Dabo Swinney's Tigers are starting to get national attention, as they have opened the season with three straight wins. The most impressive came last weekend, as Clemson got a little bit of revenge and in the process ended the nation's longest win streak at 17 games, with a thorough 38-24 win over defending national champion Auburn. It was Auburn that won a wild overtime affair last season against Clemson, propelling the SEC to a fifth straight national title.
Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles were mentioned among the contenders for a national crown this season, but after two impressive victories to start the year, FSU blew a golden opportunity to position itself for that national title, with a 23-13 loss to top-ranked Oklahoma in Tallahassee.
Fisher was obviously disappointed in the outcome but remains confident in his team.
"I thought we just played a very hard fought, competitive football game. I thought we played with tremendous toughness. We gave great effort- had a lot of pride in the way we competed. We know that great games get down to two or three little plays here and there and I give Oklahoma credit. They have a team - great coaching staff. They did a great job. We have to look at ourselves and correct some of the mistakes we have and look at some of the missed opportunities - some of the plays we had called back. I'm very proud of our guys. It was one game - our goals are still ahead of us. I believe the season starts next week. We'll try to fix it and move on."
In a series that dates back to 1970, Florida State holds a 17-7 advantage over Clemson. Despite FSU's lead in the series overall, Clemson has won five of the last eight meetings, including four straight at home.
The Seminoles racked up 96 points in their first two games of the season, a pair of routs of ULM and Charleston Southern. Putting points on the board was a whole lot harder last weekend against the top-ranked Sooners. It certainly didn't help that the team lost quarterback EJ Manual to a shoulder injury in the third quarter. The loss forced freshman Clint Trickett into the most hostile environment imaginable, taking on the number one team in the country. Trickett played well at times, but this team is obviously much better in the hands of Manual, especially since FSU's ground game has yet to materialize this season at a modest 96.3 ypg.
The passing game has been much better at 325.3 yards per game. Manual has completed 67 percent of his throws in the first three games, for 666 yards and six TDs. There are a number of reliable targets downfield. Rodney Smith leads the team in receptions with 12, for 171 yards and one TD. However, it is senior Bert Reed (seven receptions, 64 yards, three TDs) and freshman Rashad Greene (six receptions, 196 yards, four TDs) that have made the biggest impacts.
FSU's defense has been superb this season and although the Sooners distanced themselves from the Seminoles down the stretch last weekend, Oklahoma's juggernaut of an offense managed just 310 total yards. On the season, FSU ranks fifth nationally in total defense (195.0 ypg), including a pass defense (sixth nationally) that is allowing just 118.0 ypg.
Getting upfield and making plays has been commonplace for this unit, with 24 TFLs and eight sacks through the first three games. The play up front is highlighted by All-American candidate Brandon Jenkins (13 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1.0 sacks). Linebackers Vince Williams (team-high 16 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 1.0 sacks) and Nigel Bradham (14 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and one INT) headline the play in the middle, while safety Lamarcus Joyner (15 tackles, two INTs) and cornerback Greg Reid are the players to keep an eye on in the secondary.
The Tigers certainly have the personnel to put FSU's vaunted defense to the test. Clemson is one of the top offenses in the country after three weeks, churning out 522.7 yards per game. At a hefty 216.7 yards per game on the ground, Clemson has the ability to move the chains and eat up the clock. However, the passing attack is also lethal at 306.0 yards per outing.
Quarterback Tahj Boyd is slowly becoming a household name. Through three games, Boyd has played as well as any signal-caller in the country, completing 67.3 percent of his passes, for 911 yards, with a ridiculous 10-1 TD-to-INT ratio.
The passing attack has a number of reliable targets, but the emergence of freshman Sammy Watkins has been the biggest surprise. The 6-1 youngster has made quite the impact, leading the team in receptions (21), receiving yards (292) and TDs (four).
Tailback Andre Ellington (5.6 ypc, two TDs) is averaging 100 yards per game and keeps teams from focusing on Boyd and company all the time.
Swinney was impressed by his team's performance against Auburn, especially Boyd.
It's amazing how this team has come together and these guys believe. We don't quit. Tajh Boyd is a guy that has really taken ownership in this team. Our guys believe in him. He noticed the matchup issues in the secondary in the first half and Tajh got the ball where it needed to be. I couldn't be more proud of these guys."
Clemson's defense lost a great deal of All-American talent from last season and it has shown in the early stages of 2011. The Tigers are allowing a generous 419.0 yards per game, showing themselves extremely vulnerable to the run (224.7 ypg, 5.1 ypc).
Defensive end Andre Branch is now the star along the defensive front now that Da'Quan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins have moved on to the NFL. Branch leads the team in tackles with 22. Safety Jonathan Meeks is a close second with 21 stops.
With FSU's passing attack coming to Death Valley, Clemson needs to find a way to generate some pressure. Through three games, the team has just two sacks and 10 TFLs.