CLEMSON — There are few games where Clemson’s potent, explosive offense will be considered an underdog.
Saturday is one of those times.
The No.10 Tigers enter this week averaging 517.3 yards of total offense (21st nationally) and 39.6 points per game (23rd nationally). But they face an extremely difficult task in No.4 Florida State’s defense.
The Seminoles are deep and talented across the board. They’ve outscored foes 176-3, which works out to one, yes one, point per game allowed.
They’re yielding 103 yards of total offense per game, tops nationally. Same goes for their rushing defense (33.6 ypg) and passing defense (69.6 ypg).
Even though FSU faced FCS foes Murray State and Savannah State before applying a 52-0 whipping to Wake Forest, those are impressive numbers, indeed.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to pick us to win,” said Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. “At least nobody outside this building is going to pick us to win. That’s great. We’ve been in ballgames before where nobody picks us to win. It’s a great challenge for our team, it’s a great challenge for our offense. You’re going against the best defense in the country. We take great pride in what we’re doing offensively, so it’s a great challenge.”
That’s just fine with redshirt freshman right tackle Shaq Anthony.
“I feel there's a lot of respect that isn't given to us that's earned,” he said. “This is about getting respect we deserve and we want to go take it.”
Even without preseason All-American defensive end Brandon Jenkins – out for the season with a foot injury – the Seminoles boast a deep defensive line. Bjorn Werner leads the nation with 6.5 sacks.
“That’s one of the things that really stands out is their depth in all positions,” Morris said. “They’ve got depth in the secondary, their interior front in the defense, they’re rotating 6-7 guys in. They’ve got great depth, which allows them to try and keep those guys’ legs fresh, especially for late in the games. They haven’t had a chance to play four solid quarters. You know they’re going to be fresh, going to be ready.”
They’re also aggressive, Morris said.
“They’re going to try and press you up front, get in your face on the edge and your route-running,” he said. “They’ll have pressure with four down guys. They’re very well-coached. It’s a group that are veterans. It’s the same group that were out here last year that we coached against. They’re a year older and they’re playing very well.”
The only difference from a year ago, Morris said? More press coverage.
“They’re trying to disrupt you, play you straight across at times, lock-down press you, see if you can get off press coverage,” he said. “We saw that last year, they pressed us a little bit last year, but overall, they’re not going to change what they do for us. They’re going to do what they do that’s made them successful. Likewise, we’re going to do what we do.”
That could be an advantage for Clemson, given the Tigers’ speed and athletic ability at wide receiver.
A year ago, wideout Sammy Watkins burned FSU for seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns; Morris allows that Watkins “won’t sneak up on anybody now.” But Watkins and junior DeAndre Hopkins (who has 26 receptions for 319 yards and four touchdowns) form a potent duo.
Hopkins ranks sixth nationally in receptions per game (8.6) and 12th in reception yards per game (106.3).
Could press coverage be a positive for Clemson Saturday? Watkins said he “knows they’re going to press us and try to throw Tajh off a little bit.”
“You’ve got to win versus press coverage and that’s whoever’s going to press you up and challenge you,” Morris said. “That’s one of the things we talked to our guys about – if someone’s pressing you up and there’s nobody over the top, that’s not a lot of respect that they’re giving you as a receiver. You’ve got to gain a lot of respect. How do you do that? By making plays. We’ve seen them press a lot, we’ve also seen them in some off (the ball) coverage.”
Expect new wrinkles – on both sides – but Saturday will be a battle of what both sides do best, Morris said.
“If there was, I don’t know if I could tell you anyway or if I would tell you,” he said of any new tweaks. “But I do know that I’m sure they’re a lot like we are, I’m sure they’ve held some things back, and they’re going to do some things defensively that we haven’t seen. When it’s third and four, you’re going to do what you do and they’re going to do what they do. You’ve got to make sure your guys are ready, prepared. You can’t beat yourself in games like this.”