Clemson vs. Florida State Preview
•Clemson (5-0, 3-0) vs. Florida State (3-2, 2-1)
•ABC TV, 3:30 PM (Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Todd McShay and Molly McGrath)
•At Memorial Stadium (81,500), Clemson, SC
•Florida State holds a 20-12 lead in the series that dates to a 38-13 Florida State victory in Tallahassee in 1970.
•Clemson won last year at Florida State by a 59-10 score, the worst home margin of defeat in Florida State history.
•Clemson has beaten Florida State four consecutive games. The Tigers became the first ACC program to beat the Seminoles four in a row in conference competition with the victory last year. (Miami also accomplished the feat before both teams were in the ACC).
•While Florida State has the overall lead in the series 20-12, Clemson has won 10 of the last 16 played between the two teams since 2003.
•Clemson has won seven of the last eight games in the series at Death Valley with Florida State’s only win coming in 2013 when they won the National Championship.
*This is a battle between programs that have won three of the last six national championships and made five combined appearances in the College Football Playoffs.
•Florida State Head Coach Willie Taggert is a 1998 Western Kentucky graduate who is in his second year at Florida State. He has a record of 8-9 so far at FSU. Overall, Taggert is 55-59 and this is his 10th year as a head coach at the FBS level.
•Taggert went into the coaching profession his first year after graduation. He was an assistant at Western Kentucky from 1999-06, then became the running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-09 under Jim Harbaugh.
•Taggert was the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2010-12, at South Florida from 2013-16, at Oregon in 2017 and the last two years at Florida State. His best year took place at South Florida in 2016 when he took the Bulls to a 10-2 record.
•Dabo Swinney is in his 11th full season (12th overall including seven games as interim head coach in 2008) at Clemson and has a 121-30 (.801) record entering Saturday’s game.
•Swinney is one of nine coaches in FBS history with at least 150 games coached and an 80 percent winning percentage.
•Swinney’s record includes a 72-16 mark in ACC games and that .818 winning percentage is the best in league history.
Five Notes of Interest
•Clemson and Florida State have combined to win the Atlantic Division of the ACC every year since 2009.
•Dabo Swinney can move into first place among winningest active FBS coaches on a percentage basis with a victory over Florida State and an Arizona win over Washington. Chris Petersen of Washington is currently first, but Swinney would move ahead of him if the above scenario takes place.
•The Clemson record for receiving yards in a game against Florida State is 156 by three different players. Terry Smith had 8-156 at Florida State in 1993, Chansi Stuckey had 11-156 in 2005 and Amari Rodgers had 6-156 in 2018. Ironically, the Clemson record for rushing yards against the Seminoles is also 156. C.J. Spiller had 22-156 against FSU in Bobby Bowden’s last trip to Clemson as head coach in 2009.
•Clemson will be looking for its 750th all-time win when the Tigers face Florida State. Clemson would be the first league school to reach that mark and the 15th FBS school to do so.
•Dabo Swinney has an 11-2 record after an open date in his Clemson career, including nine of his last 10. The only loss for Swinney and the Tigers after an open date took place in 2014, a 23-17 overtime loss to #1 ranked Florida State.
Dabo Swinney on the Florida State Game
"We took Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed family time and really watched some football. I doubt many accountants take a weekend off and still do accounting. Most of the time you take a break, you take a break from what you do. But it's crazy for football.
“We are back on the ROY bus (ROY meaning Rest of Y’all behind Alabama). I went out to the shed and took the tarp off (the bus). I thought we were off of that for a while, but we are back on now (ranked second to Alabama).
“Florida State is the most talented team that we have played. All you have to do is check the recruiting rankings and see they have out-recruited us five of the last seven years.
“They are getting better. They should probably be 5-0. They had a 30-13 lead against Boise State in the third quarter and the same thing happened at Virginia. They are two or three plays away from being 5-0.
“They are running the ball a lot better. That is what they want to do. Everything goes through Cam Akers. He is a workhorse. We were probably soft against the run the last couple of games, so we have to match that physicality and mindset. Akers is a committed dude, so you better have your big-boy pants on, or he will bloody your nose. He may get some zeros, ones and twos, but then he will go for 40. They will keep giving him the ball.
“Defensively they are the biggest group we have seen. They are huge up front and have been in and out of even and odd fronts. They have changed up a little bit over the first five games. Janarius Robinson is a special player. He has the ability to pressure the quarterback.
“Turnover margin will be a factor in this game. They are +5 (11th in the nation) and we are minus one. We did not force a turnover at North Carolina. That will be a huge stat to follow in this game.
Clemson Offense vs. Florida State Defense
Clemson has had two games of under 400 yards total offense this year, something that did not happen in 2018, but the Tigers are still averaging 38 points and 486 yards per game. After five games last year Clemson averaged 38 points and 498 yards per game. Defensively, Clemson has given up just 12 points a game. Compared to the first five games last year, Clemson’s +26.0 in scoring margin is ahead of last year (21.8). And, Clemson played an FCS opponent within the first five games a year ago.
Clemson has continued to show balance offensively, averaging 222.6 a game on the ground and 263.4 in the air. Clemson has never lost a game in which it has had 200 of each category. The offensive line has allowed just four sacks this year, one of the top figures in the nation.
Lawrence has completed 84-136 passes for 1,131 yards and eight touchdown with five interceptions. His top game was a 395-yard passing day at Syracuse in a 41-6 Clemson win. He has added four rushing touchdowns this year after rushing for just one a year ago.
Travis Etienne is the top rusher for the Tigers with 462 yards and five scores. He needs just 114 rushing yards against Florida State to become the seventh Clemson running back to reach 3,000 career yards. He has 42 rushing touchdowns and 44 overall in his career. The ACC record for career touchdowns is 52 by James Connor of Pittsburgh, so that mark is in range this year.
Tee Higgins is Clemson’s top receiver with 22 catches for 505 yards and three scores. He scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 38-yard reception from Lawrence at North Carolina. He has a 23.0 yards per catch figure, which is second in the nation among players with at least 20 receptions. Justyn Ross has 18 catches for 218 yards and Amari Rodgers has 10-139. He had an 87-yard reception from Lawrence at Syracuse, the longest reception in the ACC this year.
Florida State has allowed 302 yards a game passing , 121st in the nation out of 130 teams. The Seminoles are giving up 29.6 points a game (89th) and 447 yards of total offense (109th in the nation).
Hamsah Nasirideen is the top tackler for Florida State with 33 stops, while Dontavious Jackson has 31. Marvin Wilson is also a factor on defense with 23 tackles, including three sacks. Cory Durden leads the team in sacks with 3.5.
Florida State has forced 10 turnovers, four interceptions and six fumble recoveries in five games, a big reason the Seminoles are 11th in the nation in turnover margin.
Clemson Defense vs. Florida State Offense
This week’s defense will be all-about stopping Florida State running back Cam Akers. Akers is second in the ACC in yards per game at 116.4 as he has 115 carries for 582 yards and an ACC best seven touchdowns. He leads the ACC in scoring. He has averaged nearly 20 carries per game and had 36 in one game earlier this year.
Twice Akers has been the ACC Running Back of the Week and his three 100-yard rushing games rank second to A.J. Dillon of Boston College, who will be coming to Clemson October 26. Akers will be a challenge to Clemson’s streak of not allowing a running back to gain 100-yards rushing for the last 26 games, a streak that dates to the Georgia Tech game in 2017. That is the longest active streak in the nation and longest by the Clemson program since 1980.
Clemson’s defense is led by Isaiah Simmons, perhaps the Tigers top All-America candidate so far this year. He is listed as a top 10 NFL pick by Mel Kiper. Simmons has 40 tackles to lead the team. He has added six tackles for loss, including three sacks. James Skalski is second on the club in tackles with 34 and Tanner Muse is third with 29.
Clemson ranks fourth in the nation in pass defense (fewest yards allowed), while Florida State is 16th in passing yards per game at 308. Something will have to give there. Pressuring the Florida State quarterbacks will be important. Clemson is ninth in the nation in sacks.
Florida State will use two quarterbacks on Saturday according to head coach Willie Taggert. James Blackman started the first three games of the season, but was injured. He has completed 86 passes (the same number as Lawrence) of 124 passes for 970 yards and nine touchdowns against just two interceptions. Alex Hornibrook, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin, has completed 44-60 for 57 yards and five scores against no interceptions. He has guided Florida State to conference wins over Louisville and NC State in his last two outings.
Tamorrion Terry will be a receiver Clemson will have to contend with. He has 21 catches for 384 yards and four scores. Akers is also a factor in the passing game with 15 catches for 108 yards and two scores.
•Clemson has been outstanding in many areas of special teams. That includes limiting returns. The Tigers are third in the nation in opponent kickoff return average at 12.7 and fifth in opponent punt return average at 0.0.
•Will Spiers is one of the most improved punters in the nation as his average has gone from 38.9 to 43.4. More importantly, that is also his net punting figure.
•B.T. Potter has made all 25 of his extra points, most in the ACC and is 5-8 on field goals for 38 total points, most on the Clemson team.
•Joseph Ngata has averaged 26.7 yards on his six kickoff returns and ranks fourth in the ACC.
•Florida State kicker Ricky Aguayo has made just 4-8 field goals, but is 20-20 on extra points. Punter Tommy Martin averages 41.6 yards per punt, but opponents have just 22 total punt return yards this year.
•Like Clemson, Florida State has an outstanding player in terms of kickoff returns. Keyshawn Helton averages 28.5 yards per return, just ahead of Ngata on the ACC list.