Trevor Lawrence set to return as Tigers eye sixth straight win over Florida State
Editor's note: On Saturday morning, the ACC announced that the scheduled game between Clemson and Florida State had been postponed following "this morning's game conference call at which time both teams’ medical personnel were unable to mutually agree on moving forward with the game," according to a statement from the conference.
Since 2011, the winner of the annual contest between Clemson and Florida State has gone on to win the ACC each year. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, the rivalry has been dominated by the Tigers in recent years.
FSU dropped hard-fought contests against the Tigers in 2015, 2016, and 2017, but over the last two seasons, it has been complete domination. Clemson has outscored FSU 104-24 over the last two meetings. That includes a 59-10 victory over the Seminoles in Clemson's last visit to Tallahassee two years ago. In that contest, the Tigers scored more points than any ACC visitor to Doak Campbell Stadium ever and handed FSU its largest margin of defeat in a conference contest.
Under first-year head coach Mike Norvell, things have not gotten better for Florida State. The Seminoles are off to a 2-6 start and already assured of a third straight losing season. No. 4 Clemson had its 29-game ACC winning streak snapped last time out against Notre Dame. The Tigers have had two weeks to prepare to try to beat FSU for a sixth straight time.
No. 4 Clemson at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -35
When Clemson Has the Ball
Clemson has scored at least 34 points in every game this season and ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense. Although the Tigers hardly missed a beat with D.J. Uiagalelei behind center the last two games, they will be thrilled to get Trevor Lawrence back after he missed two games following a positive COVID-19 test. A projected top-three pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence has eight total touchdowns over his prior two contests against the Seminoles.
At the skill positions, Clemson is absolutely loaded. Travis Etienne, a senior running back, became the ACC's all-time leading rusher earlier this season and has the ability to make plays in the passing game as well. Etienne has 634 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground this season. He's also second on the team with 491 receiving yards. The Tigers have six different players who have caught multiple touchdowns. Leading receiver Amari Rogers ranks second in the ACC with 720 yards and third with six touchdown grabs.
Florida State has been abysmal defensively so far this season. Hyped in the offseason as one of the best defensive lines in all of college football, the Seminoles rank dead last in the ACC in sacks with just 10 in eight games. To make matters worse, FSU will be without defensive tackle Marvin Wilson for the remainder of the year. The lack of a pass rush has killed FSU in the secondary.
FSU finally got last season's leading tackler Hamsah Nasirildeen back in last week's 38-22 loss at NC State. The safety recorded more than 100 tackles last season before going down with a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale against Florida. Asante Samuel Jr. has had a solid season at cornerback for the Seminoles and leads the team with three interceptions. Linebackers Amari Gainer and Emmett Rice are the top two tacklers and have been two of the bright spots for an FSU defense that ranks next to last in the ACC in both total and scoring defense.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Who starts behind center for Florida State on Saturday is anyone's guess. The Seminoles had gotten a nice boost offensively since inserting quarterback Jordan Travis into the lineup, but Travis was unable to go in the second half of the Nov. 7 contest against Pittsburgh and did not play last week in Raleigh. In the loss to the Wolfpack, true freshman Chubba Purdy got his first career start and threw a pair of late touchdowns in the defeat. But on Wednesday, head coach Mike Norvell announced that Purdy had collarbone surgery earlier this week and will miss the rest of the season. He initially suffered the injury in August but was able to make his debut on Oct. 24 against Louisville. Norvell said Purdy was set to undergo surgery on his collarbone after the season, but it's unclear if he reinjured it or the procedure was moved up for another reason. Norvell also said that Travis returned to practice this week. If he's unable to go or gets hurt again, Tate Rodemaker is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster.
With wide receiver Tamorrion Terry opting out this season, the Seminoles' biggest playmakers are in the backfield. The three-headed monster of La'Damian Webb, Jashaun Corbin, and Lawrance Toafili — all newcomers for FSU — have combined for more than 900 rushing yards. Wide receiver Ontaria Wilson and tight end Camren McDonald have been reliable targets in the passing game.
For Florida State to keep this one interesting for any period of time, it will need to find a way to put points on the board early. In the last three meetings against the Tigers, FSU has failed to score in the first half. It will try to do so this year against a Clemson defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in yards and points allowed per game. The Seminoles have struggled against good defensive lines and that's what Clemson has with names like Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, and K.J. Henry. The Tigers rank second nationally with 30 sacks and third with 73 tackles for a loss.
There isn't much drop-off at the linebacker position or in the secondary. Linebackers Baylon Spector and Jake Venables (son of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables) are the top two tacklers for the Tigers and each can get after the quarterback (2.5 sacks each). In the secondary, safety Noah Turner leads the team with three interceptions. The Tigers held FSU to just 253 yards and forced four turnovers in last season's 45-14 victory.
The point spread itself tells the story of just how far these two programs currently are apart. Florida State is in the midst of its worst season since the mid-1970s while Clemson will likely land in a sixth straight College Football Playoff by winning out. The loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago in South Bend will likely serve as motivation for the Tigers and allow them to refocus. The Seminoles have not been competitive in recent weeks and there isn't a single area in this contest where FSU matches up favorably. With a win on Saturday, Clemson would become the first ACC team to beat Florida State three straight times at home.
Prediction: Clemson 59, Florida State 12
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.