Tomorrow is a huge matchup for ACC rivals Florida State and Clemson. What was once a huge nail bitter between two dominant schools for the better part of the past decade is now considered by most, as a guaranteed win for the Tigers.
Clemson has won four straight meetings with the most recent being 59-10 blowout in last year in Doak Campbell Stadium. Many are predicting a similar outcome as Noles are currently sitting as a 27-point underdog.
However, FSU’s has shown continued improvement week by week so far this season, and have grown a good bit from the team that blew a 23 point lead to Boise State. So this matchup has the potential to be more completive than beloved during the first few weeks on play this year.
Both teams coming off of their bye week, which is probably more beneficial for FSU, who have had two weeks of practice to prepare for their biggest competition of the season. The Noles are coming off of 2 solid wins and have some good momentum going both on offense and even more so on defense.
The biggest factors paying into the growth of FSU…first year offensive coordinator Kendal Briles maximizing his offensive talent as well recently acquired defensive analyst Jim Leavitt getting the defense to play more competently while committing less penalties.
James Blackman was announced as starter earlier this week though its likely we’ll see Alex Hornibrook get a fair share of playing time. The graduate transfer from Wisconsin has proven to keep his composer under pressure while being shiftier behind the spotty O line. However, Blackman has the stronger arm and the ability to make bigger plays. Briles and Taggart will probably sub them situationally throughout the game given the offensive needs and to keep Clemson’s solid defensive front on their toes.
Third year RB and often times lone bright spot on offense, Cam Akers will be an obvious weapon for FSU, but so far this season Clemson has held almost every star RB below their average yards per carry. FSU’s O-line, while improving, is no where near elite but they will have to create holes for Akers to allow him to dominate like he’s been doing all season to give Florida State a fighting chance. Right now, Akers ranks in the top 15 nationally with 138 all-purpose yards per game, 582 rushing yards, 9 and total touchdowns.
Even more importantly, the Seminole O-Line has got to find a way to protect their QB for the entirety of the game. Unfortunately for the Noles, Clemson has a great pash rush, and FSU has been allowing almost four sacks a game. However, the O-Line could get a slight boost this week if starting LT Jauan Williams returns from an ankle injury, but Clemson’s depth up front will challenge FSU’s line for the entirety of the contest.
Slightly in FSU’s favor is that Trevor Lawrence has been in a bit of a slump compared to his freshman year performance, but FSU’s secondary hasn’t been great at defending the pass generally this season, though they did show a lot of improvement against NC state. With Janarius Robinson out for the first half, the Noles will have to find a way to replace the pressure he’s been putting on their opponent’s QBs.
I believe there is a way for FSU to keep it interesting if they can pull their weapons together. They have the talent to compete with the tigers, but will it be utilized properly? It’s likely that this game will still be a mark in the Tiger’s win column, but it doesn’t have to resemble at all the 49 point blowout that occurred in Tallahassee a year ago.
Fortunately for FSU head coach Willie Taggart,he’s heading into this game with some more breathing room, as many have already written it off as a loss before the season even began. Unlike the high stakes and backlash that came with the Boise State and Virginia losses, and even more so from the near loss to ULM, Taggart will be under significantly less pressure on Saturday being the obvious underdog. This could be the game where we see him pull out some of the trick plays he was so known for during his time in Tampa with USF.
In his press conference earlier this week, there was a noticeable energy to him when talking about the opportunity that his team is presented with on Saturday.
“Really excited…Another opportunity to get on the field and compete, and not only get to compete, we get to compete against the defending national champions this week. Go to their place, and (it’s) one unbelievable opportunity for our football team. I know our guys are practicing hard, practicing well, and getting ready to take on a great challenge.”
He concluded with “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Clemson is the man, and again, we understand the challenge but we look forward to it.”
A challenge only a handful of teams get the opportunity to do… to go against the reigning national champion in their house.
Taggart not revealing FSU QB plan for Wake Forrest
FSU head coach Willie Taggart has been pretty upfront about the quarterback situation in Tallahassee, since officially naming James Blackman as the starter before their season opener. However he’s keeping his decision a little closer to the vest this week.
Wether it’s been an intentional move or simply out of desperation, or likely both, Taggart has found himself employing a two quarterback system after starter James Blackman hurt his knee midway through the Louisville game in Week 4. Alex Hornibrook finished the game and brought home the first semi good-looking win for the Noles. The graduate transfer from Wisconsin started the following week against NC state in what was arguably, the Seminoles best game of the season.
Then, prior to this past weekends demolition against Clemson, Taggart named Blackman as starter but explained that Hornibrook would see substantial playing time as well. On Saturday, he did just that, but it proved to be more of a hinderance than beneficial as the offense struggled to get anything going through two and a half quarters.
Though his decision to play both QBs was likely in an effort to give the Noles an edge against the Tiger’s powerhouse of a defensive line, the constant switching didn’t allow either quarterback to get into any sort of a rhythm and only added to the problems that the team is having.
On Thursday, Taggart gave his final thoughts about their upcoming game against Wake Forrest in which they are 2.5 point underdogs. And unlike last week, he gave no indication on who fans can expect to see under center.
Willie Taggart says we’ll find out what they’re going to do at QB on Saturday. Won’t comment on starter or whether it will be a two-QB system.
— Warchant.com (@Warchant) October 17, 2019
When asked if Blackman will be his guy, he said “You’ll see Saturday.” That was followed up by a question asking if he was planning on using both QB’s, to which he echoed his previous response, “You’ll see Saturday.”
Right now, Taggart is heading into crunch time to try and constitute this 2019 season as rebuilding year.
This past Saturday in Clemson was certainly disappointing because FSU seemed to have more offensive promise than last year, however, that game was not a great way to get a pulse of where the team is at.
It’ll be how they play in upcoming teams on the schedule like Wake Forest, Syracuse, Miami and Boston College to see if the program is truly in the dumps. If they cant recover and compete with those teams to pull out an 8-4 record for the season, it’s going to be hard for Taggart to convince his critics that he’s getting the program back on an upward trajectory.
FSU falls badly to Clemson again
It was a game where both FSU’s offense and defense would have to put together their best performance of the season for an entire game to remotely have a chance against the reigning national champions. But in an unsurprising series of events, FSU came up extremely short on both ends, as the Tigers rolled 45-14.
In a snapshot, the offense was unable to cross the 50 yard line until late in the third quarter, and the defense, who’ve prided themselves on being able to stop the run, allowed Clemson (6-0, 4-0 in ACC) to rush for 306 yards with an of average of 5.9 yards per carry, let alone put any pressure on Trevor Lawrence.
The game started off on a rough note as FSU (3-3, 2-2 in the ACC) allowed Clemson to steamroll down to their 5 yard line in 2 minutes. After a near goal line stand, Lawrence found Travis Etienne on a 4th and 1 for a TD. This was only a preview as to what was to come for the remainder of the half as the Tigers took a dominating 28-0 lead.
In the second half, FSU allowed for another 14 unanswered points, falling behind 42-0. The Noles were on the verge of a shutout until Alex Hornibrook connected with Tamorrion Terry across the middle, who ran it into the end zone from 64 yards out.
After a field goal by Clemson, Florida State got their second score of the game in the final minutes of the game when Khalan Laborn ran for a 40-yard touchdown to bring the score to 45-14.
FSU announced James Blackman as starter earlier in the week, but playing time was split evenly between him and Hornibrook, who both struggled to garner any sort of passing game. Blackman completed 8 of 20 passes for 60 yards with two interceptions. Hornibrook was 8 of 12 for 84 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Granted, both guys were under a ton of pressure from Clemson’s D-Line who completely outmatched the Seminole O-Line, but both cracked under pressure. And worse, Clemsons solid defensive front managed to keep Cam Akers silent, as he totaled just 34 yards on nine carries.
When you get blown out by a conference rival, there isn’t much, if anything, to celebrate and it’s certainly hard to get excited about a moral victory. However, the one positive take FSU’s head coach, Willie Taggart, can take from the game is that his team did not quit, which is something he can’t say about their blowout at home last season.
“I thought our guys fought until the end and I was pleased to see that. Our guys kept fighting and kept trying to make plays and that’s what you want to see out of your football team.”
He added, “We didn’t quit. You won’t see this football team quit. You’ll see this football team fight in every single game. Yeah, we didn’t play well, but our guys didn’t quit—they fought until the end.”
He also seemed confident in a bounce back next week in their matchup on the road with Wake Forrest.
“I told our guys afterwards, I love the way they fought through the game and we can’t let this one game cause us to lose two games…we got to get back to work. I know they will. I know they’ll fight back and get back next week.”
While an upset this game was pretty much off the table for most, it did just turned out to be another harsh reminder of just how far this once powerhouse school has fallen from the ranks.
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