Florida State travels to Death Valley this weekend to face a Clemson team that is ranked #1 in the country in the first edition of the playoff rankings. Clemson has been one of the most dominant teams in college football so far and have one of the best resumes out there. They have the single best win with a victory over #5 Notre Dame at home and crushed Miami 58-0 in a game that caused Miami to fire Al Golden. Here’s what you need to know about the #1 team in the country:
Deshaun Watson is scary good: Florida State fans are familiar with Deshaun Watson as he almost beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee as a true freshman last year. After that game, we all took a step back and said, “Okay, this guy is going to be a problem moving forward.” Florida State squeaked out a win last year, but this year Deshaun Watson is healthy and playing at a Heisman caliber level. Clemson’s offense started off slow, but in the last three games Watson has 12 touchdowns and only 2 turnovers. He has the Clemson offense humming and they’re averaging 485.1 yards per game, good for 19th in the country. The S&P+ rankings have Clemson’s offense as 9th overall in the country and most of this is due to the excellent play of Watson. Clemson lost their star receiver Mike Williams early on in the season, but sophomore Artavis Scott and freshman Deon Cain have stepped up to fill his void. In short, Deshaun Watson is very, very good and certainly could bolster his Heisman campaign with this game.
They have a true freshman at left tackle: Much like Florida State last year, Clemson is trotting out a highly touted freshman at left tackle: Mitch Hyatt. Hyatt was a five-star recruit, the 22nd overall player in the country and the #2 tackle behind Florida freshman Martez Ivey per the 247 Composite rankings. However, Hyatt was arguably the most college-ready tackle in the country and competed for playing time right away. Clemson had their previous left tackle, Isaiah Battle, depart for the supplemental NFL draft in the offseason so Hyatt was forced into action from day one. Hyatt has thrived so far and has displayed an impressive set of power and skill so far this season. However, he is still a freshman and is prone to freshman mistakes that Florida State can take advantage of. Ironically, he will be lined up against freshman defensive end Josh Sweat, whom he faced off against in the 2014 Nike Opening in the clip below. This freshman versus freshman battle will be one of the key matchups in the game.
Shaq Lawson is a bad man: The Tigers lost star defensive end Vic Beasley in the offseason, but what do they do? They replace him with Shaq Lawson, a 6-3, 270 pound defensive end who is disruptive, explosive and, frankly, a monster on the field. After two seasons of backup duty, Lawson is having a career season that has NFL draft scouts turning their heads. So far this season, Lawson has racked up 6.5 sacks and has been a major force on the Clemson defensive line that has been better than advertised. Shaq Lawson is going to be a major problem for Florida State on Saturday because the Seminoles will be trotting out a very inexperienced offensive line. For comparison, Lawson went up against Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley, widely considered to be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft, and won most of his matchups against Stanley. How does that fare for Brock Ruble, Florida State’s right tackle that is young, thin and inexperienced? If Clemson lines Lawson up over Ruble, Florida State needs to put a back or tight end on the right side because, frankly, it could get ugly fast.
Mackensie Alexander is the most underrated player in the nation: Last year, Rashad Greene got the better of Mackensie Alexander when he burned the cornerback on a long touchdown for Florida State’s only passing touchdown. Alexander fell down on the route, which allowed Greene to break free. In reality however, Alexander was actually doing a good job of containing Greene throughout the night. This year, the redshirt sophomore cornerback has stepped up his play and is definitely on of the top five cornerbacks in the nation. He has only allowed 6 completions all year and is playing himself into NFL Draft contention. This year, he will likely be lined up against Travis Rudolph, who had himself a career game last week against Syracuse. This matchup will be key for whoever starts at quarterback for Florida State. If Alexander can lock down Rudolph, it will make Golson/Maguire’s job that much harder.
Clemson’s defense is experienced: This offseason, Clemson lost a ton of player on the defensive side of the ball and many expected the Tigers to take a step back on defense. However, the Tigers have bounced back nicely and have one of the best defenses in the country. Why? Because each starter on the defensive side of the ball for the Tigers has at least three years in the system. The Tigers haven’t replaced their losses with young freshman, they’ve replaced them will players that have at least three years in the system and who have played in many games in their careers. Shaq Lawson is the big name on defense, but linebacker Ben Boulware, defensive end Kevin Dodd, and safety Jayron Kearse are other names that have played excellent so far this season. Clemson’s defense is big, mean and playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Clemson is very good and deserving of the #1 ranking by the playoff committee. They beat Notre Dame, annihilated Miami and trounced a Boston College team that gave Florida State fits. The Seminoles are a 12.5-point underdog at the time of writing and that line is very fair. Clemson could easily win this game by two or more touchdowns. This will be the toughest game Florida State will play all year and a game that has defined the ACC Championship for the past couple of years. If Florida State falls at Clemson, they have no shot at a four time repeat as ACC champs. On the flip side, a win for the Tigers will only serve to boost their resume and playoff hopes.