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Clemson beats Florida State, Clinches ACC Atlantic despite key injuries

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (90) and linebacker Kendall Joseph (34) are two of the key injuries in Clemson’s defense. Neither started the game against Florida State on Saturday. 

Injuries can take an unexpected toll on a football team. Both sides of this contest were marred by them, one more than the other. Florida State lost its starting quarterback midway through the first game of the season and multiple other starters on both sides of the ball throughout the season. Clemson entered the game enduring several recent injuries to starters defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and weak side linebacker Kendall Joseph. 

The question at hand is whether the game would have turned out differently had all of the starters been healthy on both sides. The answer to that is probably yes, but not how you would expect. Florida State was missing weapons mostly on the offensive side of the ball whereas Clemson was missing them on the defensive side. Considering the strengths of each side, Clemson would still probably have won this ball game. 

Deondre Francois was poised to be the Seminoles’ starting quarterback coming off of a brilliant freshman year and continuing to dominate the competition. During the first game of the season against Alabama, Francois took a nasty hit to the leg and was carted off the field. It was later revealed he had a patella tendon injury and would be out for the year. 

Freshman James Blackman was called upon to replace the dynamic Francois, but the Noles’ newest QB  hasn’t played well enough to mask the other problems on the team. During Saturday’s game, he was fairly atrocious against a damaged, but still robust Clemson defense, going 13-for-32 for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Francois faced a similar Clemson defense last year and torched it, so it seems likely that he would have made Swiss cheese of the current defense as well. 

Florida State was also without their starting left tackle and right guard, as both are out for the season. This left the running game and quarterback vulnerable to attack from the swarm that is the Clemson defense. 

Running back Cam Akers was held to 40 yards on 12 rushes during what was a poor showing for the Florida State offense as a whole. 

Without the ground game to help him out, Blackman was forced to put the game in his hands, but he could never escape the unrelenting force of the Tiger defensive line. Clemson finished the game with five sacks and ten tackles for loss, constantly disrupting the offensive line’s protection. 

If Florida State had a healthy quarterback and offensive line, the Clemson defense probably wouldn’t have manhandled them as much as they did Saturday. 

Clemson was not without its share of debilitating injuries either, but the difference is that their substitutions stepped up. Albert Huggins had the unenviable task of starting in place of Lawrence, but Huggins stuffed the stat sheet and wreaked havoc all night long. He recorded four tackles, two solo tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. There was almost no drop off for Clemson’s defensive line which was necessary to help out the nearly-depleted secondary. 

Joseph, a weak side linebacker, was on Thursday’s injury report for the first time all season with an undisclosed leg injury. He ended up missing this game and being replaced by JD Davis, who performed quite well in his stead. 

Davis lead the team in tackles with seven and in solo tackles with four. Davis was only making his second start of the season, but there was little difference between him and Joseph, which left little doubt Clemson’s defense could handle the Florida State offense. 

Coming into this game, Clemson was already down two cornerbacks including starting corner Marcus Edmond. Ryan Carter was the third to go down after Seminole linebacker Emmett Rice targeted him during a punt. Rice was seen taunting him before and after being ejected for the head-to-head hit. Carter is Clemson’s number one cornerback and a major veteran presence in the locker room. Losing him for the rest of the game opened up an even bigger hole in Clemson’s secondary that Florida State started exploiting.

Despite all of the injuries to Clemson’s defense and Florida State’s offense, the game probably wouldn’t have gone very differently. It ended up being Clemson’s defense that would save their game when Van Smith intercepted Blackman late in the fourth quarter to quell the Seminole comeback bid. As good as Francois is, this Tiger defense is better, with or without their starters. 


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