Clemson put together an impressive performance coming off of its bye week, dominating Florida State 45-14 on Saturday afternoon at Death Valley.
Trevor Lawrence and the offense scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives as the Tigers quickly grabbed control. Here is what we learned from the victory:
The offense is opening up the playbook
Clemson scripts its first nine offensive plays each week, and Dabo Swinney’s message entering the game against Florida State was to be aggressive from the start. The first two plays against FSU were a deep pass from Trevor Lawrence to Tee Higgins for 40 yards and a halfback pass from Travis Etienne to Justyn Ross for 23 more. But the aggressiveness didn’t stop there. Clemson pushed the tempo throughout the first half and had the Seminoles on their heels. Clemson racked up 367 yards of offense in the first two quarters.
“I think just going out and playing, fast tempo, being more aggressive, taking some shots. I think we did that tonight and it worked out well,” Lawrence said. “Just letting our guys make plays and not thinking too much. Just going out there and playing.”
Tackling has improved
One of the few weaknesses for the Clemson defense early in the season was inconsistent tackling. The starters in particular cleaned that up against Florida State. Clemson held FSU’s offense to 63 yards in the first half, including 16 yards on 10 carries on the ground. For the game, Florida State star running back Cam Akers had 34 yards on nine carries. He entered averaging 116 yards per game.
“It was good with our first group. I thought our young group missed some critical tackles,” Swinney said. “But for the most part we were really good. We were really, really good. I was so pleased with our effort. We tackled well.”
The Justyn Ross connection is coming along
The star of last year’s College Football Playoff entered Saturday’s game with one touchdown on the year. He had two in the first half against the Seminoles, putting together his best half of the season. Ross finished with five receptions for a team-high 61 yards and two scores, all in the first half, as the Tigers built an early lead and pulled their starters. Ross had been fairly quiet through the first five games, but Lawrence predicted that the two would start connecting more after the bye week. That happened against Florida State.
“I think it’s just things take time,” Lawrence said. “Different offense, different team. Just kind of get under ourselves. Justyn had a great day today, so it was good to see.”
Jumbo package is back
Clemson busted out the jumbo package for the first time this season Saturday against the Seminoles, with defensive tackle Tyler Davis at tight end, defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney at fullback and defensive end Xavier Thomas at running back. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 2, Thomas caught the toss but was stopped short of the goal line, leading to a turnover on downs.
“We’ve been working on it, trying to figure out who were the guys that were going to fill that role. We had success with it last year,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “X is 260 pounds back there, used to play running back when he was in little league and middle school. So he’s the perfect guy. We’ve just gotta get him game reps.”
While the jumbo package was not successful against Florida State, it appears as though the Tigers won’t shy away from it in short yardage situations moving forward. Clemson also has a jumbo package featuring Etienne as the running back.
“When Travis is at tailback those guys are doing different roles, and then when you put Christian or X Thomas in there at tailback it’s a different formation,” Elliott said. “So we’ve got the ability to do both. That was the one that we felt like married up the best to what they showed you defensively.”
Building depth is a priority
Clemson has outscored its opponents by 116 points in the first half this season but only by 45 points in the second half. While some of that is due to more conservative play calling, Swinney hasn’t been thrilled with the play of his backups through the first six games. The Tigers constantly preach that “the best is the standard,” whether the first team, second team or third team is in.
“The depth of our team has to improve. Those guys have got to get better,” Swinney said. “The only way they’re going to get better is to play. When you play them you’ve got to live with it a little bit, but it gives us the opportunity to coach them and challenge them.”
Who: No. 2 Clemson (6-0, 4-0) at Louisville (3-2, 1-1)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Cardinal Stadium; Louisville, Kentucky
Line: Clemson by 24