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Behind enemy bylines: Clemson vs. Florida State

Kate Finkelstein // FSView
Clemson will host No. 4 Florida State in Memorial Stadium at noon on Saturday, Sept. 23.

Ahead of Clemson football’s game against No. 4 Florida State on Saturday, The Tiger’s Associate Editor, Justin Robertson, spoke with Jackson Bakich, Sports Editor of FS View, Florida State’s student newspaper.

Justin Robertson (JR): What makes this year’s Florida State team different from years past?

Jackson Bakich (JB): I’d certainly say it’s additions from the transfer portal. You take a look at guys like Keon Coleman, Jaheim Bell and Johnny Wilson. It makes the offense so dynamic, all the offensive line, as well, they brought through the portal. It makes you have to decide which player you’re going to double cover, especially dealing with wide receivers. If you take a look at the LSU game, the LSU secondary had to decide whether they were going to double cover the 6-foot-7 wide receiver Johnny Wilson or the 6-foot-4 deep-ball threat Keon Coleman. You need to decide which guy you’re going to double cover, and they can both beat you. It’s so hard for a defense to have an answer, and that LSU game was evidence of that.

But at the same time, if your players drop passes like we’ve seen here recently, it kind of makes it null and void. But through the portal, Florida State has taken, I don’t want to say the easy route — they’ve had to recruit players and put in effort in the high school recruiting realm— but through the portal, Florida State has pretty much cut corners and built a championship roster.

JR: What did Boston College do last week against the Seminoles that Clemson might be able to replicate?

JB: Boston College won in the trenches. Florida State didn’t run the ball particularly well. I mean, they held Trey Benson to under 40 yards, and I think just over three yards per carry. Florida State’s identity is to run first and then beat you in the play-action or through the air. Especially if you’re running the ball so much, it’s going to force those safeties to kind of creep up and allow you to take shots downfield. Boston College also was very good at holding onto the ball. They had almost eight or nine more minutes in the time of possession, and they were able to convert on third down, which those two things have been the identity of Florida State football for the past two years.

So I think the time of possession and third down percentages on both sides of the ball will certainly keep Florida State at bay because if they can’t hold on to the ball, and they’re forcing their defense to be on the field for 35 minutes, that’s going to force Florida State to score on a lot of drives. So I’d certainly say Clemson just has to keep the ball for longer. I know that sounds pretty basic, but if they’re able to convert on third down and hold onto the ball, that kind of suffocates the life out of Florida State because that’s their whole identity.

JR: What is the biggest strength of this Florida State team?

JB: I think really in multiple areas. I think you can take a look at the running back room with Trey Benson, Lawrance Toafili and the freshmen Rodney Hill, all very capable of not only finding their spots but really finishing after contact and finishing runs. And, of course, the wide receiver room. The wide receiver room is stacked, and you have a guy like Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman, who might be a first or second-round draft pick. Those guys can beat you on a slant, they can beat you on a jump ball, they can beat you on a jet sweep. They’re just tremendous athletes.

JR: What separates Jordan Travis from some of the other quarterbacks across the country?

JB: I certainly say his toughness. This is a guy who has really dealt with injuries pretty much ever since he got to Florida State in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, the offensive line was mediocre to above average. He’s taken a lot of hits since he’s gotten to Florida State. I don’t think he’s played all 12 games since he started his career for Florida State, and we saw him go down at Boston College. But Jordan Travis is a guy who will always find a way to get back onto the field some way, somehow.

His ability to extend plays just to escape sacks or to escape the rush is like something I’ve never seen. You take a look at some of these highlights against Florida last year in Tallahassee, and he makes that offensive line on paper look a lot better than they are. But when you look at Jordan Travis and the sacks he’s able to escape, if you have a standstill quarterback, they would have been sacked twice as much as Jordan Travis has been throughout his career. And he’s becoming a better passer it seems every week. The running game has always been there, but since he’s been able to put those two together, his candidacy for the Heisman has never looked stronger.

JR: Who will win and why?

JB: I’m going to go 35- 27, Florida State wins. I think they do win the battle in the trenches. I know you have guys like Xavier Thomas and Will Shipley, who are able to bounce off a tackle like it’s butter, but I think Florida State is a little deeper. They do have some injury questions going into this week; they had two or three starters on the offensive line who were inactive for the Boston College game. Assuming everybody’s healthy, I think Florida State wins in the trenches, and I think they have too many offensive weapons for the Clemson secondary to deal with.

Interview responses were edited for length and clarity.

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Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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