Florida State’s ACC title defense begins on Saturday night, as the Seminoles host Clemson in one of the conference’s emerging rivalries. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team opened the year with a closer-than-expected win over Oklahoma State and cruised to an easy win over Citadel in Week 2.
A win over Clemson would give Florida State an early commanding lead in the Atlantic Division, and allow Fisher and his team to cross one of the few hurdles on a schedule that is considered one of the most favorable in the nation.
Fisher would prefer the focus of Week 4 to be strictly on Clemson-Florida State, but instead, he’s dealing with a controversy surrounding quarterback Jameis Winston. The sophomore was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game due to inappropriate comments made on campus earlier in the week. And on Friday night, the defending heisman winner was suspended for the entire game. Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in place of Winston, but the Seminoles are still a 16-point favorite over the Tigers.
Florida State has won three out of the last four meetings against Clemson. The Tigers have not won in Tallahassee since 2006.
Clemson at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Sean Maguire's Debut
With Jameis Winston suspended for the entire game, how will coach Jimbo Fisher approach Sean Maguire’s first start? Will the Seminoles attempt to use up as much clock as possible in order to limit Clemson’s opportunities without Winston in the lineup? Or will Fisher allow Maguire to have the full playbook at his disposal? Maguire has been solid in limited action (16 of 26 for 144 yards and two scores), but this is the biggest test of his career. Luckily for Maguire, he has one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his disposal. Karlos Williams and Mario Pender headline a deep backfield, receiver Rashad Greene is averaging 18.9 yards per reception, and the offensive line features five senior starters. Maguire doesn’t need to win this game on his own, as simply managing the offense and limiting mistakes would be enough for Florida State.
2. Florida State’s Defense
Without Winston, every other unit on Florida State’s team has to step up. The defense held an explosive Clemson offense to just 14 points last year, and the Tigers will have their hands full with the Seminoles once again. Coordinator Chad Morris is breaking in a new quarterback (Cole Stoudt), has a committee of options at running back, and no longer has Sammy Watkins or Martavis Bryant at receiver. But Morris is one of the nation’s best play-callers, and Clemson is averaging 6.1 yards per play through two contests. Stoudt threw for 302 yards against South Carolina State but struggled against Georgia (16 of 29, 144 yards). Freshman Deshaun Watson will also see time under center and could see more snaps if Stoudt struggles early. Freshman Artavis Scott is emerging as one of the top targets at receiver, while four running backs have at least 10 carries in 2014. Florida State’s defense is under the direction of a new coordinator (Charles Kelly), but this unit returns a good chunk of its core from last year’s title team. Can Clemson’s offense pickup where it left off against South Carolina State? Or is this unit closer to the offense that struggled to get on track against Georgia? Defensive tackle was arguably the biggest concern for the Seminoles this preseason, and injuries hit the position hard against Citadel. However, all signs point to Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample playing on Saturday night, which is bad news for a suspect Clemson offensive line.
3. Florida State’s OL vs. Clemson’s DL
This is a matchup of strength versus strength. Florida State’s line features five senior starters, while Clemson’s starting four on the defensive front is also comprised of seniors. In last year’s matchup, the Tigers recorded six tackles for a loss and three sacks against the Seminoles. If Clemson wants to pull off the upset, it needs to up those totals in 2014 and limit the pressure on its secondary. Winston torched the Tigers for 444 yards last year, and regardless of who is under center for Florida State, a similar theme could play out if end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett don’t win the battle at the point of attack.
Will Florida State be aggressive or play it safe with Maguire under center? As long as Maguire doesn’t make a huge mistake and put the Seminoles in a deficit, the Seminoles should cruise in the second half to a convincing win. Clemson has the necessary talent to pull an upset but several factors have to go its way. The Tigers were a better team last year and was easily handled by the Seminoles in Death Valley. Without Winston, the door is open for Clemson to hang around in this game. Even with Maguire making his first start, Florida State has simply too much talent to lose on Saturday night.