8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Florida State -14.5
The only matchup today to feature ranked teams, the 22nd-ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Tallahassee to face the top-ranked, yet shorthanded, defending National Champion Florida State Seminoles. Of course, when these teams met last season, it was billed as must-see TV, as both teams were ranked in the Top 5, but in the end it turned into a rout, as the Seminoles stormed into Memorial Stadium and pounded the the Tigers to the tune of 51-14. However, this time around many of familiar faces will be missing, including former Clemson greats Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, but most notably the reigning Heisman-winner Jameis Winston. The Sophomore Quarterback has seemingly been mired in controversy throughout his brief stay in Tallahassee, with a number of incidents staining his often-stellar play on the field. Most recently, Winston reportedly stood atop a table on campus and shouted obscenities to another female student. Call it what you want, but it seems that Jimbo Fisher has had enough as he has chosen to not only suspend his star QB for the first half of tonight’s game, which was the original punishment, but withhold him from the contest in it’s entirety.
So what does that mean for the mighty Seminoles (2-0, 0-0 in ACC), who in this brave new post-BCS world are looking to make a case to be a part of the College Football Playoff? The answer, folks, is that it makes them vulnerable. With only a pair of games in the books at this point, Fisher’s kids don’t quite resemble the dominant group they were in 2013; un-ranked Oklahoma State gave them everything they could handle on a neutral field, posting 364 yards of offense, including 161 on the ground, in a 37-31 near upset. In that meeting, Winston struggled, completing just 25-of-40 passes for 370 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, but did have a memorable 28-yard scamper in the second half for a score. Perhaps it was a case of nerves, or maybe it was just a case of trying to get in sync with new receivers, but didn’t quite look himself. But hey, none of that matters today, as backup passer Sean Maguire gets the nod under center to replace Winston, and the sizable amount of pressure to keep Florida State from falling from the ranks of the unbeaten and out of the Playoff Picture. To say that the Sophomore is seldom-used would be a bit of an understatement; Maguire has seen action in five games throughout his career thus far, completing 16-of-26 passes for 134 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions. Whether or not the unheralded recruit is ready for a game of this magnitude is anyone’s guess, but Fisher has expressed enough confidence in him simply by choosing to sit Winston, which must count for something.
Thankfully, Maguire will have a considerable degree of support from both a talented offense and vicious defense as he looks to keep the Seminoles’ title defense unblemished. The three-headed monster of Karlos Williams, Dalvin Cook, and Mario Pender have spearheaded a rushing attack that has averaged 158.0 yards per game on a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. Williams, leads the trio with 132 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, with another 51 yards attributed to seven receptions. Tight End Nick O’Leary is among the nation’s best at his position, hauling in eight passes for 79 yards and a score, while Rashad Greene has been by far and away the most prolific member of the Receiving Corps thus far, with 283 yards and a touchdown on fifteen catches. Defensively, Fisher’s outfit is excellent, allowing an average of 21.5 points (50th overall) on 343.0 yards, including a mere 137.5 through the air. Florida State has been particularly tough on opposing Quarterbacks, permitting them to complete just 47.5% of their attempts, or in other words just 10.0 passes per game. However, they’ve shown some holes against the run, where opponents have churned out 205.0 yards on the ground at 4.2 yards per clip. This has hampered them on Third Down; the ‘Noles rank 199th nationally in Third Down Defense, a direct reflection of team’s being able to run the ball and keep the down and distance manageable. Even The Citadel rushed 56 times for 250 yards against them, a clear sign that opposing offenses are looking to keep Winston and Co. off the field and control possession.
Meanwhile, revenge should be all that is on the minds of the Clemson Tigers (1-1, 0-0 in ACC), who look to avenge their worst home loss since this series began back in 1970. Last October, 19th, the Tigers were humbled before a National Television Audience, as they were outscored by 37 points, outgained by 239 yards, allowed seven passes of 20 yards or more to be completed, and committed four turnovers. In just about every respect, it was ugly. However, now they’ve been gifted the opportunity to return the favor as the Defending Champions have suspended their Heisman-winning Quarterback, opting to replace him with an inexperienced neophyte. You can bet that that is precisely the angle that Dabo Swinney is playing in the Clemson lockerroom, for revenge is not the only thing at stake here, getting a leg up on the Seminoles in the ACC Atlantic Division Standings is as well.
Unfortunately, the Tigers began their latest campaign on the wrong foot, as the sixth-ranked Georgia dispatched them with ease 45-21. It was disappointing loss for Swinney and Co. who led the Bulldogs 21-14 in the Second Quarter before the train fell off the tracks. All in all the offense struggled mightily, amassing just 291 total yards, with starting Quarterback Cole Stoudt mustering just 130 yards and an interception on a dreadful 15-of-28 passing. Defensively, a unit that returns seven starters from last season was gashed for 459 yards, with a whopping 328 coming via the rush (Todd Gurley). It was indeed a wake-up call for Clemson, who did begin the season ranked sixteenth in the country. A week later they took out their frustrations on a hapless South Carolina State team, annihilating them 73-7; the hosts racked up 735 yards and 32 First Downs, with 467 of that total coming through the air. Stoudt was joined by Freshman Deshaun Watson, who caught fire in relief of his teammate, tossing three touchdowns, while completing 8-of-9 passes for 154 yards. It remains to be seen just how long, Swinney plans to employ both Quarterbacks, but it may not be a bad thing to have options against the Seminoles’ defense. Tailbacks DJ Howard and CJ Davidson will be counted on to keep that unit honest, so that whomever is under center can make plays. Freshman Receiver Artavis Scott has emerged as a top target in the passing game, hauling in eight balls for 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Defensively, Clemson should be out for blood against a team that absolutely embarrassed them nearly a year ago. As stated earlier, there are seven starters returning from last year’s unit, chief among them hybrid Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Vic Beasley. The All-American pass rusher was a terror on the edge in 2013, recording 41 tackles, 23.0 of which were for loss, and another 13.0 that were sacks. The senior also defended six passes and forced four fumbles. Thus far, Beasley has registered a pair of sacks, but would no doubt love to wreck havoc in Tallahassee, even if the aforementioned Winston will not be playing; like his team in general, Beasley was largely invisible against Florida State last season, managing to produce a pair of tackles , but none for loss, and no sacks. Clemson’s defense has allowed 26.0 points (72nd overall) on 251.0 total yards this season, with 84.0 coming versus the pass and another 167.0 versus the rush. The Tigers pass defense has been wicked, for they have yet to permit a passing touchdown this season. Defensive Backs Jayron Kearse and Robert Smith are playmakers, while Shaq Lawson joins Beasley on Defensive Line, providing Swinney with a stellar pair of bookend pass rushers.