The Florida State Seminoles have been playing excellent defense this season as they’ve jumped out to a 5-0 record to start 2013. They rank as the No. 2 defense in the ACC, allowing just 276.8 total yards per game, and have the No. 1 scoring defense in the conference, averaging just 12 points allowed per game. But one area that the team has struggled this season has been creating negative plays, like tackles for loss and sacks. That has to change this weekend if they hope to upend the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in Death Valley.
As good as Clemson has been offensively this season (No. 2 in ACC in total offense, No. 3 in scoring offense), they have been susceptible to negative plays this season. They rank No. 10 in the conference in tackles for loss allowed (40) and No. 11 in sacks allowed (13.0) so the opportunity is there to push them back into long down and distance situations. Knocking this offense “off-schedule” and forcing them to try and regularly convert long third downs will help get the Seminoles’ defense off the field and keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.
But that will mean the Noles step up their game when it comes to creating those negative plays. So far this season, FSU has struggled to make plays on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage, recording just 33 tackles for loss (No. 11 in ACC) and 10 sacks (No. 11). This is despite having a defense filled with athletic playmakers at every level, many of which should be making plays in the NFL in the near future. Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones are all great defensive prospects in the FSU front seven, but they haven’t been able to make plays in the backfield this season.
No player in the defensive front seven has recorded more than one sack this year (the team leader is defensive back Lamarcus Joyner with two) and nobody on the defense is even averaging a tackle for loss per game. They’ve done a great job with a “bend but don’t break” defensive attack so far this season, minimizing offensive gains and keeping opponents off the scoreboard but they haven’t faced an offense quite like Clemson yet. If you bend for Tajh Boyd and the Tigers, they’re very likely to break you for points (and lots of them).
Florida State has an opportunity to defend their place as the premier team in the ACC this season but they’ve got a monumental challenge ahead of them in Death Valley. If they hope to escape with a win, they have to get the Clemson offense moving backwards on early downs which means stepping up their defensive pressure and playing in the offensive backfield.