Clemson scored a big win over Auburn last week and vaulted into this week's Top 25. Meanwhile, Florida State expended everything it had physically and emotionally in a tough home loss to top-ranked Oklahoma. The two Atlantic Division foes face off now in Death Valley in a game that will go a long way in determining the division champion. The Seminoles beat the Tigers on a last second field goal last year in Talahassee, but they haven't won in Death Valley since 2001.
Clemson offense vs. Florida State defense
Clemson's offense broke through against Auburn, and fans finally got a dose of what Chad Morris expects out of his unit every week. The Tigers rolled up more than 600 yards of total offense, and quarterback Tajh Boyd was outstanding in racking up 386 passing yards and four touchdowns. Freshman Sammy Watkins caught two of those touchdowns and showed the nation that he is the future, and the future is now. DeAndre Hopkins and Dwayne Allen didn't miss out on the party though, as each made several catches and scored a touchdown. Andre Ellington tweaked a hamstring, but D.J. Howard filled in admirably, rushing for 86 yards on nine carries. Mike Bellamy also ran the ball adequately aside from a red-zone fumble. Clemson won't be able to run wild this week like it did against Auburn as they face a stiffer defensive test in Florida State. The Seminole defense wasn't great last year, but they returned eight starters and have been much improved in 2011. The defensive front is loaded and will be a huge challenge for the Tigers' offensive line. Brandon Jenkins and the big German Bjoern Werner are beasts on the outside, and Everett Dawkins is an All-ACC caliber defensive tackle. Nigel Bradham leads a linebacking corps that will have to contain the short passing routes and off-tackle run plays that killed Auburn. Florida State's secondary is about as good as it gets. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid are all-conference talents, and both safeties have a year of starting experience. Florida State held No. 1 Oklahoma's stout offensive attack to just 13 points through three quarters.
Key matchup: Clemson offensive line vs. Florida State defensive line
Florida State may have the best defensive line in the ACC, and while Clemson's O-line improved last week, they've still had their share of struggles. Not only will opening holes for Ellington and the running backs be important, but they will need to give Boyd some time to make the type of plays he did against Auburn.
Florida State offense vs. Clemson defense
Quarterback E.J. Manuel suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Oklahoma and was replaced by freshman Clint Trickett. It's unclear who will start this week for the Seminoles, but it's likely that Clemson may see some of both quarterbacks. Receivers Kenny Shaw and Bert Reid are injured, so whoever is in at quarterback will have limited weapons with which to work. The Seminoles have yet to establish any sort of consistent running game and are averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground. They may be able to turn it around against the Tigers, who have had an equally tough time stopping the run. Clemson has simply been a different defensive team in the second half this season. The Tigers have given up 58 first-half points in their first three games compared to just 12 total points after halftime. They have not allowed a second-half touchdown. All this still doesn't change the fact that Clemson has been attrocious defensively in the first half of games. They can't afford to blow the coverages, assignments and tackles they have so far this season against Florida State, because the Seminoles have the athletes to exploit those mistakes. If Manuel is in at quarterback, the main concern for the Clemson defensive front is to keep contain and make him beat them with his arm and not his legs. If Trickett is in, they will want to put heat on him and force him into mistakes. Rashard Hall has to play better than he did against Auburn, when he took some terrible angles that allowed big run plays. It's up to Andre Branch and Rennie Moore to get quarterback pressure.
Key matchup: Manuel vs. Clemson linebackers
Clemson fans shouldn't hold out hope that Manuel will be on the sidelines too much in this game. He is Florida State's best playmaker and can get it done through the air and on the ground. The key is to make him one-dimensional, and the dimension that Corico Hawkins, Quandon Christain and Tig Willard need to take away is the run.
Clemson's kicking game has been solid with Dawson Zimmerman booming punts and Chandler Catanzaro missing just one kick this year. The return game isn't what it has been in past seasons, but the potential for big plays is there. Florida State is very good in all facets of special teams. Dustin Hopkins can make a field goal from anywhere (as Clemson fans remember well) and Shawn Powell is an experienced and effective punter. Reid is very dangerous in the kick return game.
Advantage: Florida State
Florida State won a hard-fought game against Clemson last season and wants to make it two in a row and end its decade-long losing streak in Death Valley. This should be an exciting game between the two most talented teams in the Atlantic Division. Florida State has a lot of injury-related question marks right now, and I don't think they find the answers in this game. Don't expect a high-scoring affair like last week's Clemson-Auburn matchup, but expect Clemson to score a second straight win over a ranked opponent.
Clemson 21 Florida State 17