Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows what great defenses look like. He hasn't seen that yet from his latest group of Tigers.
“We are a good unit right now. We are not a great unit,” Venables said. “We've had some great moments, but we are not a suffocating unit yet.”
The fourth-ranked Tigers (7-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) will try and suffocate struggling Florida State (2-6, 1-6) on Saturday.
Venables has been in charge of Clemson's defense since 2012. He's also been an integral part of the Tigers' five straight ACC titles and two national championships.
On this team, Venables sees the cracks that have come from injuries and not enough playmaking. Clemson is 13th overall nationally, yielding 301 yards a game and ranks 24th in both passing yards and rushing yards allowed.
The Tigers gave up just 60 points total their first five games and 102 combined in their last three.
It's good, just not good enough, in Venables' view.
“We have to get better to make a run at this,” he said. “We have to improve.”
Clemson must also get healthy. Linebacker James Skalski will miss the Florida State game, but starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis should be back for the first time in more than a month.
Florida State has had difficulties finding consistency in coach Mike Norvell's first season. But the Seminoles know this is a chance for a signature victory in an otherwise disappointing year.
“We kind of expect everyone to look down upon us,” Seminoles tailback Jashaun Corbin said. “But we love the challenge. Clemson is a great team, but I like where we are at and the guys that we have.”
Clemson has some good guys, too, especially at quarterback where Heisman Trophy contender Trevor Lawrence returns after missing the past two games since testing positive for COVID-19. Lawrence said he feels healthy, strong and confident he can keep the Tigers in championship contention down the stretch.
Some other things to watch for when No. 4 Clemson plays at Florida State:
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE:
Clemson is a on an ACC run of Florida State like proportions. When the Seminoles joined the league in 1992, they went on to win nine straight conference titles and two national championships. They also held a dominant 17-6 record over the Tigers from 1992-2014. But since then, it's been Clemson in control with five ACC crowns, two national titles and five straight wins over FSU.
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis was out the past game-and-half with a concussion. But Seminoles coach Mike Norvell said the team was “excited” to have Travis back on the field and working out. Travis is expected to play against Clemson. Freshman backup Chubba Purdy is out for the year after having a third surgery for a collarbone injury suffered in August.
Clemson receiver Cornell Powell is making the most of his final season. Powell, a fifth-year senior, has been one of the Tigers' go-to wideouts in a year when Tee Higgins left for the NFL and Justyn Ross missed the year with injury. Powell has had 17 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown in Clemson's past two games. He had 14 catches for 152 yards and two scores in the Tigers' first six games.
Florida State could be finding itself offensively as this season goes on. The Seminoles averaged 230 yards rushing in its four games in October to rank fourth in the ACC. Florida State's 435-yard total offense average was seventh best in the league during that stretch. Those numbers, though, fell off in the past two losses to Pitt and North Carolina State, as Florida State ran for 146.5 yards and 318 yards overall.
It's that time of the season when Clemson coordinators get name checked for potential job openings. This time its offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, whose name has been connected to the South Carolina opening after it fired Will Muschamp last Sunday. Elliott, though, said he's got a job that demands his full attention. “I'm focused on these players and the staff right here,” he said. Elliott's co-coordinator Jeff Scott left to become South Florida's head coach after last season.
Associated Press Writer Bob Ferrante in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report
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