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If Florida State is to emerge victorious on Saturday, it will require a perfect game plan, great performances from top players, and a little bit of luck. The No. 2 Clemson Tigers started the season out slow, but they have hit the gas pedal over the past couple of weeks and become what many thought they would be in 2018.
The Seminoles have a tall task ahead of them. We look at four questions that the Seminoles will need to answer in order to pull off the biggest upset in over a decade.
The struggles of Florida State’s secondary in the first few weeks of the season did not bode well for later match-ups. While the Seminoles have worked on the issue and are giving up less devastating plays, Clemson will enter Doak Campbell Stadium with an incredible receiving corps. Tee Higgins has the size to punish FSU in jump ball situations, while Justyn Ross’ athleticism will need to be accounted for on every play. Add in reliable options like Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers, and the Tigers possess the scariest group of receivers that the Seminoles will see in 2018.
Saturday is going to require the best performance yet from FSU’s defensive backfield. Levonta Taylor will need to be on his A-game and Kyle Meyers will need to regain his play-making ability that he flashed early in the season. The safeties will also need to be locked in and limit their blown coverages. It would help for freshmen Asante Samuel Jr. and Anthony Lytton to play up to their potential as well.
It is not unheard of for offensive lines to over-perform in certain games. FSU did exactly that in the 2016 game against Clemson for three quarters, which allowed the Seminoles to bring it down to the wire. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, that offensive line was still a tier above this one, and this Clemson defensive line is better than the 2016 iteration. The probability of a jaw-dropping performance by FSU’s line is extremely low.
Instead, Florida State will be better served trying to game plan around the mismatches up front. We’ve seen some of these strategies already, which include more side-to-side action and quicker routes over the middle for quarterback Deondre Francois. Are there any more tricks up head coach Willie Taggart’s sleeve? Clemson’s safeties are vulnerable and might be worth attacking, if they can be forced into unfavorable situations.
Beyond that, tempo can also help strike at a defense. But that only works if a team is able to move the ball.
Deondre Francois is entering Chris Rix levels of fan sentiment. All the way down to collapsing against Miami and quickly rebounding for good performances over inferior opponents. If he truly is Rix-lite, then which Francois will show up on Saturday? Is it going to be the talented passer who can fit the ball into tight windows, or will it be the turnover-prone passer that struggles to make a single correct read on option plays?
Past results don’t bode well. When Francois is consistently pressured like he was against Virginia Tech and Miami, he is a massive liability that quickly leads to a sputtering offense and turnovers. Taggart and offensive coordinator Walt Bell have their work cut out for them when trying to get Francois into a rhythm. Again, the safeties can be exploited, but can Francois actually deliver passes which will do so?
This links back to the Francois paragraph but is not totally contained to him. Tre’ McKitty, Jacques Patrick, Nyqwan Murray, and most recently, Keith Gavin have all had crucial turnovers this season. There have been a few instances where the Seminoles are simply lucky that there weren’t more. Ball security became a focal point of the coaching staff after the first couple of games, but some players still show a carelessness with the ball.
It’s one thing for Clemson to go out there, physically dominate a team, and flex superior talent. Florida State can live with that, and it knows the process of installing brand new systems will take time. What the Seminoles cannot live with is self-inflicted wounds. FSU will need to give itself a chance against a superior team, no matter how small. Costly mistakes like certain types of turnovers, penalties, and mental errors tend to have little to do with the opponent. That is on a team’s preparation and inability to get out of its own way.
Florida State probably won’t play a perfect game against the Tigers. But the Seminoles can do themselves a favor and guarantee that they will not look back at this contest and ask themselves “what if?” over the next couple of seasons.