Clemson University

Clemson vs. Florida State: Five burning questions ... and a prediction

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney previews Florida State

Tigers coach expects tough challenge from Seminoles
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Tigers coach expects tough challenge from Seminoles

No. 2 Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) will play at Florida State (4-3, 2-3) on Saturday at noon in a game that will be televised by ABC.

Here are our top five questions heading into the game:

Can Florida State continue its upward trend?

The Seminoles looked like one of the worst Power 5 teams in the country early in the season as they were blown out by Virginia Tech and Syracuse and had to rally to defeat an FCS program in Samford. But since then Florida State is 3-1 with its only loss being by one point at Miami. As Clemson players and coaches pointed out this week, Florida State is the only team in the ACC that can acquire talent at the level of Clemson. The Seminoles have finished higher than Clemson in the recruiting rankings nine of the past 10 years. If FSU can continue to make progress under first-year coach Willie Taggart this could be a competitive game in the second half.

Can Clemson block Brian Burns?

The Florida State defensive end is second in the nation in sacks with nine, and Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott called Burns the most explosive defensive end the Tigers have faced since Jadeveon Clowney was at South Carolina. Clemson’s offensive line has performed well this season, allowing only 12 sacks in seven games, but this will be the most athletic front Clemson has faced. Travis Etienne has been great with the ball in his hands but remains a work in progress in pass protection. Etienne and the rest of Clemson’s running backs will have to step up against Burns, Marvin Wilson and the FSU defensive line.

How will FSU defend Clemson’s offense?

The Tigers are averaging more than 250 passing yards and 250 rushing yards per game and are giving defenses fits. In the past two games Clemson’s versatility on offense has been on full display. The Tigers rushed for 471 yards in a 63-3 win at Wake Forest and passed for 380 yards in a 41-7 win against N.C. State. Florida State will likely try to mix up coverages and pressures and confuse freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but the Georgia native has been running the offense in impressive fashion since taking over as the starter in Week 5.

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Can Florida State’s offensive line hold up?

FSU is one of the worst teams in the nation in sacks allowed, having given up 18 through seven games, which ranks No. 91. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, as well as defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, said Florida State’s offensive line has looked better on tape the past few weeks. But this will be the biggest test of the year for the Seminoles. Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and the rest of Clemson’s defense are No. 18 nationally with 21 sacks, despite playing three option teams in the first seven games. The Seminoles will have to find a way to slow Clemson’s pass rush to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

Will Florida State fans show up?

Tigers senior receiver Hunter Renfrow called Doak Campbell Stadium one of the loudest he has played in earlier this week, but it won’t be very loud if not many fans show up on Saturday. Doak Campbell Stadium holds nearly 80,000 fans, but FSU is averaging about 70,000 through its first four home games. The announced attendance for last week’s game against Wake Forest was 67,274. This will be Lawrence’s first big time test as a starting quarterback on the road if FSU fans do indeed show up and create a real home field environment.

Prediction: Clemson seems to be clicking on all cylinders right now and is hitting its stride the second half of the year. FSU does have the talent to hang around for a half, just as it did last season. But ultimately Clemson will pull away and win comfortably.

Pick: Clemson 34, Florida State 14