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Preview: FSU vs. Clemson

Florida State (2-6, 1-6 ACC) takes on fourth-ranked Clemson (7-1, 6-1) in a game that will be televised live by ABC from Tallahassee with kickoff set for noon. The Seminoles enter the game as a 35-point underdog to the Tigers. Clemson will return to action for the first time since losing to Notre Dame in overtime, 47-40, two weeks ago.

FSU leads the all-time series 20-13 against Clemson, but the Tigers have won the last five meetings.

Dabo Swinney is in his 13th year as the Tigers’ head coach and he has amassed an incredible 137-32 record at Clemson. His 81.1-percent winning percentage ranks 12th all-time among FBS head coaches with a minimum of 10 years leading programs at the major college level. His 137 wins rank 14th-most among active FBS head coaches.

“They’re a great football team,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said about Clemson. “They’re coming off their first regular-season loss in however many years against that Notre Dame team. And I think you see an offense that is versatile. They’ve got dynamic players all over the field. I think when you look at the quarterback position with (Trevor) Lawrence, he is a is a special talent. You can say once in a decade, but there’s not a whole lot of them that are like him that are out there. And he’s a fun player to watch not only the physical tools but really the charisma that he brings and the leader that he is. (Travis) Etienne in the backfield is as good of a back as there is in the country. They have got some dynamic playmakers on the perimeter and an experienced group offensively.

“It’s a defense that has some extremely talented guys. They are gonna attack from all aspects. Very rarely do you see the same look twice. They’re going to try to play fast and be multiple in what they do and do it with really talented personnel. And for us we’ve got to be on point in all aspects of our game. We know the challenge that’s in front of us but like I told our guys, we got to go out there every day and just continue to put forward the best version of us and we’re excited to compete. We’re excited to be here at home. It is a great team that’s coming in here. Each team is unique in its own right, but it’s a dang good football team.”

Clemson’s Offense

The Tigers get quarterback Trevor Lawrence (6-6, 220 pounds) back this weekend after the junior missed Clemson’s last two games due to testing positive for Covid-19. Lawrence, the presumptive No. 1 pick in next spring’s NFL draft, is having another outstanding season leading his teams spread offense which has relied heavily on the passing game. They have thrown the ball 53 percent of the time this season, which has accounted for 70 percent of their yards from scrimmage. Lawrence has completed 71 percent of his passes this season for 1,833 yards and 17 touchdowns against two interceptions. The Tigers have not lost this season with Lawrence as the starting quarterback. He is also the team’s third-leading rusher with 143 yards on the ground, not including yards lost due to sacks. His backup, true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei, was impressive in his two starts while Lawrence was out. He has thrown for 883 yards this season while completing 68.3 percent of his passes.

Clemson’s rushing attack features one of the best all-around running backs in college football. Etienne (5-10, 205 pounds) is having another outstanding season. Not only does he lead the team in rushing with 634 yards and 10 touchdowns on 121 carries, he is also the team’s second leading receiver with 491 yards on 37 receptions of which two have resulted in touchdowns.

And when Lawrence isn’t throwing to Etienne coming out of the backfield or lined up in the slot he has no shortage of weapons. Amari Rodgers (5-10, 210 pounds) is Clemson’s leading wide receiver and is the Tigers’ best deep threat. So far this season Rodgers has hauled in 48 passes for 720 yards and six touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Cornell Powell (6-0, 210 pounds) is third on the team with 31 catches for 418 yards and three touchdowns. Junior tight end Braden Galloway is fourth on the team with 19 catches for 230 yards. Clemson is so deep at wide receiver that at least eight players have caught 10 or more passes and 16 players have at least two catches this season.

Clemson has a veteran offensive line that averages 6-3.5 and 311 pounds. The best and biggest of the group is junior left tackle Jackson Carman (6-5, 335 pounds), who is an NFL prospect. While relatively inexperienced, only Carman had started more than one game before this season out of the starting five, Clemson’s line has been productive and protective. The same five players have started every game this season and have allowed just 13 sacks this season (1.69 per game), which is tied for 15th fewest among teams to have played at least six games. They have also done a good job of keeping their running backs clean before they reach the line of scrimmage, with opponents averaging just 5.5 tackles for losses against them. That ranks as fourth-fewest in the ACC this season.

“One thing about Clemson, they’re good at a lot of things, they got good players at every level,” said FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller. “O-line, obviously the quarterback, the tailback, wideouts, they got good tight ends. If you lean something one way or the other there’s another thing that can kind of break you going the other way. They’ve been together for a long time, the quarterback has been in that system, the coaches have been there for a long time. And they play a really high level, they’ve got talent all around them. We saw what the backup quarterback can do the last two weeks. It’s a good program. From offense, defense and special teams. They play off each other. They’ve been successful with all three sides of the ball, and they’ve got good players, they’ve got good coaches, consistency within that program, and they’ve done a great job. It will be an unbelievable challenge.”

Clemson’s Offense by the Numbers vs. FBS (ACC) opponents

Scoring Offense-44.9 PPG, ranks 9th out of 126 FBS teams

Rushing Offense-148.2 YPG, ranks 78th

Passing Offense-369.4 YPG, ranks 5th

Total Offense-517.7 YPG, ranks 10th

Big Plays Offense– (plays of 10 yards or more from LOS)-134, ranks 9th, (plays of 20 yards or more)-51, ranks 5th

Clemson’s Defense

Clemson’s base 4-3 defense is relatively young, with eight of its 11 starters or co-starters consisting of players who are redshirt sophomores or younger. Of the 32 defensive players they have listed on their two-deep depth chart, 23 of those players are redshirt sophomores or younger. And Clemson’s defense has been just as productive and disruptive this season as college football fans have come to expect. They rank sixth nationally against FBS competition with 26 sacks. Their 61 tackles for a loss against FBS foes also ranks sixth in the country and they rank ninth in the country with nine interceptions and 24th with six forced fumbles.

You can find playmakers all over this defense but its young defensive front four has been stout this season. Clemson is allowing just 3.32 yards per attempt on the ground this season and have been a constant presence in opposing backfields vs. the run or the pass as evidenced by the numbers above. Freshman defensive end Myles Murphy (6-5, 275 pounds) is third on the team in total tackles with 36 stops, first on the team with 8.5 TFLs, second on the team with 2.5 sacks and leads the team with nine quarterback pressures. Fellow freshman Bryan Bresee (6-5, 300 pounds) has been a force in the middle with 20 tackles including four TFL’s, three sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Bresee has been so good that senior Nyles Pinckney (6-1, 300 pounds) is listed as a co-starter behind the freshman. Pinckney still has 20 tackles on the year, including three TFLs and one sack.

Clemson will be without veteran middle linebacker James Skalski this week but sophomore Jake Venables (6-2, 235 pounds), the son of Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables, has been very productive as his replacement. Venables is second on the team with 43 tackles, second on the team with 5.5 tackles for a loss and tied for second on the team with 2.5 sacks. The team’s leading tackler is sophomore WILL linebacker Baylon Spector, who has 52 tackles including 8.5 TFL’s, 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback pressures.

Senior strong safety Nolan Turner (6-1, 205 pounds) is the top tackler in the secondary, where he has 32 stops this season and he also leads the team with three interceptions. His backup Joseph Charleston also has 32 tackles on the year. The pair have combined for five TFLs on the season. At cornerback senior Derion Kendrick (6-0, 190 pounds) and sophomore Sheridan Jones are having good seasons. Kendrick leads the team with fives passes broken up and has one interception on the season. Jones has 18 tackles and three PBUs through eight games. Clemson is giving up just 6.8 yards per passing attempt so far in 2020, which ranks 40th-best in the country against FBS competition.

Clemson’s Defense by the numbers vs. FBS (ACC) opponents

Scoring Defense-22.3 PPG, ranks 29th

Rushing Defense-117.2 YPG, ranks 24th

Passing Defense-208.3 YPG, ranks 33rd

Total Defense-325.6 YPG, ranks 20th

Big Play Defense– (plays allowed over of over 10 yards or more from LOS)-77, ranks 69th among all teams to have played at least one game and 13th among teams to have played at least six FBS opponents.

Clemson’s Special Teams

As good as Clemson is on offense and defense, the Tigers are equally as good on special teams. Senior punter Will Spiers (6-5, 225 pounds) averages 47.1 yards per punt, ranking him among college football’s best this season. Of his 27 punts this season, 10 have traveled more than 50 yards and 11 have resulted in opponents starting possessions inside their own 20-yard line. Opponents have returned just 11 of Clemson’s 30 punts this season and have averaged just 8.4 yards on those returns.

Junior B.T. Potter (5-10, 180 pounds) handles the place-kicking and has made 14 of his 18 field-goal attempts with three of his four misses coming between 30 and 39 yards. Opponents have only attempted to return five of Potter’s 57 kickoff opportunities. For the season opponents are averaging just 21.8 yards per kickoff return.