Clemson overcame a miserable offensive performance last week to steal a one-point win from NC State, and they will likely need another defense-heavy effort take down Florida State this weekend. Andre Ellington is still out for the Tigers, but Christian Ponder is also a gametime decision for the Seminoles. The Tigers are still in the Atlantic Division race, thanks to the impotence of the division as a whole, but a loss this week would eliminate them from contention. Let's see how these two teams stack up.
Clemson offense vs. Florida State defense
The Clemson offense continued to stall in the red zone in the first half against NC State, but they came around in time to find the end zone twice in the comeback win. They'll need to keep that going and capitalize on any chances they get this week. Kyle Parker responded well to being benched last game, coming back to lead Clemson to the win and finding Nuke Hopkins for a touchdown in the process. He will need to be in top form for this game, as the passing game is where the Tigers need to make hay against the Florida State defense. Jamie Harper punched in a touchdown last week but was largely ineffective in the game, rushing 25 times for just 60 yards. He and Roderick McDowell will have to play better in order to keep the Seminole defense honest. Hopkins, Marquan Jones, and Bryce McNeal all had decent games last week, and Jaron Brown returns from injury to hopefully give the Tigers a downfield threat. Florida State is allowing under 20 points per game this season, but has given up 32.5 per game in their last two contests. The Noles' lead the country in sacks, thanks largely to defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who is second only to the Tigers' Da'Quan Bowers in the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss. The secondary is young and susceptible to big plays if Clemson's offensive line can keep Jenkins and Markus White out of Parker's face. Linebackers Nigel Bradham and Kendall Smith are Florida State's top two tacklers with 63 and 62, respectively.
Key matchup: Clemson offensive line vs. Florida State defensive line
No question about this one. Mickey Andrews' defense has a knack for pressuring the quarterback, and if the Clemson passing game is going to be effective, Kyle Parker is going to need time. Chris Hairston and Landon Walker will have to keep Jenkins and White at bay if the Tigers are going to win.
Advantage: Florida State
Florida State offense vs. Clemson defense
Quarterback Christian Ponder's status is in question for this game, but backup E.J. Manuel was 3-1 as a starter last year, so he's no slouch. Manuel is perhaps even more mobile than Ponder, which could give the Tigers problems. The Seminoles have three running backs with at least 400 yards, and two of them average more than seven yards a carry. Speedy sophomore Chris Thompson is probably the best of the bunch and has touchdown runs of 83 and 90 yards this year. Clemson can't afford to let him break free for the big play on Saturday. Willie Haulstead, Bert Reed, and Taiwan Easterling each have at least 400 yards receiving on the year. Haulstead is Ponder's biggest target at 6-foot-3 and has five touchdowns on the year. Clemson's defense was outstanding against NC State and really appears to be hitting its stride. Da'Quan Bowers continued his torrid sack/tackle for loss pace, and the rest of the defensive line is supporting him nicely. The linebackers are gradually improving and are actually starting to make some plays. DeAndre McDaniel had a huge interception in Clemson's own end zone last week and appears to be returning to 2009 form. The rest of the secondary will have to play up to its potential as well to stop the Noles' passing attack on Saturday.
Key matchup: Florida State receivers vs. Clemson secondary
The Florida State receiving corps has all the pieces you want in a complete and versatile passing game, and Christian Ponder knows how to use his weapons. Assuming Ponder plays, Clemson's cornerbacks will have to be in top form to shut off these receivers so McDaniel and Rashard Hall can run around and make plays.
Richard Jackson apparently wasn't the solution to the Tigers' kicking woes, and Chandler Catanzaro will return as the starter. Punter Dawson Zimmerman continues to be one of Clemson's best players, and the return game has been as good as you could hope for. Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins has been good despite missing a potential game-winner last week, and punter Shawn Powell has averaged an impressive 45.2 yards per punt. Greg Reid hasn't taken any kicks back this year, but he is always a threat to return one for a touchdown.
Clemson showed an unexpectedly inspired effort against NC State, and now they are, inexplicably, back in the ACC Atlantic race. They need a win this week to keep hope alive, but it will be tough for a team that hasn't won a road game this year. Until the Tigers can prove they can win a road game, and without Ellington, I have a hard time envisioning a Clemson win in Tallahassee. I've picked three games wrong in a row, so let's hope, for Clemson's sake, that streak goes to four.
Florida State 24 Clemson 16