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Confidence, fewer mistakes have Noles excited about opportunity

Keir Thomas is one of a group of Florida State players who is very familiar with Clemson. The graduate transfer defensive end from South Carolina has faced the Tigers and been on the opposite end of a few results in past years.

Thomas had three tackles in South Carolina’s 56-35 loss at Clemson in 2018, and he also had three tackles in the Gamecocks’ 34-10 loss to the Tigers in 2017. Jammie Robinson also had 11 tackles in a 38-3 loss against Clemson in 2019.

“I get another opportunity to try to knock them off,” Thomas said on Wednesday. “Very excited about the opportunity with the guys I’m going to war with.”

The core of FSU’s roster is made up of first- and second-year players, and only a few veterans have experienced playing at Clemson in Oct. 2019. No FSU passer or rusher from that game is on the current roster, while Ontaria Wilson, Keyshawn Helton and Camren McDonald caught a combined four passes that night. Amari Gainer, Brendan Gant, Akeem Dent and Robert Cooper are among the defensive players who were on the field.

Many of the Seminoles (3-4, 2-2 ACC) will be walking into a new setting at Clemson on Saturday (3:30 p.m. on ESPN), but they are doing so with confidence that has been rebuilt after a tumultuous September. FSU has reduced penalties and mental mistakes the last three games while also executing better in the red zone and on third down.

The Seminoles have converted 16 straight red zone opportunities, scoring 99 points. FSU was 1 for 1 with a touchdown in the Red Zone against Louisville, 6 for 6 against Syracuse, scoring four touchdowns and two field goals, 3 for 3 at North Carolina with three touchdowns, and 6 for 6 against UMass with five touchdowns and one field goal.

What has changed? Quarterback McKenzie Milton pointed to “attention to detail.”

“I don’t think the intensity has really wavered,” Milton said. “I think we practice hard from the time we’ve been here. I think the attention to detail was kind of lacking in the first couple games. We’ve fine-tuned that and that’s why we’ve had success these last three games.”

While it can be argued the opponents the last three games aren’t as tough as the first four (a stretch that included Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Louisville), the difference in how the Seminoles are playing is quite clear to opposing coaches.

“They have eliminated the mistakes, penalizes, pre-snap, turnovers,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables told reporters this week. “… Being more efficient. Start with that. They are doing a great job of developing their team and playing a lot better up front. Running the ball. Jordan Travis and the running backs they have are good players and really dynamic. They’re more explosive, faster, and you can have everything hemmed up the right way and they can still make plays.”