No. 10 Clemson heads to No. 4 Florida State

Clemson’s offense sure looks ready for Florida State. The

10th-ranked Tigers’ defense? That’s anyone’s guess after another

so-so showing against Furman.

Clemson (3-0) beat the Paladins 41-7 and open defense of its

Atlantic Coast Conference title at No. 4 Florida State in

Tallahassee, a game that figures to go a long way in deciding the

Atlantic Division.

Clemson’s offense has been every bit as explosive as a year ago,

especially with Sammy Watkins back from a two-game suspension. The

Tigers’ defense also looks like it did in 2011 – and that’s not a

good thing.

Furman (0-3) held the ball for nearly 17 minutes more than the

Tigers, who gave up several big, chunky plays to their Football

Championship Subdivision opponent.

”That first half made me want to throw up,” Clemson defensive

coordinator Brent Venables said.

It may have made Florida State coaches lick their chops.

The Tigers tightened things up after the break and kept Furman

off the scoreboard the last two quarters. The Paladins managed only

117 of their 352 yards in the final two periods.

But unless things improve fast, Venables knows his players could

be in for big-time pasting against the Seminoles (3-0) at Doak

Campbell Stadium next week. ”They’ll break the scoreboard next

week if we don’t play better and more consistent,” he said.

That almost happened at the Orange Bowl last January when the

ACC champions gave up a bowl record amount of points in a 70-33

debacle to West Virginia. Venables was hired soon after that

defeat, brought in to plug the holes that sprung open in Kevin

Steele’s defense last fall.

Right now, Venables says it’s a work in progress. Clemson

entered this week 98th nationally against the run, a number that

figures to improve with just 110 yards given up in the Furman win.

But the Tigers gave up their most passing yards of the season as

the Paladins were 20 of 31 passing for 242 yards. That included a

wide-open 37-yard touchdown pass from Reese Hannon to Jordan

Snellings.

”We won. We have room for improvement, but that’s every game,”

Clemson safety Rashard Hall said. ”I thought we played a great

game, especially in the second half. We just have to get

better.”

Clemson’s used its quick-strike offense and just enough defense

to gain its second straight 3-0 start. The Tigers yielded 374 yards

in the Georgia Dome in a 26-19 victory over Auburn to start the

season, yet held the 2010 national champions to four field goals on

four times inside Clemson’s 30.

Last week, Clemson put up a 45-point first half that overwhelmed

Ball State on the way to a 52-27 victory.

In this one, Furman was able to maintain possession and keep

Clemson’s offense off the field. That meant more time for the

defensive mistakes to show through. Again, though, Clemson proved

stoutest with its back to the wall as it held Furman without points

on five of six trips the Paladins made inside the Tigers’ 30. And

that has Venables thinking about a unique strategy.

”Get them to third down, concede the third and medium because

we play pretty good on third down and in the tight zone,” he

said.

Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) put on an offensive show in

defeating Wake Forest 52-0 on Saturday. Chris Thompson had scoring

runs of 74 and 80 yards to spark the Seminoles to a 38-0 lead at

the half. He finished with a 197 yards rushing.

”We wanted to make a statement today,” fullback Lonnie Pryor

said. ”Our goal is to win the ACC and hopefully win a national

championship. They were in the way, so we won and hopefully we can

keep this thing going.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likes his team’s progress from the

start of the season and expects more improvement as the year

continues. He was most disappointed at the blown assignment that

led to Furman’s touchdown.

”We’ve got to get out of the charity business and quit busting

some big plays that have given up touchdowns,” he said. ”You’re

going to play a team like Florida State, you can’t give them those

easy ones.”

Clemson has risen up to the defensive challenge at critical

times last year. The Tigers held Virginia Tech to 13 points

combined in wins at Lane Stadium (30-3) in the regular season and

in the ACC championship (38-10).

Venables saw things pick up in the second half as his players

cleaned up their technique. ”Our positioning was better. Our

leverage was better. It was a better half of football,” he

said.

But is it good enough to slow down the Seminoles, who look eager

to end Clemson’s recent run of success in the series. Florida State

has lost six of the past nine meetings with the Tigers.

Florida State is ”a good ball team. We know that,” said Hall,

Clemson’s safety. ”But then again, so are we.”