WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.4 CLEMSON AT FSU
- 2020-11-20 16:19:49
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
It seems like an eternity since that heartbreaking double-overtime loss for No.1 Clemson at No.4 Notre Dame, which ended several historic win streaks for the short-handed Tigers, but now the team and the fan base finally has a chance to get that bad taste out of their mouths, as the Tigers travel to Tallahassee to play a beaten-down FSU team. For so long, Clemson-FSU was the showdown that everyone had circled when the schedule came out, knowing that the winner would win the division and the conference for the last decade. Well, that hasn’t been the case for the past two seasons. Since Jimbo Fisher left Tallahassee, Dabo and the Tigers have dominated the Seminoles, winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 104-24. The last meeting in Tallahassee in 2018 saw true freshman Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers hand the Noles their worst home loss ever. We all remember the camera shots of a Florida State professor sun bathing and reading a novel in the stands with no one around him. We might see more of the same this Saturday!
Looking back to the Tigers’ last game, it’s still a tough pill to swallow. Despite missing Trevor Lawrence and several other All-ACC players—and losing several more starters throughout the course of the game—the Tigers had the game right where they wanted, with a 7-point lead and the ball with 2 minutes left. For years, we’ve seen the Tigers close out so many of those games victorious, always getting that last stop or last play they needed to secure the victory. They were 27-4 in one-score games since 2011, and it looked for all the world as if it was going to be 28-4. Even after a rare occurrence of poor clock management and a three-and-out, it still looked like the Tigers had the game in hand after a Spiers punt inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line. How many times have we seen Dabo rely on Brent Venables and the defense to get the one last game-saving stop they needed? They did it just the week before against Boston College. They did it against Ohio State last season. Heck, they did it in 2015 against Notre Dame, stopping the would-be game-tying two-point conversion. However, this time—perhaps because with all the key missing players on defense taking its toll—the defense was unable to stop Notre Dame from going 90 yards for the game-tying touchdown with less than 30 seconds left. The Tigers still managed to force a second overtime before going down, but to me, that gut-wrenching 90-yard drive in under two minutes to tie the game was the death knell. Tip your hat to Notre Dame for taking advantage of all the Tigers’ missing players and pulling a win out of the fire, but in my opinion, the Tigers shouldn’t have even dropped from No.1 after that game. To me, the fact that at half-strength, they came that close to beating No.4 on the road only confirmed that they were the best team in the nation when full-strength. Travis Etienne had the worst game in his career, and yet the Tigers were still able to score 33 points in regulation on the road with a true freshman QB in his second game against a top-10 defense. As far as the defense, many look at the final score and question the Tigers’ defense, but look a little closer. At half strength, the Tigers didn’t allow a single touchdown for 58 minutes. They gave up the big play for a TD on the second play of the game and then the one to force overtime with less than 30 seconds left. Other than that, the defense allowed just 3 field goals. The other 10 points were given to Notre Dame by the Tigers’ offense. It is astounding to me that with backups all over the field, against an outstanding offense with a veteran quarterback and offensive line, the Tigers’ defense could still hold up that well. I have no doubt in my mind that the Tigers would have won the game by 30 or more—just like they did in 2018—if they were full strength.
In any case, the Tigers were not full strength, and as a result, the No.1 ranking and all those historic win streaks went out the window. Ironically, the loss ended the Tigers’ 28-game win streak against ACC opponents (even though we all know Notre Dame is only an ACC team for this one season), and the Tigers needed just one more to tie FSU for the all-time record. With the loss of the No.1 ranking, the Tigers will not be able to join 1999 FSU and 2004 USC as the only teams to go wire-to-wire as AP No.1 The ACC and national titles are still very much on the table for the Tigers, though, and the bye week could not have come at a better time. Well, maybe the week before Notre Dame would have been a better time, but anyway I expect to see a rejuvenated Clemson team take the field at Doak-Campbell on Saturday at noon. For a comprehensive recap of the Notre Dame game, CLICK HERE. On to this week’s matchup….
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games…. At 76-6, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 4 wins better than Alabama and 12 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson is 2 wins behind Alabama for the most wins since 2011….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 10 more than Ohio State and 8 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .811. Nick Saban’s is .792. Dabo also holds the best all-time win percentage in ACC games at .830. Bobby Bowden’s was .813. Dabo’s overall .811 win percentage is 7th all-time among head coaches that coached at least 150 games. Urban Meyer’s .854 win percentage is atop that list, followed by Switzer, Osborne, Yost, Neyland and Wilkinson….Only 6 times has a team won 12 or more games in a season against Power Five opponents. Clemson, FSU and LSU are the only programs to have done it, and 4 of the 6 times were by Clemson, which remains the only program ever to win 13 games against Power Five opponents in one season, accomplished in 2018…..Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in history to reach No.1 in the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons….Clemson has played in the 14th most games (22) as AP No.1….Dabo is 17th all-time for most games (21) coached as AP No.1, passing Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier and Ara Parseghian. He is one game behind Urban Meyer and Lou Holtz for a tie at 13th on the list….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 87 weeks, the third-longest streak all-time. Florida has the next-longest active streak at just 16 weeks….Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 50 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and third-longest streak all-time. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. The next-longest active streak is Alabama at 11 weeks. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….If Clemson finishes in the top 2 of the AP Poll this season, it will join Miami as the only programs to finish in the top 2 in 5 of 6 seasons…..Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 27 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Notre Dame has the second-longest active streak at 23, and its all-time record is 28 straight home wins, which Clemson could tie with its next home win. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 46-1 at home since 2014….Before losing at Notre Dame two weeks ago, Clemson had won 39 straight non-bowl games, passing Nebraska and tying Miami for second-most all-time. Oklahoma holds the record at 45….Clemson had won 28 straight games against ACC opponents, tying FSU for the second-most all-time. FSU also holds the record at 29 straight, and the double-overtime loss at one-time ACC member Notre Dame kept Clemson from tying FSU for the record….Clemson had won 50 straight Saturday games before the Notre Dame loss, the longest such streak of all time…..If Clemson makes the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive year, it will be the first program ever to do so, and Dabo Swinney will join basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches in any sport to make a Final Four playoff 6 years in a row…..FSU leads the all-time series with Clemson 20-13, but the Tigers have won the last 5 meetings and the last 2 meetings in Tallahassee….Travis Etienne is just the 4th player since 2000 with 600 or more rush yards and 450 or more reception yards through his first 8 games…..Trevor Lawrence needs just 3 touchdowns on Saturday to become the 5th player in ACC history with 100 career touchdowns accounted for, joining Tajh Boyd, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Phillip Rivers…..Clemson looks to win 8 of its first 9 games for the 16th time in program history and the 9th time in the last 10 years….
FLORIDA STATE SYNOPSIS
It’s been a rough first season for Head Coach Mike Norvell, beginning with the unprecedented pandemic that has made this the craziest college football season we have ever seen, as if his task wasn’t challenging enough after picking up the pieces left from Willie Taggart’s brief tenure. It’s amazing how far and how quickly the FSU program has fallen since just 2016 when Dalvin Cook and the Noles gave the Tigers an epic battle in Tallahassee before the Tigers went on to win a national title. Since then, the Seminoles have lost two head coaches and are headed for their third consecutive losing season—something that hasn’t happened since before Bobby Bowden over 40 years ago! Even in Jimbo Fisher’s last season in 2017, they finished just 7-6. Yet, just 4 years before that, Florida State went undefeated and won a national title. That was then, and this is now. Former Memphis Head Coach Mike Norvell is struggling to keep his 2-6 team from completely unhinging. Following an embarrassing 41-17 home loss to 3-4 PItt, it was announced that the Noles would lose their best player on both sides of the ball. Potential NFL first-round DT Marvin Wilson will miss the rest of the season with an injury, and WR Tamorrion Terry has left the team. In addition, senior starting OL Devontay Love-Taylor also suffered a season-ending injury, and the Noles’ offensive line was already a major weakness. In fact, they had to start 4 freshmen on the O-Line at NC State last week. As if that wasn’t bad enough, their quarterback room took a major hit with former starter James Blackman announcing he would transfer and his replacement, Jordan Travis, missing the NC State game with an injury. The Seminoles started freshman Chubba Purdy, brother of Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, at NC State last week, and he performed reasonably well. The Seminoles showed some fight early but fell behind big and lost 38-22. That makes the third straight loss since a shocking home win over then-ranked No.5 UNC in Jordan Travis’s second start, which looked like it was going to turn things around for the Noles. Travis made his starting debut at Notre Dame, and FSU played the Irish tough, losing 42-26. When they followed that up by jumping out to a huge lead and upsetting the Tar Heels, it seemed like FSU had turned a corner. However, they followed that up with a surprising 48-16 loss at Louisville and the aforementioned 41-17 home loss to Pitt.
To make matters worse for FSU, Mike Norvell announced on Tuesday that Chubba Purdy suffered a season-ending injury. Norvell has not declared that Jordan Travis will start on Saturday, but that was the presumption, even before the news of Purdy’s injury. If Travis gets hurt again, the Seminoles’ only other scholarship quarterback is true freshman Tate Rodemaker, who played two series last week with a three-and-out and an interception. The good news for FSU is that Travis (#13) is expected to play, and he is a difference-maker when he’s in the game. The 6’1, 200-pound sophomore is an exceptional athlete and can be a nightmare, both passing and running. He’s completed just 52.2% of his passes for 4 touchdowns with 5 interceptions in basically three and a half games, but he’s a dangerous runner, already leading the team with 469 rush yards and 6 TD’s, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
With Travis in the backfield is 6’0, 220-pound sophomore running back Jashaun Corbin (#0), who averages 5.1 yards per carry and has 2 touchdowns this season. The Noles used Corbin in the wildcat formation successfully last week, including a 28-yard touchdown run, so the Tigers will need to be ready for that. His running mate in the backfield is 5’8, 190-pound sophomore La’Damian Webb (#8), who has about the same number of carries and yards as Corbin. He has 3 TD’s this season and averages 5.3 yards per carry. Behind the sophomores is 6’1, 200-pound freshman Lawrance Toafili (#9), who has half the number of carries as the others but averages 8.0 yards per rush. He has one TD this season.
With Terry gone, the Noles’ most productive receiver by far is 6’0, 174-pound junior Ontaria Wilson (#80). He has 28 catches for 332 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. 5’9, 171-pound junior slot receiver Keyshawn Helton (#6) is next with 14 catches for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. They also have a good tight end in 6’4, 238-pound junior Camren McDonald (#87), who has 22 catches for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. He had 7 catches for 61 yards in the Pitt loss but no catches last week. Running back Jashaun Corbin actually has more catches than any receiver left on the team other than Wilson, with 16 catches for 99 yards. RB Toafili also has 9 catches for 94 yards, and Webb has 9 for 68, so they will throw to all 3 backs.
Defensively, losing a player like DT Marvin Wilson is huge, both from his ability on the field and his leadership. He was the unquestioned leader of this team, going back to the preseason when he surprised everyone by announcing he would forego the NFL Draft and return to Tallahassee for another season. His absence should make it much easier for Travis Etienne to run the ball, which was obviously a struggle at Notre Dame. FSU still has some dudes on the defensive side, however, including senior DE Janarius Robinson (#11) and junior DE Josh Kaindoh (#13). The bookends have NFL potential and size at 6’5, 260 and 6’7, 265, respectively. Surprisingly, Robinson has just 3 sacks this season, and Kaindoh has none, but they can still get after the quarterback and set the edge on running plays. In the middle, junior DT Rober Cooper (#91) is a run-stuffer at 332 pounds. He is from Lilburn, GA, just outside of Atlanta.
Linebackers Amari Gainer (#33) and Emmett Rice (#1) lead the team in tackles, and Gainer has a forced fumble. In the secondary, junior CB Asante Samuel (#26) is one of the best cover corners in the nation. He has 3 interceptions this season to go along with 6 PBU’s, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Outstanding 6’4, 220-pound senior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen (#5) returned from injury to make his season debut last week, and that should be a shot in the arm for the Seminoles against Trevor Lawrence and crew.
FSU is ranked No.103 in scoring offense (22.0 points/game), No.49 in rushing offense (184.38 yards/game), No.92 in passing offense (196.6 yards/game) and No.77 in total offense (381.0 yards/game). The Noles are ranked No.101 in scoring defense (36.1 points/game), No.91 in rush defense (193.50 yards/game), No.103 in pass defense (270.8 yards/game) and No.103 in total defense (464.3 yards/game). They are No.72 nationally with just 10 sacks and 34th in tackles-for-loss with 44. They rank 45th in turnovers gained with 10 and 115th with 15 turnovers lost. FSU ranks 101st in turnover margin at -0.63 per game.
After talking to the players for the last two weeks since the Notre Dame loss, it’s easy to tell that they have put that one to bed and are chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Of course, Trevor Lawrence will be back after missing the last two games, and he told me on Tuesday that he feels as good as he did before contracting COVID. He said he feels great physically from a conditioning standpoint and that he has his timing back with the receivers. In his two games against FSU, Trevor has been exceptional, accounting for 4 touchdowns in each game despite very limited play in both. As a true freshman in 2018, he threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career en route to handing the Noles their worst home loss ever. I can’t wait to see what he does on Saturday!
As for the litany of other players that missed the Notre Dame game or went down during the game, the only ones that we know will definitely not play on Saturday are Skalski (groin) and Ladson (foot). It will be the fourth straight game missed for Skalski and second for Ladson. As for the others—Tyler Davis, Mike Jones, Matt Bockhorst, Joseph Ngata, Lannden Zanders, Bryan Bresee, Justin Mascoll and Nolan Turner—Dabo said they are “day to day” and expects at least a couple of those to be out but would not reveal which. Be sure to check HERE at about 10:00 am on Saturday, two hours before kickoff, for an official list of unavailable players.
Aside from watching Trevor’s return, I cannot wait to see how Travis bounces back from the worst game in his career. He has put the ball on the ground in the last 3 straight games and has given the opponent 7 point in each of the last two. As I mentioned, the Noles have a terrible rush defense, and on top of that, they lost Marvin Wilson, one of the best defensive tackles in the nation. I’m sure FSU will load the box to stop the run like all of the Tigers’ other opponents have, but I still think Travis will have a big day, both rushing and receiving. The Tigers had a rough time on 3rd down at Notre Dame, going 4-15 and just 2-6 on 3rd and short. You can expect that to change after the staff spent a week of self-scouting.
Clemson is ranked No.8 in scoring offense (45.4 points/game), No.80 in rushing offense (150.0 yards/game), No.6 in passing offense (353.6 yards/game) and No.17 in total offense (503.6 yards/game). The Tigers are ranked No.18 in scoring defense (19.5 points/game), No.24 in rush defense (113.38 yards/game), No.23 in pass defense (191.8 yards/game) and No.12 in total defense (305.1 yards/game). They are No.2 nationally with just 33 sacks and 3rd in tackles-for-loss with 77. They rank 12th in turnovers gained with 14 and 84th with 10 turnovers lost. Clemson ranks 40th in turnover margin at +0.5 per game.
This one is going to be ugly, folks, unless you’re a Clemson fan, that is. The Tigers are favored by a whopping 35 points on the road, and the only question as to whether they will cover or not is how the backups perform because the starters will be out early. And given the experience DJ now has under his belt, I think the offense will score almost as easily even when Trev and Trav leave the game. Perhaps the embattled Seminoles will show some heart and fire early in the game, but after they fall behind a few scores, I expect them to fold the tents. The Tigers might just repeat the performance of two years ago and once again hand the Noles their worst home loss in history.
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Title, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff Appearance, 3rd consecutive National Championship Game and 4th National Title continues……
CLEMSON 62 Florida State 13
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