CLEMSON — It was Stephen A. Smith's time in the spotlight, so Dabo Swinney waited his turn. Smith and ESPN's First Take were in Clemson on Friday, in advance of the No. 2 Tigers' Week 7 contest against Florida State, and Smith was going through his top five college football players in the nation so far, pasting names onto a board.
No. 5: LSU's Joe Burrow
No. 4: Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor
No. 3: Ohio State's Justin Fields
No. 2: Alabama'a Tua Tagovailoa
No. 1: Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts
Then Swinney jumped in. Smith was wrong about the No. 1 player, Swinney insisted. Then he slapped a card bearing Trevor Lawrence's name across the board.
"Trevor Lawrence! No doubt. No doubt," Swinney said, and the Clemson fans in attendance cheered.
When the Tigers host the Seminoles on Saturday, all eyes will be on Lawrence, the sophomore signal caller who has performed below expectations this season. Here are four keys for Lawrence and Clemson to avoid an upset at the hands of Florida State, an ACC powerhouse in previous eras.
Let Trevor Lawrence fling it
It's been a rough few weeks in the public eye for Lawrence, starting with the team's slim, 21-20 win at North Carolina. With an open week in between that performance and the Florida State game, Lawrence hasn't had an opportunity to offer a public rebuttal to the doubters.
He can change the narrative Saturday with a big performance against a Seminoles defense full of athletes. Lawrence should go big, early and often, showing off the arm that helped make him a national star last season.
Wide receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers are all ready to make big plays. It's time for Lawrence to create some.
Engage Travis Etienne early
Nearly as important to Clemson's offense as Lawrence is running back Travis Etienne. After a 205-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Tigers' opening week win over Georgia Tech, Etienne has failed to run for more than 76 yards in a game.
Part of that is due to workload — Etienne has been pulled from blowouts early — and part of it is ball security. The junior has already lost two fumbles, doubling his previous career number.
He said he's been working on his fundamentals carrying the ball.
"Just getting my wrist below my elbow, just not holding the ball high and tight," Etienne said. "Both times I got it low, and as I got it low, I was in a crowd of defenders, could just hit the ball."
The junior is due for a big game. Etienne was ACC Player of the Year last season. As we approach the midway point, it feels like high time for a standout Etienne performance.
Keep Florida State under 31 points
The Seminoles are flush with four- and five-star recruits, as Swinney mentioned earlier in the week. The talent hasn't completely translated to the gridiron yet, with Florida State already having suffered a pair of defeats five games into the season.
In the Seminoles' last contests, though, they've earned a pair of victories, scoring 35 and 31 points, respectively.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said it's important for the Tigers to guard against the big play.
"They make you tackle in space a lot," Venables said. "They make a lot of big plays, both outside and inside, with their ability, really good explosive athletes breaking tackles, making people miss."
Contain Cam Akers
The Seminoles' most dangerous weapon is running back Cam Akers; the junior ranks second in the ACC in rushing yards (582) and first in rushing touchdowns (seven).
His impact was most strongly felt in Florida State's 45-44 win over LA-Monroe on Sept. 7, when he rushed for 193 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 36 carries in addition to catching five passes for 55 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Clemson has mostly done a good job defending the run this season, though in Week 5 the Tigers allowed North Carolina to gain 146 yards on the ground. What happens in the run game will likely be a big factor in Saturday's outcome.
Clemson 45, Florida State 20