This week, I will be hitting the road to see a pair of games.
Thursday, I will be in Chapel Hill to take in Miami at North Carolina before heading south to see a clash between two top-five teams: Florida State at Clemson on Saturday. There will be plenty of prospects to watch, including our top-ranked WR in Clemson's Sammy Watkins and top-ranked TE in North Carolina's Eric Ebron. However, the four quarterbacks will headline the scouting trip. I will be getting my second live look at Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and North Carolina QB Bryn Renner. At the same time, I will be getting my first up-close look at Miami's Stephen Morris and Florida State's Jameis Winston, who, as a redshirt freshman, is not draft eligible, but has been the most physically gifted quarterback I have watched on tape this season.
Below are some other thoughts from my film study of the coaches' tapes in preparation for Saturday's game, including an in-depth personnel and scheme breakdown of how the Seminoles and Tigers match up.
Florida State's Offense vs. Clemson's Defense
Winston (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) is playing at a highly advanced level in his first five career starts. His physical tools are evident on tape. He possesses an excellent combination of size, arm strength, mobility, accuracy and touch as a passer. However, what has been unique about his play is the presence and poise he displays at such a young age. Winston feels the rush naturally and maneuvers within the pocket to avoid the rush while working through progressions. He has made sound decisions distributing the ball to a talented and versatile receiving corps headlined by WRs Rashad Greene (6-0, 180), Kenny Shaw (6-0, 170), Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 234) and TE Nick O'Leary (6-3, 248).
Winston is completing 73 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Most impressive about his consistency as a passer is that he has not received great pass protection up front. Across the board, the Seminoles' offensive line has adequate athleticism, but they are light in their rear ends and collectively lack ideal anchors. On tape, they are losing individual battles and have suffered communication breakdowns.
This does not bode well against a Clemson defensive line that has more talent and depth than in recent years, and which has been highly active by notching 24 sacks on the year (second in the FBS). This unit is led by a pair of disruptive bookends in Vic Beasley (6-3, 235), who has excellent first-step quickness, and Corey Crawford (6-5, 270), who has a long and flexible frame with the ability to convert speed to power. In addition, DT Grady Jarrett (6-1, 295) has been very active generating pressure on the interior, and reserve true freshman DE Shaq Lawson (6-3, 270) is raw, but possesses big-time physical tools and is improving each week.
How the Seminoles' offensive line holds up early against the Clemson front four could have enormous implications for the contest, and it could dictate defensive coordinator Brent Venables' game plan. If the Tigers are able to generate pressure while rushing just four, it will allow Venables to consistently drop seven into coverage, which will go a long way in defending Winston in the pass game.
Discipline will also be critical for the Clemson secondary this week. They can ill-afford to relax or become overzealous as the last line of defense; Winston has been masterful at buying time and finding receivers downfield for big plays throughout the year.
Florida State has found strong balance with their rushing attack behind a pair of powerful RBs, Devonta Freeman (5-9, 203) and James Wilder Jr. (6-2, 229). Clemson matches up well and has the quickness along the front line to create problems within the Seminoles' zone-blocking scheme. However, middle linebacker Stephone Anthony and LB Spencer Shuey have had issues with run fits, which has allowed teams to pop a few big runs. These two must show more patience this week because both Freeman and Wilder show a great feel for the vertical cut if the Tiger linebackers become over-aggressive in pursuit.
Clemson's Offense vs. Florida State's Defense
The first thing the Seminoles must do Saturday is bottle up the Clemson ground game. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris implements plenty of deception within his zone-read rushing attack. RB Roderick McDowell (5-10, 200) is quick and shows good balance and vision, while Boyd also has mobility of his own to move the chains.
Up front, the Clemson offensive line possesses average athleticism, but has adequate size across the board. They have improved from the beginning of the year after swapping Kalon Davis for David Beasley at the left guard position, while Shaq Anthony (6-4, 280) is seeing more playing time at right tackle for a struggling Gifford Timothy.
Florida State's defensive line isn't as deep as last year, but they are led by DT Timmy Jernigan (6-2, 296), DE Mario Edwards Jr. (6-3, 277) and OLB Christian Jones (6-4, 235), who has taken on a stand-up, defensive-end role this year. That said, how well the Tigers can handle the Florida State defensive line and get to the second level to block MLB Telvin Smith (6-3, 218) and WLB Terrance Smith (6-4, 215), who possesses excellent playmaking instincts and overall range, will play a huge role in the success or failure Clemson has on the ground.
The Seminoles' defense must know where Watkins (6-1, 205) is at all times. Watkins is one of the best wide receivers in the country and will be the biggest playmaker on the field Saturday. He's built like a greyhound, has strong hands and rare acceleration, all making him extremely dangerous after the catch. Not only will the Seminoles have to deal with Watkins downfield, but they will have to keep close tabs on him as a runner. Morris has been very creative using formations and motions to get the ball into Watkins' hands with reverses, shuffle passes and bubble screens.
Watkins has affected games even without touching the ball. Morris has done a nice job of using Watkins' big-play threat by using him as a decoy and mimicking the same action to set up the vertical play-action game to a pair of WRs, Martavis Bryant (6-5, 200) and Adam Humphries (5-10, 190), who both have above-average speed. The Seminoles' secondary is an aggressive unit that is loaded with talent. However, they have been overzealous at times and were caught out of position on several occasions against Maryland. While they will need to keep tabs on Watkins, the Seminoles must play with better discipline, as Boyd is an above-average vertical passer who can take advantage of any miscommunication breakdown in the last line of defense.
On tape, I don't see the Seminoles having the same caliber of pass rush as they had in 2012. Off the edge, Jones has some quickness but lacks polish, while Edwards flashes power and heavy hands, but has just average bend and flexibility. The good news for Florida State is that the strength of their pass rush comes from the interior with Jernigan and DT Jacobbi McDaniel (6-0, 295), who displays quick feet and hands, which could bother Boyd, who is on the shorter side and much better at handling edge pressure.
How well Florida State is able to generate an interior push will play a key role in deciding a big-time perimeter battle Saturday. Florida State has depth at cornerback with Lamarcus Joyner (5-8, 190), P.J. Williams (6-0, 190) and Ronald Darby (5-11, 190), who all possess the movement skills to stick with the Clemson perimeter. However, their challenge will come when the ball is in the air, as they have been exposed by taller and stronger receivers such as Watkins and Bryant. If Boyd has a clean pocket, he has the downfield accuracy to exploit this.
On the flip side, if the Seminoles are able to get traffic in Boyd's sight line, he has shown the capability of making a few errant throws. This plays to the advantage of Florida State's playmaking athletes in the middle of the defense with linebacker Telvin Smith (6-3, 218) underneath, and a ball-hawking pair of safeties in Terrence Brooks (5-11, 200) and true freshman Jalen Ramsey (6-1, 195), who is long, flexible and an emerging star in the back end.