In what certainly looks to be the biggest game of the season for both teams and perhaps the biggest in the history of the ACC, fifth-ranked Florida State will travel to Death Valley on Saturday to take on third-ranked Clemson. The Seminoles and Tigers come into the contest with a combined record of 11-0 as Saturday’s game pits top 5 teams against one another for the first time this season.
Florida State is coming off of a bye after a 63-0 beating of a ranked Maryland team. The Seminoles have a potent offense that ranks fourth nationally in yards-per-game and a defense that has given up the third fewest points in the country.
Much of the talk this season for Florida State has centered around freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston has passed for 1,441 yards this season and 17 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. Winston ranks in the top five nationally in passer rating, yards-per-attempt, touchdown passes and completion percentage.
Winston has a strong corps of talent around him, including running back Devonta Freeman, who is on pace to become the first Seminole to rush for 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn did so in 1996. Freeman leads a three-headed monster at tailback that includes juniors James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams. The receiving corps is also a strong one as both senior Kenny Shaw and junior Rashad Greene are on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark, something no Florida State wideout has done since Anquan Boldin in 2002.
Clemson is equally as potent offensively with senior quarterback Tajh Boyd looking to further his case for the Heisman Trophy. Like Winston, Boyd has thrown just two interceptions on the season and has 20 total touchdowns. Clemson is coming off of a 496-yard offensive effort against Boston College, but had to rally for a 24-14 win with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.
Boyd’s biggest weapon is, without a doubt, junior receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins has 36 receptions this season for 582 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging better than 16 yards-per-catch. Meanwhile, running back Roderick McDowell will carry the Clemson ground attack. McDowell leads the Tigers with 385 rushing yards while averaging nearly five yards-per-carry.
Defensively for the Tigers, Vic Beasley, a defensive end, leads the ACC and the country with nine sacks. Beasley is the heart and soul of a Tigers’ defense that is much improved from a season ago. Clemson ranks 10th in the country yielding just over 16 points-per-game and since the opener against Georgia, the Tigers have not allowed more than 14 points in any contest.
For Florida State, the play of the secondary will be key. Senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner will likely be tasked with trying to slow down Watkins. His last time out, Joyner held Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, also one of the more talented receivers in the ACC, to just two catches for 24 yards. Freshman Jalen Ramsey has joined junior Terrence Brooks at the safety position replacing Tyler Hunter, who is out for the season with a neck injury. Ramsey will play a major role in preventing big plays over the top, something Clemson can certainly make with a talented group of wide receivers that includes Watkins, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant.
The annual matchup between the Tigers and the Seminoles has proven to be a big one as the last four winners have gone on to represent the Atlantic division in the ACC title game. Last season, FSU topped Clemson 49-37 in Tallahassee to hand the Tigers their only conference loss of the season while Florida State went on to win its first ACC crown in seven years. Florida State is just 1-8 in its last nine games against top 3 teams with a 27-17 victory over second-ranked Boston College in 2007 the exception. Clemson held off Florida State 35-30 in the Seminoles’ last visit to Death Valley two years ago in what would be the first career start at quarterback for FSU freshman Clint Trickett.
The home team has won the last six games in the series and 10 of the last 11. The last road team to win was Clemson in 2006 by a score of 27-20 on a late touchdown from running back James Davis. Florida State has not won at Clemson since 2001 when the Seminoles defeated the Tigers 41-27 behind 160 yards rushing from running back Greg Jones and a 369-yard passing, four-touchdown effort from freshman quarterback Chris Rix. Since then, Clemson is the only current ACC team that Florida State does not have a road victory against.
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