It’s all on the line based on these three factors when No. 5 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson duke it out starting at 8:22 p.m. (WCIV-TV/ABC) at Memorial Stadium:
GET OFF THE LINE
If ABC superimposed blinking red lights to the helmets of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner throughout the night, we’d be better for the visual experience. That should be an epic duel for 70-80 snaps, to see which future first-round pick can get the better of his adversary. Watkins can’t be the only Tiger making plays; Adam Humphries, Martavis Bryant and Stanton Seckinger better put their big-boy pants on when that ball is snapped, resist the Seminoles’ physical approach and get open so Tajh Boyd can help them light up the scoreboard.
Tip of the cap to Clemson’s beleaguered secondary for solid play the first half of this season, but they’re not fast, physical or deep enough (especially with Garry Peters out with a foot injury) to contain FSU’s skill players for five, six, seven seconds off the ball. Which means Jameis Winston should have a big night if he’s allotted time in the pocket to operate. Winston is a big man and tough to bring down, and while he’s not necessarily a threat to bust out a 30-yard scramble, he’ll be easily the hardest opposing QB for Clemson to sack. His comfort level in the pocket dictates FSU’s rhythm.
12TH MAN ALERT
Clemson’s fanbase has been more excited than anxious this week. That’s a good thing, because it’ll be a rough reaction if Florida State struts out of town with a win. Part of what affected close games with Georgia and Boston College wasn’t simply the overall crowd noise; it was the 80,000-plus fans intelligently picking their spots to give their team the greatest possible advantage.
“I didn’t even know that statistic.” That’s what Winston said, looking genuinely in the eye of a reporter who asked him about FSU’s five-game losing streak at Death Valley. Winston’s a kid in a candy shop right now, soaking in the attention and naively destroying opponents on the field and brashly talking a big game off of it, because he doesn’t know any better. Conversely, it would work against veteran Tajh Boyd, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, to overthink the magnitude of this matchup, because he could psych himself out with a few bad possessions. These dream games are as much about the nine inches between the ears as they are the 100 yards painted with white lines.
Florida State 30, Clemson 24