FSU-Clemson a showdown of diverse offenses
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State heads into its top-10 showdown with Clemson as a team that is dominating on both offense and defense.
The Seminoles lead the nation in all major defensive categories, including scoring defense (1 point per game) and total defense (103 yards per game).
And they are 11th nationally in rushing offense, with 837 yards in three games. A healthy and more experienced offensive line has supported a ground game that is significantly better after accumulating just 1,458 yards in 13 games in 2011.
Yes, the No. 4 Seminoles are doing this against the likes of Murray State and Savannah State. But FSU has shown its depth in replacing two talented starters — All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins and cornerback/punt returner Greg Reid — and thoroughly manhandled Wake Forest 52-0 on Saturday.
"From what I've seen so far of our team, I've liked everything that I've seen," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I'm proud of them and they've done everything that we've asked them to do."
Now, the challenge is raised with No. 10 Clemson in a game that, while early, will go a long way toward deciding the ACC's Atlantic Division champion. The FSU-Clemson winner will essentially have a two-game lead on the loser due to the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
While FSU has outscored its opponents 176-3 in the first three weeks, the Seminoles' defense will face a high-powered Tigers offense with an experienced, mobile quarterback in Tajh Boyd and playmakers in receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and tailback Andre Ellington.
Fisher said Wake Forest has some similarities on offense to Clemson, but that the Tigers are more versatile in their attack.
"The diversity of it, they can run and throw the ball," Fisher said. "At any time, they can run the football. They have outstanding linemen, they have a great back, their receivers can make big plays, they can throw the ball down the field, the quarterback can scramble and run. It's deceiving, it's well-coached. It's the balance and then the big-play capabilities that come off of it."
Clemson is averaging 517 yards per game after defeating Auburn in its season opener and then routing Ball State and Furman. While many college football fans and analysts wondered how the Tigers would fare without Watkins, who was suspended for the first two games, Clemson has showed the depth of its receiving corps.
Hopkins has played in the shadow of Watkins, but he used the opportunity to illustrate that Clemson has a pair of No. 1 receivers. Hopkins has 26 catches for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Watkins returned to play on Saturday against Furman and had four receptions for 52 yards.
Boyd has thrown for 747 yards and is completing 73.3 percent of his passes. And tailback Ellington (328 rushing yards) complements the offense by averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
"Make no mistake about anything in ball — you have to have good players," Fisher said. " … If you don't have good players, it's hard to coach. They have very good players. They are very well-coached. They are very precise. And it all goes together."
Fisher hopes that everything comes together on Saturday night, at the conclusion of what will be a week full of distractions. The top-10 matchup has brought extra media attention to a September game in Tallahassee.
It's something that was common in the 1990s, when FSU won a pair of national titles, but really was missing up until the Seminoles hosted No. 1 Oklahoma last September. While FSU lost that game 23-13, the players have learned from having the spotlight on them.
FSU also lost the following week at Clemson 35-30 in a game where backup quarterback Clint Trickett was forced to step in for injured starter EJ Manuel. While Trickett threw for 336 yards in his first college start, FSU's running backs were held to just 29 yards on 15 carries.
The Seminoles' ground game should have a lot to say about the outcome this time against the Tigers.
"I think it just allows us to pretty much open up our offense even more," Manuel said. "It makes it a little harder for Clemson to prepare for what we have. I think the fact that we have diversity in our offense is going to help us out."