Game of the Week: No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 3 Clemson

Story posted October 18, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Each week ComRadio staff writer Aaron Carr will highlight a matchup in college football that he considers to be the “Game of the Week.” If you’re going to enjoy some college football action then this is the ONE contest that you do not want to miss. Carr’s “Game of the Week” selection for Week 8 of the college football season comes to you live from Clemson, South Carolina, where a pair of top five teams are set to compete in the biggest regular season showdown in ACC history.

The Game: No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 3 Clemson

Two top five teams. Two storied programs. Two high profile coaches at the top of their profession. Two Heisman Trophy contending quarterbacks. Two high-powered offenses. Two proud, stout defenses. That sums up the game between No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State in a proverbial nutshell.

How did we get here? Clemson began the season ranked No. 8 with their ACC rivals from Tallahassee ranked No. 11. Since week 1, the only thing these two teams have done is win: Florida State sits at 5-0 (3-0 ACC) while Clemson is a battletested 6-0 (4-0). Clemson’s signature win through the first half of the season was a program-defining one, a 38-35 triumph over then No. 5 Georgia. The Seminoles are hanging their hats on their 63-0 shutout victory over then #25 Maryland two weeks ago, effectively sending a message to the Tigers. Clemson’s response: “Message received.”

When I said this was the biggest regular season clash in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference I wasn’t kidding. That statement isn’t a hyperbole; it’s simply a fact. For the third time in conference history, two ACC teams ranked in the top five of the USA Today Coaches Poll will collide during the regular season. The last ACC regular season showcase to get this much hype: 2005, when No. 5 Miami upended No. 3 Virginia Tech, 27-7.

The two programs that rank first (Clemson at 14) and second (Florida State with 13), respectively, in ACC championship victories are playing on Saturday. This game also features the two programs that have won the ACC championship the previous two years: Clemson in 2011, Florida State in 2012. More importantly, this matchup of top five teams allows the ACC to steal some of the spotlight from their SEC neighbors as both Florida State and Clemson wave the ACC flag deep in the heart of SEC country.

The two men guiding their respective teams into battle on Saturday have also restored credibility and a winning tradition to their programs. Florida State’s leading man John “Jimbo” Fisher has compiled a 36-10 record, including a spotless 3-0 bowl game record, claimed an Orange Bowl victory and hoisted the 2012 ACC championship in his four years at FSU. His counterpart, William “Dabo” Swinney has had similar success at Clemson, leading the Tigers to a conference championship and a 46-21 record in his five and a half years as the head coach.

I mentioned something about Heisman contending quarterbacks taking center stage on Saturday. Perhaps you’ve heard of Clemson senior signal caller Tajh Boyd (1783 passing yards, 20 total TDs) and FSU freshman phenom “Famous Jameis” Winston (1441 passing yards, 17 to 2 TD to INT ratio). Boyd is without question one of the most decorated field generals in ACC history and holds numerous conference records, including an ACC single-season record 36 touchdown passes a season ago. For his career, Boyd has thrown for a total of 88 touchdown strikes and sits 164 yards shy of 10,000 career passing yards as well.

Boyd, the 2012 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, opposes the kid from Bessemer, Alabama in freshman gunslinger Jameis Winston. Before even stepping foot onto campus at Florida State, Winston was branded with the nickname “Famous Jameis.” The FSU faithful weren’t donning the first year starter with that moniker to inflate his ego; they were giving the ACC, and college football, a warning. This kid can play.

Winston, who also stars on the baseball diamond as a two-sport athlete for the Seminoles, was unleashed against the Pitt Panthers in the season’s opening week. Unleashed is probably the understatement of the season to this point. Winston’s stat line read like a box score from Madden: 356 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a running score, while also going 25 for 27 in his passing attempts. Yes, the kid who was making his first career start had twice as many passing touchdowns than incompletions.

While Boyd and Winston certainly command the vast majority of the headlines, the rest of their skilled offensive teammates are far from scrubs. Boyd leads a Clemson offensive attack that ranks 18th in the nation in points per game at 40.8 while Winston’s Seminoles are the third highest scoring team in the country at 53.6 points per game.

College football fans have probably heard of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who, much like Winston, burst onto the scene his freshman year after piling up 1219 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. The Fort Myers, Florida native is back at it again this year with 36 catches for 582 yards and four touchdowns. Watkins is the one member of the Clemson offense aside from Boyd that needs to be accounted for before the ball is even snapped. Any defense that doesn’t heed my warning should check out the clip of the 91-yard catch and run that Watkins hauled in for a touchdown against Syracuse earlier this year.

Helping to take some pressure off of his star freshman, Fisher has utilized a triad of running backs to great success so far this season. The three-headed monster at running back for the ‘Noles features three juniors in Devonta Freeman (385 rushing yards), Karlos Williams (six rushing scores) and James Wilder Jr. (5.9 yards per carry). Freeman is the primary ball carrier as he leads the team in carries (54) and rushing yardage while Williams is the big-play specialist with his team-leading 8.7 yards per carry and six touchdowns, including a 65 yarder against Nevada.

The Clemson and FSU defenses have greeted opponents looking to make a house call in their respective end zones with a two-word answer: no vacancy. Florida State features the third stingiest defense in the country (12 points allowed per game), while Clemson lays claim to the tenth stingiest, allowing just a hair over 16 points per contest. Clemson is second in the ACC with sacks at 24 and FSU has held opponents to under two touchdowns in four out of five games. Make no mistake, these two high-scoring offenses will earn every yard on Saturday.

Players to Watch:

TE Nick O’Leary, Florida State: The junior from Palm Beach, Florida, only has 11 catches for 132 yards on the season. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Aaron, why should we be watching this kid?” The answer is simple. It’s because he’s the grandson of Jack Nicklaus. All jokes aside, the reason we’re keeping an eye on O’Leary is because of the 11 passes he’s caught this season, five of them have been for touchdowns. He’s the perfect red zone security blanket for Winston, as evidenced by his three-touchdown effort against Pitt.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: Clemson has developed into something of a pipeline for defensive lineman in recent years, cranking out All-American pass rushers such as Gaines Adams and Da’Quan Bowers. The next name on that list could be Beasley’s as the junior edge rusher leads the nation with nine sacks and is tied for second with 12 tackles for loss. The Adairsville, Georgia, native will be charged with the unenviable task of attempting (key word) to corral Winston on Saturday. If any mortal man can do it (many have tried, none have succeeded) it’s Beasley.

By the Numbers:

6 Since Fisher and Swinney have taken the helm at their respective schools, the two have combined to sign six top ten recruiting classes. Fisher has four of the six, including the top class in 2011 and second best in 2012.

26 Despite being the two kingpins of ACC football, Florida State and Clemson have only faced off 26 times.

4 In each of the past four seasons, the winner of Florida State vs. Clemson has gone on to win the ACC Atlantic Division.

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.