When Coach Dabo Swinney publicly pondered which Florida State team he’d face this weekend in Clemson’s Death Valley, the Greenville (SC) News answered, “Odds are favorable that the Tigers will get the same Seminoles that have floundered to a 3-5 record and put a 35-year bowl streak in jeopardy.” Ouch! The truth hurts. Death Valley is a difficult place to play in and harder to win in. The hostile environment will test this floundering Florida State team and so will the Tigers.
A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
Clemson is ranked 13th in total defense, allowing only 4.5 yards per play and 305.2 yards per game over nine games this season. Where FSU’s strength has been its running game, Clemson ranks 20th overall, allowing just a tick under 123 yards per game. The challenge for Cam Akers and Co. will be overcoming nine players “in the box” to stop our rushing attack. Expect Clemson to play close to the line of scrimmage, challenging FSU to stretch them with mid-range to long passes.
The key, as always, will be the Offensive Line. Will they come to play as a unit? Will they open lanes for Akers or give Blackman time to find open receivers?
Clemson’s Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables is a master at bringing pressure. He’ll not only load the box with nine players, he’ll bring them on run blitzes to close any gaps and catch Akers and Rasul in the backfield. He’ll bring linebackers and safeties on blitzes because if he’s studied any film this season, he knows it takes multiple guys to bring Akers to the ground. That same pressure will be applied to Blackman on passing downs. Venables loves to bring multiple blitzes and move guys around so the young QB won’t know where they are coming from. Will the O-line be able cope with as many as seven guys coming on a blitz? Will Blackman read it properly and make lightning quick decisions?
It’ll be Clemson’s defense that sets the tone early. If they feast on our inconsistent O-line, it’ll be a long day for FSU. The only saving grace is if Jimbo adjusts his playcalling to take advantage of Clemson’s speed and pressure by mixing in lots of play-action and allowing Blackman to throw downfield. Short of that, it’ll be on Akers to find the tiniest of creases and display more Cook-like bursts, as he did last week.
If Clemson gets an early lead and makes us one dimensional, by shutting down the run, we’re toast. They rank 21st in passing yards allowed, so it won’t be easy for Blackman to go downfield unless we have success running the ball and setting up play-action opportunities. The offensive line and the running backs will be the key. Secondly, Blackman’s ability to identify blitzes and take advantage of favorable matchups will help.
Jimbo can’t give up on the run too early, as he’s prone to do. He’s seen what Akers can do in very tight spaces. He needs to be creative with the playcalling, using misdirection and Clemson’s speed against them. He should use playaction on early downs when Venables stacks the box, keying on Akers. He should leave Akers and Rasul in to pick up blitzing linebackers, corners and safeties, then release them to give Blackman both time and outlet receivers. Last week, we saw him effectively move the pocket to give Blackman time and utilize his mobility. That may not work against this defense. We don’t need to lose another quarterback. Let’s go max protect, misdirect and playaction.
None of that may matter, as it appears FSU will be outmatched from the outset. While Blackman shows flashes of what he’ll one day become, he makes plenty of freshman mistakes. Jimbo needs to trust his arm for the long throws, but give him plenty of opportunities to hand the ball off. Put the offense more on Akers shoulders and keep Blackman from hitting the turf so often. Roll the dice with some more aggressive playcalling and just see what happens.
Death Valley will test Jimbo’s resolve. It’ll show us if this team will rise to the challenge and play with some heart and tenacity for four quarters. This writer agrees with the odds makers that it may not be close.