After the start that Florida State got off to this season, few would have guessed that when it met Clemson, the teams would have similar records. That, however, will be the case on Saturday when the ACC Atlantic rivals meet at Memorial Stadium.
Florida State (3-4, 2-2 ACC) has won three straight games following its first 0-4 start since 1974. Clemson is just 4-3 and coming off its second ACC loss last week at Pittsburgh, 27-17. Last season marked the first time that FSU and Clemson did not meet since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. The Tigers have won five straight in the series, including the last two by a combined 80 points.
Excluding last season, the winner of the annual contest between the schools has won the ACC in every season since 2011 and the Atlantic division in each season since 2009. This will mark the first time since 2010 that neither team is ranked for the contest.
Florida State at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -9.5
When Florida State Has the Ball
Florida State's offensive fortunes have changed with the reinsertion of quarterback Jordan Travis into the starting lineup. Over the last three games, the Seminoles have averaged better than 42 points per game. In last week's 59-3 win over UMass, FSU had its highest-scoring day against an FBS opponent since the 2015 season opener against Texas State. Travis has been very efficient as a passer of late and is the bigger threat with his legs. He's rushed for more yards than any quarterback in Florida State history.
When it comes to churning out yards on the ground, however, Travis is far from alone. Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward form one of the best running back duos in the ACC. The two have combined for more than 1,100 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns, with each ranking in the top three in the conference in yards per carry. The FSU offensive line is still a work in progress, but the Seminoles rank in the middle of the pack in scoring offense (31.3 ppg, eighth). Ontaria Wilson, Andrew Parchment, and tight end Camren McDonald are the pass catchers to watch.
Clemson has been one of the bigger disappointments in the country, but that has little to do with coordinator Brent Venables' defense. The Tigers lead the ACC and rank third nationally in scoring defense (14.6 ppg). When it comes to rushing the passer, Xavier Thomas and Myles Murphy are the guys to watch for Clemson. Those two have combined for six sacks this season. From the linebacker position, James Skalski and Baylon Spector are tackling machines.
Clemson has been outstanding against the run this season but may be even better against the pass. The Tigers allow just six yards per pass attempt and boast the lowest quarterback rating allowed in the ACC. Clemson is stout in the secondary. Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. is the best cover man for the Tigers, but he's also a willing tackler. Deep in the secondary, Nolan Turner and R.J. Mickens are a solid safety tandem. Turner brings valuable experience while Mickens currently leads the team with two interceptions.
When Clemson Has the Ball
While the Clemson defense has been outstanding, the offense has been anything but. The Tigers rank dead last in the ACC in both scoring (20.0 ppg) and total (321.3 ypg) offense. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei entered the season with a lot of hype, but seven games in, he has more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four). Last week, he was pulled in favor of Taisun Phommachanh after allowing the Panthers to return an intercepted shovel pass for a touchdown. Although nothing is etched in stone, most believe that Uiagalelei will remain the starter on Saturday against the Seminoles.
Leading rusher Kobe Pace will not be able to play on Saturday as a result of a positive COVID-19 test, but Will Shipley is a valuable No. 2 at running back. Shipley leads the team with five rushing touchdowns. Both quarterbacks also are capable of helping the Tigers in the running game. Out wide, Joseph Ngata and Justyn Ross are solid. Ngata has been a big-play threat, while Ross is the reliable possession receiver. FSU has given up big plays this season, and the Tigers may need to make some through the air to win on Saturday.
Like the offense, the FSU defense has seen improvement in recent weeks. Last week marked the first time in five years that the Seminoles did not allow a touchdown. The FSU defense is largely made up of transfers and none have been better this season than defensive end Jermaine Johnson. The Georgia transfer ranks second in the ACC with 6.5 sacks. Keir Thomas, a South Carolina transfer, and Robert Cooper are both solid up front, while Amari Gainer and Kalen DeLoach have been solid tacklers at linebacker.
Following two solid performances, FSU ranks eighth in the ACC in both total (388.9 ypg) and scoring (26.4 ppg) defense. The secondary has struggled at times this season, but Jammie Robinson, another South Carolina transfer, has been huge in helping stop the run. Robinson and cornerback Jarvis Brownlee each had interceptions last week. Brownlee returned his 70 yards for FSU's first non-offensive touchdown this season. With FSU's recent success has come fewer big plays surrendered.
Clemson has struggled mightily on offense this season and despite the three losses, the Tigers have still not lost at home since 2016. Although Clemson is unranked, a victory on Saturday would be enormous for FSU as a program. Both defenses will ultimately try to put the onus on the quarterbacks to win the game with their arms. The Seminoles are playing great and could still finish strong, but head coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson are a desperate team. FSU has made great progress since the end of September, but it is not ready to pull off a win in Death Valley.
Prediction: Clemson 24, Florida State 17
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.