Tallahassee, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles put the nation's longest win streak on the line on Saturday evening, as they play host to the 22nd-ranked Clemson Tigers in a key ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The reigning national champions have now strung together 18 consecutive victories and have won 15 straight league bouts as well. After running the table a year ago, Jimbo Fisher's squad opened the 2014 season with a hard- fought 37-31 victory over Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas and followed that up with a 37-12 rout of the Citadel to keep the streak going. The Seminoles were idle last week.
Unfortunately for the Seminoles, their Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first half of this game for a recent on- campus incident in which he was seen shouting an obscene phrase. Redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire will likely start in Winston's absence.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers, who were also idle a week ago, get back to work on the road. Clemson opened the year at nationally-ranked Georgia and was beaten by the Bulldogs 45-21. The team returned to Death Valley a week later and completely dominated South Carolina State, 73-7.
This was a top five matchup a year ago in Death Valley, with Florida State blowing out Clemson, 51-14. With the win, FSU now holds a 19-8 series advantage. The Seminoles have won 11 of the 14 meetings in Tallahassee all- time.
Clemson had its way with South Carolina State last time out, as both Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson torched the Bulldogs through the air. Stoudt threw for 302 yards and one TD, while Watson went 8-of-9 passing, for 154 yards and three TDs. Freshman wide receiver Artavis Scott took advantage down the field with six catches, for 164 yards and two scores. In all, Clemson was able to amass a whopping 735 yards of total offense in the lopsided win, including 467 through the air.
It is still difficult to say just how much Clemson will miss players like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins this season, but the Tigers' cupboard seems to be stocked.
Stoudt has played well in his two games as the starter under center, although facing the Seminoles will definitely be the real litmus test. He may not have an electric playmaker like Watkins to look for down the field, but there is a stable of competent receivers like Scott (8 rec, 205 yds, 2 TDs), Adam Humphries (8 rec, 45 yds), Mike Williams (7 rec, 171 yds) and Charone Peake (5 rec, 52 yds, 2 TDs) to lean on.
Clemson has one of the most talented defensive units in the entire country. The Tigers were exposed a bit by Georgia's All-American tailback Todd Gurley in the opener, but this is still a feared squad that can make plays.
It starts up front with one of the nation's premier lines. All-American Vic Beasley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks) is the centerpiece, but fellow end Shaq Lawson (9 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack) and tackle Grady Jarrett (8 tackles) are difference makers as well.
Fisher recognizes that Beasley is a handful.
"(Beasley) is a very instinctive football player," Fisher said. "Not only quick but powerful, can change direction, he's got body quickness, can run. He can rush the passer and he can play the run, he can transition speed into power very quickly. He's relentless. Stand up get down, move around, very good football player."
The linebacking corps is headlined by Tony Steward (team-high 16 tackles) and Stephone Anthony (10 tackles, 3.5 TFL), while safeties Jayron Kearse (13 tackles) and Robert Smith (10 tackles) anchor play in the secondary.
The Seminoles have also had to adjust to life without some talented offensive playmakers this year, but the return of Winston under center will assuage any such losses.
Winston isn't on quite the pace he was a year ago, but he has still been effective, completing 70.1 percent of his throws in the first two games, for 626 yards and three TDs. Kelvin Benjamin is gone on the outside, but veteran Rashad Greene returns. The All-ACC receiver has gotten off the fast start in 2014, having already caught 15 balls in two games, for 283 yards and one TD. Tight end Nick O'Leary (8 rec, 79 yds, 1 TD) is a valuable asset in the passing game as well.
Tailback Karlos Williams will get the nod as the lead back in 2014. He currently leads the team in rushing with 132 yards and has one of FSU's four rushing scores to date.
Everything works off the play of the offensive line for FSU, which may be the best in the country.
Swinney echoed that sentiment at his weekly press conference.
"Their offensive line is as good as there is out there," said Swinney. "They are all seniors, very athletic, and very experienced. They've all got a bunch of starts under their belt. They only lost one guy from last year, and that was their center. Their center has played a ton and has several starts under his belt too."
Much like Clemson, Florida State's defense was exposed a little in the season opener, as Oklahoma State found ways to move the football and keep the game close. The Citadel rushed for 250 yards against the Seminoles, although that had more to do with the Bulldogs' offensive scheme and the fact that FSU had a huge lead and took the foot off the gas pedal.
However, the big plays have not manifested early on, with FSU only recording one sack and forcing two turnovers in the first two games.
Still, there are playmakers throughout the unit that will undoubtedly force the issue going forward.
The secondary for Florida State is loaded, led by sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey (team-high 20 tackles) and junior cornerback P.J. Williams (6-0, 196). Junior Terrance Smith (17 tackles) is the player to keep an eye on in the linebacking corps, while junior Mario Edwards Jr. (6-3, 294) is the team's most feared pass rusher.