HOW THEY RUN
Andre Ellington continues Clemson’s recent run of quick, difficult-to-handle running backs. The senior had 1,178 rushing yards a year ago and a fine 5.3 yards per carry average, and was selected to the All-ACC second team. He was also a bright spot in Clemson’s embarrassing loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, rushing for 116 yards in just 10 attempts.
Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney shake hands prior to the 2010 FSU-Clemson game in Tallahassee.
Ellington got off to a fine start in 2012, rushing for a staggering 228 yards in the Tigers' 26-19 win over Auburn in Atlanta. Since then he's compiled totals of 328 yards, a 6.2 yards-per-carry average and four touchdowns.
HOW THEY PASS
Junior Tajh Boyd was one of the surprises of the 2011 ACC football season, and the FSU defense got a good taste of what he could do last year when he put up 344 yards, three touchdowns and a 62.8 completion percentage.
Boyd, named the preseason'a All-ACC quarterback, finished with 3,828 yards and a sterling 33-to-12 touchdown to interception ratio. He's completed 63 of his 86 passes (73.3 percent) through three games this season and has six touchdowns against one interception.
Boyd will have plenty of weapons in his arsenal come Saturday, too. After serving a two-game suspension, sophomore sensation Sammy Watkins (82 catches, 1,219 yards, 12 TDs) returned to the lineup last week against Furman and hauled in four catches for 52 yards. Aformer five-star prospect, Watkins was named a first-team All-American last year — a rarity for a true freshman — was recently selected as the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
Joining him in the Tigers’ receiving corps is leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Through three games, Hopkins has 26 catches for 319 yards and four TDs.
Watkins and Hopkins accounted for more than 57 percent of CU’s passing production in 2011.
HOW THEY DEFEND
Clemson’s offense is a proven commodity and one of the best Florida State will face this season. The Tigers’ defense, though, is a big question mark and should go a long way in determining what type of season it will be in Death Valley.
The Tigers ranked 71st in total defense a year ago, and CU fired defensive coordinator and former FSU assistant Kevin Steele following an embarrassing Orange Bowl performance in which the Tigers surrendered 70 points in a blowout loss to West Virginia.
Sammy Watkins returned to the Clemson lineup last week against Furman.
Clemson hopes it has found the cure in former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who accepted the same position with the Tigers. In Venables’ 16 years as a defensive coach, his teams have finished in the top 10 in total defense seven times. Venables will have a task on his hands, though, as he’ll have to find suitable replacements for defensive linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson, both of whom are now plying their trades on NFL rosters.
Clemson currently ranks 56th in the nation in total defense allows 4.8 yards per carry on the ground a 180 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Stephone Anthony leads the team with 27 tackles, but no player has more than one sack.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Tigers’ offense might be the toughest that the Seminoles face this season. CU is one of just three schools in the nation to return a 3,000-yard passer (Boyd), a 1,000-yard receiver (Watkins) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Ellington) from 2011.
FSU-Clemson has become the ACC’s top football rivalry in recent years, and for good reason. Their annual meeting is typically close, hotly contested and almost always plays a significant factor in the Atlantic Division race. As is the case in most years, the winner will have the inside track to Charlotte before the month of September is even complete, while the loser will be stuck with no margin for error, and hoping for a later slip-up that allows them to get back in the race.
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney is entering his fourth full season at Clemson after taking over midway though 2008. He has a 29-19 record with the Tigers and won the 2011 ACC championship.
2011 Final Ranking: 22 AP, 22 Coaches
Offensive starters returning/lost: 8/3
Defensive starters returning/lost: 7/4
All-time series: Florida State leads 17-8
First meeting: 1970 in Tallahassee, Florida State 38, Clemson 13
Last meeting: 2011 in Clemson, Clemson 35, Florida State 30
Last postseason appearance: 2012 Orange Bowl, West Virginia 70, Clemson 33
Last Atlantic Coast Conference Championship: 2011
FSU vs. Clemson, year-by-year
Nov. 7, 1970 at Florida State 38, Clemson 13
Nov. 1, 1975 Florida State 43, at Clemson 7
Oct. 30, 1976, Clemson 15, at Florida State 12
Sept. 17, 1988 No. 10 Florida State 24, at No. 3 Clemson 21
Sept. 9, 1989, No. 10 Clemson 34, at No. 16 Florida State 23
Sept. 12, 1992, No. 5 Florida State 24, at No. 15 Clemson 20
Sept. 11, 1993, at No. 1 Florida State 57, No. 21 Clemson 0
Oct. 22, 1994, at No. 10 Florida State 17, Clemson 0
Sept. 9, 1995, No. 1 Florida State, at Clemson 45-26
Oct. 5, 1996, at No. 2 Florida State 34, Clemson 3
Sept. 20, 1997, No. 5 Florida State 35, at No. 16 Clemson 28
Oct. 17, 1998, at No. 6 Florida State 48, Clemson 0
Oct. 23, 1999, No. 1 Florida State 17, at Clemson 14
Nov. 4, 2000, at No. 4 Florida State 48, No. 10 Clemson 0
Nov. 3, 2001, No. 14 Florida State 41, at No. 24 Clemson 27
Nov. 3, 2002, at No. 11 Florida State 48, Clemson 31
Nov. 8, 2003, at Clemson 26, Florida State 10
Sept. 25, 2004, at No. 8 Florida State 41, Clemson 22
Nov. 12, 2005, at Clemson 35, No. 17 Florida State 14
Sept. 16, 2006, Clemson 27, at No. 9 Florida State 20
Sept. 3, 2007, at Clemson 24, No. 19 Florida State 18
Nov. 8, 2008, at No. 24 Florida State 41, Clemson 27
Nov. 7, 2009, at Clemson 40, Florida State 24
Nov. 13, 2010, at Florida State 16, Clemson 13
Sept. 24, 2011, at No. 21 Clemson 35, No. 11 Florida State 30