Nov. 11 is a day that fans of Clemson and Florida State alike have had circled on their calendars since the Spring.
Clemson Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles is a game that many predicted would function as the defacto ACC Championship game. Perhaps playoff eligibility for both teams would be on the line. Well the beauty of college football sometimes comes from it’s unpredictability.
Very few could have predicted FSU falling on such hard times this season, but that’s exactly where we stand after 10 weeks of college football. Clemson’s season has been undoubtedly better, and their playoff hopes remain intact, but their loss to the Syracuse Orange remains one of the most shocking upsets of the college football season.
What does it mean for this Saturday’s game, which once had the makings of a marquee matchup for the ACC and now looks more like a potential beatdown, when both teams haven’t quite lived up to their preseason billing. While fans may be disappointed not to see a matchup between two top-10 ACC foes, the team’s struggles just add a tinge of that unpredictability and intrigue that makes college football great.
This Saturday marks the 31st entry into the Clemson-FSU football rivalry. In their 30 previous contests, the Seminoles have emerged victorious 20 times. Clemson currently possesses a two game win-streak over FSU, their last victory coming by just three points on the road in 2016. Florida State will look for a return to their winning ways in this rivalry, though the odds are against them.
What to watch for
The most important positional matchup in this game will be the Seminoles offensive line against the defensive line of the Clemson Tigers. Florida State’s blocking has been an achilles heel for the team throughout the season. They were exposed against Alabama‘s elite defensive front in week one, which resulted in losing star quarterback Deondre Francois for the season. They face a similar challenge this week against a Tigers unit that also features elite talent with a knack for dominating opposing blockers.
Should the Florida State offensive line hold it together against the Tigers defense, they’ll need to target Clemson’s secondary. The Tigers defensive backfield has been robbed of it’s depth thanks to multiple injuries, and it’s shown in recent contests. Against both Syracuse and NC State, the weakened Tigers secondary was taken advantage of. Those two games are the only occasions in which Clemson has surrendered more than 25 points this season. Expect Florida State to employ a similar offensive strategy, targeting the secondary with spacing in the passing game and leaning on the run game to keep the defense on it’s toes.
The biggest difference between these two teams right now is experience. One team has it. One team is still in the process of building it. Clemson’s core players all have championship experience. Even Kelly Bryant, a first year starter at quarterback for the Tigers, had the opportunity to sit and learn on one of the nation’s best teams for years before taking over. Right now, the Tigers are a team that knows exactly how to prepare for success.
The current iteration of the Florida State Seminoles are undoubtedly talented, but lack of experience has kept the team from playing up to that talent. True freshman quarterback James Blackman has been thrust into the starting role much too early. Another true freshman, Cam Akers, is the team’s primary threat in the running game. Injuries in other offensive units have made sitting and learning a luxury that Florida State cannot afford right now. A team with inexperienced freshman commanding the huddle is simply at a disadvantage against a team with proven talent and veteran leadership, and such is the case with Florida State against Clemson this year.
The Clemson Tigers are heavily favored heading in to this contest, but their loss to Syracuse came under very similar circumstances. It would be a mistake to write off Jimbo Fisher’s team entirely in this game, given Clemson’s earlier upset, but the odds are firmly against Florida State in this year’s matchup. In any case, Clemson Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles will mark another installment in one of the ACC’s best rivalries. Kickoff from Death Valley is at 3:30 p.m. Fans of both teams who’ve had this date circled need wait no longer.