September 18, 2012

Know your opponent: The Clemson Tigers

2012 Record: 3-0 (10-4 in 2011). Defeated Auburn 26-19, Ball State 52-17 and Furman 41-7.

Starters returning: 15 total, seven offensive, seven defensive, and one specialist.

Breaking it down: With the exception of perhaps Virginia Tech or Florida the No. 9 Clemson Tigers will be the most talented roster Florida State faces this season.

Since Dabo Swinney took over as the full-time head coach in 2009 his teams have defeated FSU twice, each win coming in Death Valley. The Tigers have won six of the last nine against FSU since 2003, including a 35-30 win last season.

Swinney's Tigers are off to a 3-0 start in 2012, including a win over Auburn in the Chic-fil-A kickoff game with his biggest playmaker suspended. Saturday's game will put either Clemson or FSU in the driver's seat for the Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship game.

"It's a very important game, not only because it's an ACC and a divisional game, so it's a double whammy, but it's a national game and handling all of that stuff that goes with those types of games," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Hopefully, we'll play in a bunch of those kinds of games. (I'm) looking forward to the week. "

Through the air

Player to watch:

QB Tajh Boyd (Jr.)

2012 Passing: 63-86 747 yards, 6 TDs, 1 interceptions

2012 Rushing:27 carries, 75 yards

There is no question that Chad Morris' hurry-up passing attack is the strength of the Tigers' offense.

Tajh Boyd is completing 73.3 percent of his passes so far this season and has had to do it in two games without last season's top target in Sammy Watkins. Early on it has been junior wide out DeAndre Hopkins who has carried the load for the receiving corps.

Through three games Hopkins has hauled in 26 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns. He has five receptions of 20 yards or more and is averaging 12.3 yards per catch.

Watkins made his season debut against Furman last weekend after behind suspended for the first two games stemming from an offseason arrest. Against Furman Watkins had four receptions for 52 yards and a 58-yard touchdown run.

Tight end Brandon Ford has tried to fill the role of Dwayne Allen, now with the Indianapolis Colts. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior has seven receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown.

"They can run it and throw the ball," Fisher said. "They can run the football, they've got outstanding linemen, they've got a great backs, receivers that make big plays, they can throw the ball downfield, the quarterback can scramble and run, it's deceiving, they're well coached. I could go on and on. It's the balance and the big play capabilities that come off of it."

Pounding the ground

Player to watch:

RB Andre Ellignton (Sr.)

2012 Rushing: 53 rushes for 328 yards and 4 TDs

Through three games it looks like the decision to return for his senior season has been the right one for running back Andre Ellington.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound tailback has run for 328 yards, 228 of which game in the season opener against Auburn and four touchdowns so far this season. Ellington is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, has seven runs of 10 yards or more, including a 68-yard run against Auburn.

Boyd has also played a big part in the Tigers' rushing attack with 75 yards (it would be 112 if he didn't lose 37 yards on sacks). Boyd has one run of 20 yards or more, and three of 10 yards or more.

Junior running back Roderick McDowell has also gotten into the mix with 71 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

Getting defensive

Player to watch:

MLB Stephone Anthony (So.)

2012 Stats: 27 tackles, 16 solo, and an interception

After an abysmal 2011 season in which Clemson allowed 26.2 points and 379.4 yards of total offense per game, Swinney made a change at the defensive coordinator position, hiring former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables.

The Tigers defense is still a work in progress, allowing 367.7 yards of total offense per game, including 179.7 yards rushing per game. Still FSU quarterback EJ Manuel says the Clemson defense has the athletes to be disruptive on that side of the ball.

"They are still the same team to me," said Manuel. "They look great. They have athletic guys just like our defense. They have a good front four, strong linebackers and strong defensive backs. It's definitely going to be a task for us to go out and handle things and do things like I know we can."

Despite giving up 14 plays of 20 yards or more in the first three games, the Tigers have been able to fore six turnovers (five interceptions).

Sophomore middle linebacker Stephone Anthony leads the team with 27 tackles, but cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Xavier Brewer have been active as well with 16 tackles each.

Safety Rashard Hall leads the team with two interceptions go along with 10 tackles.

Up front the majority of the productivity has come from defensive tackle DeShawn Williams and defensive end Malliciah Goodman. Williams has nine tackles, including three for loss and a sack, while Goodman has nine tackles, 2.5 for loss.

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