Rather than sit around sulking about USF's debacle against Ball State, I went out to dinner on Saturday night and recorded the FSU-Clemson game so I could watch it later. When I did, it was an exciting game to watch, but not at all encouraging if you're trying to find a way for the Bulls to spring the upset on Saturday.
FSU'S OFFENSE VS. CLEMSON'S DEFENSE
FSU ran a lot of their offense to the wide side of the field. Stretch plays, sweeps, swing passes, screens, even some option runs. Anything that could get their players (especially Chris Thompson) out in open field where they could turn on the jets. One particular play that worked several times was an off-tackle run out of the shotgun by Thompson in a two-back, two-WR slot setup. A touchdown run was called back by a holding penalty, but the game-icing score was the same play. The Seminoles blocked really well down the field and on the edges to spring those big plays.
Later on the Noles mixed in a little running between the tackles, like on the big run by James Wilder Jr. early in the fourth quarter where he sonned the entire Clemson defense for an extra 15 yards.
The passing game isn't that complicated, but it was well executed. On the dropback passes, E.J. Manuel didn't face much pressure unless the Tigers blitzed, and he threw it to the right receiver nearly every time. A few of the big pass plays were basically extended runs that followed the same pattern as the run game -- get outside with speed and blockers. The 63-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin was one of those Holgorsen-esque touch passes that was really just a jet sweep. FSU didn't throw downfield very much, but with the ground game working so well, they didn't really have to. When they did, though, it worked. Manuel threw a touchdown pass to Rodney Smith that gave FSU the lead back in the third quarter, where Clemson got caught in one-deep coverage and Smith beat his man on a go route. On the next drive, Benjamin drew a desperation pass interference flag.
This wasn't tricky or deceptive offense. It was the Seminoles playing to their strengths and hammering away at the soft edges of Clemson's defense. They racked up 667 yards of total offense, and pretty much everything they called was working. Not a good sign for a USF defense that couldn't get one negative play out of Ball State.
CLEMSON'S OFFENSE VS. FSU'S DEFENSE
On the other hand, Clemson emptied the bag on offense. Lots of oddball formations, misdirection plays, and outright trick plays. Sammy Watkins threw the ball twice, once on an option pass that he overthrew, and on a double pass that worked for a touchdown. The Tigers also faked a field goal, and called some kind of crazy screen where the offensive line froze in place and then all moved en masse to block for Andre Ellington, who ran for 39 yards. Trick plays aren't a sustainable offense, but they do take advantage of overpursuit and overaggression, which is something USF can try to exploit... although they don't have athletes like Watkins, Ellington, and DeAndre Hopkins to do it with.
When it was straight-ahead offense, the Tigers didn't do very well. It wasn't a total catastrophe against FSU's talented front four, but putting Gifford Timothy on an island against Bjoern Werner was not a good idea. Tajh Boyd's accuracy started to fade late in the game. First it was in little bits on third down, and then he finally made the big mistake in the fourth quarter, trying to scramble and throw downfield across his body. It was a terrible pass and an easy pick for Nick Waisome.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR USF?
Um, probably bad things. The offense can't afford any bad execution or dumb mistakes. They have to protect B.J. Daniels, which has been a major issue against their last two opponents, neither of whom had FSU's defensive talent. If the Seminoles can get pressure with four (which they should be able to), they can defend downfield without too much trouble and cut off the deep passes that USF might need to have a chance in this game. While a short passing game has the best chance for success, Daniels isn't always accurate on those throws and FSU is talented enough in the secondary to gamble, jump routes, and take the ball away. The Bulls also need to run the ball similarly to how the Tigers did - use options and misdirection and give Demetris Murray, Marcus Shaw, and Lindsey Lamar that little extra moment to find running room.
The scariest thing about Clemson's defense is they didn't miss very many tackles. It wasn't some total meltdown with lots of confusion in the secondary and missed assignments. FSU just whipped them. Since the Bulls can't get a pass rush, they don't blitz effectively, and they can't force turnovers (still no INTs this year), I honestly have no idea how USF plans to slow down FSU's offense.