No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ABC
Line: Florida State -14
When the conference schedules came out this spring, it was clear that from Day 1, Hour 1, Minute 1, the unofficial ACC regular season championship game (or at least, the unofficial ACC Atlantic championship game anyway) would come Saturday September 22nd when Florida State hosted Clemson.
Six or so months later, nothing has changed.
Both these teams enter this game undefeated, with each sporting an impressive early season win. For Clemson, theirs came in week one against Auburn and Florida State’s came in a 52-0 beat down of Wake Forest last Saturday.
Now, the pressure is on when they meet up Saturday. Not to mention, with teams like Virginia Tech, NC State and others struggling early on, it is only more apparent that not only will the winner of this game be in the driver’s seat for an ACC Championship, but will have the inside track to a potential BCS National Championship berth as well.
But hey, no pressure or anything this weekend, guys!
For Florida State to Win: Yes, it’s a little obvious, but for Florida State, it all comes down to whether they can slow down this high-powered Clemson attack. As things stand, the Tigers enter this game ranked in the Top 25 nationally in both total offense and scoring offense.
And while the easy answer is to say, “Yeah, well Florida State is ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring defense” (which is true), what do we really know about the Seminoles?
Yes, they’re crazy talented, but also haven’t played anyone nearly the caliber of what they’ll see this weekend from Clemson. Not to mention that when these teams got together last year in Death Valley, it was the Tigers who had the upper-hand, putting up 443 yards of total offense on a stunned Seminoles defense.
For Clemson to Win: Instead of getting repetitive and saying “run their offense the way they’re capable of” let’s instead go in another direction and say this: If the Tigers can get pressure on E.J. Manuel and force him into some tough throws, well, as we’ve seen in the past, just about anything can happen.
Manuel is the same guy who threw for eight picks this year, and if there was something to possibly nitpick following the Wake Forest win, it’s that Manuel didn’t look much better throwing the ball this year than last. He completed just 15 of 24 passes, including a couple wobbly, poorly-thrown deep balls.
Against a better defensive line, in a bigger game, could E.J. be in trouble?
Key Player, Florida State: How about back-up running back James Wilder Jr.?
For all the hype that Chris Thompson and his two big touchdown runs created last week, it was the true sophomore Wilder who may have been more impressive. He finished the afternoon with just 94 yards on 16 carries (numbers that admittedly were much less impressive than Thompson’s). In the process though, he proved himself capable of being the every-down back that the Seminoles thought they were getting when he signed out of high school.
Going against a Clemson run defense that’s allowing 180 yards per game, could it be a big afternoon for Wilder?
Key Player, Clemson: It’s so obvious, but we don’t see how this could be anyone else other than Tajh Boyd.
To be blunt, Boyd has been everything any Clemson fan could’ve hoped for so far in 2012 (he’s thrown for over 700 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception), but also hasn’t faced a secondary anything like what he’ll see Saturday either. Xavier Rhodes, LaMarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks will all play on Sundays, not to mention the Seminoles have a bunch of guys on the D-Line who’ll do the same.
Point is, Boyd will have to be quick, smart and accurate with every pass he makes. And even then, it still might not be enough.
Key Stat: Chad Morris’ offense doesn’t beat you so much with size or skill (although Clemson has plenty of both), but instead, with speed, tempo and by simply wearing you out. They enter this game having run 239 total plays, far and away the most in the ACC.
But if we’ve seen one thing in college football year-in and year-out, it’s that the best way to beat a fast-paced offense is by making plays on first down and not letting the opponent get into tempo.
With so many elite players on the defensive side of the ball, will Florida State force Clemson out of their tempo? And if so, will the Tigers be able to find another way to win?
That could be the biggest question entering Saturday’s game.
For all his opinion, analysis and college football insight follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
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