What Clemson football needs to show against Florida State

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Clemson football held the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll, until it lost to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. At 7-1, Dabo Swinney’s team still holds the No. 4 rank in the nation. Another shaky performance could begin shifting the Tigers out of range for the College Football Playoff. Clemson needs a big game this weekend against the struggling Florida State Seminoles.

Luckily for the Tigers, Trevor Lawrence is returning from his battle with COVID-19. The future No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft traveled with the team to South Bend two weeks ago, but the conference didn’t clear him in time to play. Lawrence is an emotional leader for the Tigers, and he should provide them with a spark ahead of their crucial matchup.

Trevor Lawrence’s impact

D.J. Uiagalelei played as well as anyone could’ve asked for during his two-game stint in relief of Lawrence. In total, the true freshman completed 59 of his 85 passes (69.4%) for 781 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for two more scores. While that’s impressive and gives the Tigers hope for the future, Lawrence is a generational talent. He should bring some extra juice to Clemson’s offense immediately.

Lawrence elevating Clemson’s offense in his return is important beyond just increasing morale. It’ll show the AP and College Football Playoff selection committee that Clemson wasn’t at its full strength the past two weeks. That could result in better rankings for the Tigers moving forward.

Outside of influencing the rankings, Lawrence needs to restore stability and faith within and surrounding Clemson’s program. With him at the helm, the Tigers are one of the nation’s best teams. The junior needs to remind the country how impactful he is.

Travis Etienne’s full potential

Notre Dame put a lid on Etienne, limiting the ACC’s all-time leading rusher to 28 yards on 18 carries (1.6 yards per attempt). The offensive line deserves some blame for the forgettable performance, but that wasn’t the first game this season where Etienne struggled to assert his dominance.

Etienne averaged at least 7.2 yards per carry during his first three seasons. He’s only picking up 5.2 yards per attempt this season. The senior’s increased role in the passing game means he’s still making a Heisman level impact, but he hasn’t looked unstoppable this year. After rushing for 100 yards eight times last season and 190 yards three times, Etienne only has two 100-yard games in 2020.

The superstar running back made eight receptions for 57 yards against the Fighting Irish, which slightly helped his overall performance. However, Etienne’s 28 rushing yards were his fewest since several games in his freshman season, and his 1.9 yards per carry marked a career-low. The future first-round pick needs to rebound with a jaw-dropping performance against a Florida St. team that’s allowing 193.5 rushing yards per game.

Absolute dominance in the trenches

Notre Dame pushed the Tigers around two weeks ago. Losing guard Matt Bockhorst halfway through the game didn’t help, but Clemson wasn’t thriving with the starting guard in the lineup anyway. It’s no secret that Clemson’s offensive line lost four starters after last season and hasn’t quite caught up to speed yet, but it cannot wait any longer.

The defensive line needs to pick up the pace too. This defensive front is arguably Clemson’s weakest in four or five seasons. The unit gave up 208 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns to the Fighting Irish a few weeks after Syracuse ran for 150 yards against it. Injuries have played a large role in Clemson’s defensive front regressing, but that isn’t an excuse for getting pushed around.

Hopefully, Clemson’s injured defensive linemen are healthy enough to suit up against Florida State. This is an opportunity for the Tigers to unleash their pass rush and bring Mike Norvell’s rushing attack to a screeching halt. The Seminoles are almost averaging more rushing yards per game (184.4) than passing (196.6), which means putting the clamps on their stable of running backs is a high priority.

Switching back to the offensive line, Florida State gives up 193.5 rushing yards per game and only has 10 sacks this season. Lawrence shouldn’t feel any pressure this Saturday, and Etienne should throw himself at full speed back into the Heisman Trophy race.

It’s go time for Clemson

After a near loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels and Sam Howell last season, the Tigers locked in and decimated their remaining competition during the regular season. Clemson outlasted North Carolina 21-20. The Tigers won their remaining games, including the ACC Championship by at least 31 points and didn’t allow more than 17 more points again until the College Football Playoff.

Clemson football fans waited for their team to flip that switch after a stressful 34-28 comeback win against the Boston College Eagles. It didn’t work, and now fans are begging Lawrence and Swinney to make it happen after a 40-47 double-overtime loss to the Fighting Irish.

The matchup against Florida State is the perfect game for Clemson to escalate its takeover of the ACC. The Tigers faced the Seminoles after their North Carolina game last season as well. Lawrence guided them to a 45-14 victory, and we can use that game as a measuring stick for what to expect from the Tigers for the rest of this season. Florida State went 6-7 in 2019, but it is only 2-6 this year.

If Clemson football can’t get in championship mode now, it might lose to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game or limp into the College Football Playoff with no momentum.

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