception in the Tigers’ red zone, but he bounced back right from it, showing his maturity and confidence. It was just his second INT of the season, and the other was a deflected pass. He had made 111 passes between picks and has 14 TD passes with a 64.2 completion percentage. Quite an improvement from his 9 TD’s, 10 INT’s and 55.6 completion percentage last season! Collins, Ngata and freshman Antonio Williams have been consistent in the passing game, along with tight ends Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool. The tight ends have been the most prominent in the passing game since the Tigers had Jordan Leggett in 2016. It’s good to see slot receiver Brannon Spector get going over the past few weeks as well. He has 2 touchdown catches in the last 3 games.
It will be interesting to see if the Tigers use Antonio Williams more than Will Taylor on punt returns this week. Will Taylor had a rough game last week with two muffed punts. The first one wasn’t his fault because he was bumped by a teammate, and he did a great job to dive on the football, but honestly, he hasn’t looked very comfortable on punts all season, catching several as he is leaning to the side, falling backward or diving forward. Antonio Williams looks much more comfortable, and he also had a big return at BC last week that set up the Tigers’ first touchdown before halftime.
As I mentioned, if the Noles play like they did last week, the Tigers will win BIG. However, my gut tells me that FSU will play its best game of the season, so if the Tigers don’t bring their A game and commit penalties and/or turnovers, it will probably be a dog fight. The Tigers are favored from 3.5 to 4.5 points in this one, and they have covered in both games this month after failing to cover in their 4 September games. The Tigers didn’t commit a single turnover in their two biggest games so far this season, against Wake and NC State, but they had the interception and two muffed punts last week. They need another clean game with no turnovers and few penalties to prevent FSU from hanging around and letting the crowd be a factor. With a full arsenal on defense for the first time this season, I expect the Tigers to win this game fairly comfortably. Hopefully, they will put together a complete game for 4 quarters for the first time this season! But if they don’t, you have to feel confident in their 34-7 record in one-score games since 2011. Either way, I think the Tigers make it 7 straight wins over the Noles to practically seal the Atlantic title for a 7th time in 8 years, extending the nation’s longest win streak to 13.
The Prowl toward a 7th College Football Playoff and 4th National Title continues…
CLEMSON 34 Florida State 20
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