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Game Preview: FSU vs Clemson

Tom Linafelt breaks down this weekend’s clash between the Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles.

Game Preview: FSU vs Clemson

Clemson (7-0) vs. Florida State (4-3) Game Preview

TALLAHASSEE, FL –During Florida State’s “dynasty era,” when the Seminoles finished ranked fourth or better in every year from 1987-2000 and won two national titles, FSU beat Clemson 10 times in 11 tries.

And during the last three seasons, the Tigers have topped the Seminoles on their way to what might be their best stretch in school history – three straight College Football Playoff appearances and a national championship in 2016.

FSU and Clemson are recent rivals, having met only a handful of times before the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992 and made the series an annual affair.

But as the Seminoles’ and Tigers’ roads have crossed over the last 25 years, this much has become clear: For either team to achieve its goals in a given season, it usually must go through the other to make it happen.

That will hold true again on Saturday, when the No. 2 Tigers visit Doak Campbell Stadium.

Clemson is undefeated, closing in on a fourth straight CFP berth and looking to further solidify its place as one of college football’s preeminent modern programs.

And Florida State has designs on flipping that script, toppling the Tigers and resetting the balance of power in the ACC – back to the days when the Seminoles were both annual national title contenders and a perpetual nemesis for Clemson.

“If you want to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said earlier this week. “Great opportunity for the Noles. Looking forward to it. Against a really, really good football team – one of the best college football teams out there.”

The FSU-Clemson game in recent years has been something of a clash of styles and philosophies: Florida State’s intense, driven and hyper-focused Jimbo Fisher against Clemson’s more easygoing Dabo Swinney.

That dynamic, however, has changed some since Taggart took over in December. In fact, when looking for tips to build his program at Oregon, Taggart sought out one of the coaches he admired most.

Of course, when Taggart took his Oregon staff to visit Swinney and Clemson in the spring of 2017, neither he nor Swinney had any clue he’d be coaching in Tallahassee a year later.

Still, the trip had a lasting impact for Taggart. One felt in his season at Oregon and that still resonates early in his tenure at Florida State.

“It was really nice to go and see how champions do things,” Taggart said. “You can see why they are winning and winning at a high level.

“In that building and around that building, everything is channeled toward winning. From the secretary to the custodian or whatever is around there, they all are moving in the same direction.”

From 2008-2010, Swinney’s Tigers lost 15 games. In the eight years since, they’re 89-8.

“They didn’t get there on Day 1,” Taggart said. “It took them some time to get there. But they stayed the course and got it the way he wanted it, and now it’s a well-oiled machine.”

If he had how the way things would play out, Swinney might not have been so inviting.

“Had he been at Florida State at the time, it probably wouldn’t have happened, simply because we’ve got to play them every year,” Swinney said with a laugh. “But I’ve always followed Willie … I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I think he’s a very good coach. I don’t have any doubt he’s going to be very successful.”

At Florida State, “very successful” means winning championships and beating Miami, Florida and Clemson as often as possible.

The Seminoles came close three weeks ago at Miami, but even if they had pulled off the upset in South Florida, it would not have made the same type of shockwave that will come if they top the Tigers.

And, for Florida State fans in attendance, a win would mark FSU’s biggest at Doak Campbell Stadium since at least 2014, when it beat fifth-ranked Notre Dame.

The Seminoles have two home wins against teams ranked No. 2 or better – over No. 1 Florida in 1996 and No. 2 Miami in 1989.

Granted, those FSU teams were highly ranked and in the midst of championship-caliber seasons of their own.

The goal, Taggart said when he was hired, is to get back to that standard. And even he knows that, regardless of what happens Saturday, the Seminoles will have travel a lengthy road to get there. And that one win over Clemson, satisfying as it would be, won’t immediately place the Seminoles back at the top of the mountain.

Still, it’d be a fine place to start the climb.

“They have been winning,” Taggart said. “We’ve got to win. Bottom line is we’ve got to recruit and (we’ve) got to win.”

Odds and Ends

  • FSU is 20-11 all-time against Clemson, which includes a 17-9 mark as ACC opponents and a 16-3 record against the Tigers at Doak Campbell Stadium. The two programs have each won five of the last 10 meetings.
  • Florida State is set to embark on the toughest remaining schedule in the country. FSU’s five upcoming opponents have a combined .882 winning percentage, three are ranked in the Associated Press top 10 and two are still undefeated.
  • FSU’s run defense ranks first in the ACC with an average of 100.4 rushing yards per game allowed. The Seminoles have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, and no individual has crossed the century mark against them since Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey in 2017 – a span of 12 games.
  • The Seminoles have rallied from deficits of at least 10 points in three of their four victories this season.
  • Florida State last week limited Wake Forest to 369 yards on 104 plays. That average – 3.54 yards per play – is the lowest surrendered by a defense facing at least 100 plays in nearly eight years. (Texas A&M, 3.48 to Oklahoma in 2010)
  • Either FSU or Clemson has won the ACC Atlantic Division in every year since Swinney took over full-time in 2009. Clemson has five division titles to FSU’s four in that span.
  • The Tigers can become the first ACC to ever win four consecutive games against the Seminoles. (Miami did it prior to joining the ACC in 2004.) Clemson has also never won consecutive games in Tallahassee.

Listen In

Week 9 Interviews

Head Coach Willie Taggart

Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell

QB Deondre Francois

RB Cam Akers

CB Levonta Taylor

One Reason Why Clemson Will Win

Yeah, Florida State’s running game started to work a little bit last week, but when 132 yards is a cause for celebration, there’s an issue.

The Seminole offensive line continues to be a work in progress. It’s not great in pass protection, and it’s a nightmare at keeping defenses out of the backfield – Miami’s defensive front had a part behind the FSU line – and now it has to deal with the most talented defensive front in college football.

Willie Taggart is right; the FSU O has to deal with a dominant FSU D on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean the line is stopping anyone or getting anything going on the ground.

The Noles are averaging under three yards per carry, and last week against Wake Forest was the first time in a five game run that they averaged more than 2.7 in a game.

Florida State isn’t running the ball on Clemson.

That’s a problem, considering the Tigers are fifth in the nation in pass defense, giving up just one touchdown pass in the last five games. On the year, Clemson has held four of the seven teams it’s faced to under 100 yards through the air.

Granted, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech – run first, run only offenses – are among that group, but future NFL starter Ryan Finley and NC State were shut down to 193 yards and a dead stop last week, too.

One Reason Why Florida State Will Win

Taggert is right. This Florida State defensive line can play a little bit, too.

Miami’s defense might own the tackle for loss world, and Clemson’s defensive front isn’t far behind, but FSU leads the nation in sacks, with Brian Burns having a whale of a season cranking up nine so far.

NC State head coach Dave Doeren was right when he said Tiger QB Trevor Lawrence hasn’t been knocked on his butt enough. FSU will do that.

No, the Noles aren’t going to all of a sudden run wild, but they are getting a quietly fantastic season out of Deondre Francois, who hit Wake Forest for 353 yards and two scores last week, making it three games in the last four with 294 passing yards or more with ten scoring passes over the stretch.

The FSU defense has to be amazing, it has to hold down red hot Tiger RB Travis Etienne, and it has to keep the game alive so the offensive side can take a few chances and try to open things up.

What’s Going To Happen

Florida State really is getting better.

All of the doom and gloom from the first part of the season has gone away a bit as the offense is starting to find things that work, and the defense has been terrific considering the lack of support from the other side.

But Clemson is humming at just the right time.

Destroying Wake Forest isn’t that bit a deal, but it was a nice bounceback after the Syracuse scare, and the two weeks off before dealing with NC State seemed to have rejuvenated everyone.

FSU’s defense will keep this from getting out of hand early on with Clemson pulling out in front at the half.  FSU will get a key stop late in the game that leads to the eventual winning score and the student section will erupt in a blaze of glory when the game clock finally hits zero.

Fearless Prediction & Line

Florida State 27, Clemson 21
Line: Clemson -16.5, o/u: 51


Date: Saturday, October 27
Game Time: 12:00 ET
Venue: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL
Network: ABC

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