Clemson University junior defensive end Vic Beasley understands the importance of his team’s matchup this Saturday, when the Florida State Seminoles invade Death Valley.
“It may be the biggest game in ACC history. We don't know," Beasley said.
The game between Clemson and FSU is without question the biggest game on the college football schedule for Week 8, and one that certainly has national title implications.
Clemson, now 6-0 and undefeated in ACC play, is ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll. The Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 in ACC), are ranked fifth. Both teams feature explosive offenses, with FSU averaging nearly 55 points a game. Clemson’s no slouch either, averaging 44 points.
It’s Clemson’s defense that could be the key difference. Their relentless pass rush has led to 24 sacks thus far, tops in the nation. Beasley is a key part of that pass rush, registering nine sacks on his own.
Last year, the Tigers built an early lead against FSU only to see the Seminoles charge back in the second half to walk away with a 49-37 victory. That gives Beasely extra motivation for Saturday’s game.
"Last year they got us, but I feel like we should have won," Beasley said "We're looking for payback."
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney also understands the game’s importance, but he’s preparing his team like he would for any other matchup.
“If you really change from what you normally do, then you send the wrong message," Swinney said. "I know it's not that way for fans, but that's the way it has to be for us to be consistent."
It’s Clemson’s consistency that has defined their season thus far. With the exception of their opening week 38-35 win over Georgia, the Tigers have held each opponent under 14 points each game. But they’ll have their hands full against the Seminoles, who are fourth in the nation in total yards per game.
The Tigers will have to find a way to shut down redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who is stating a strong case for the Heisman Trophy thus far with 1,441 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The FSU running game can’t be ignored, either. They’ve thus far averaged 228.2 yards per game on the ground, giving the Seminoles a very balanced attack.
But FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher knows full well the kind of pressure Clemson brings on the defensive side of the ball.
"I'm trying to get the ACC to give me 13 guys and give me two more linemen so we can block them," Fisher said. "I'm serious, they bring pressure."
That pressure will need to be neutralized by the FSU offensive line, and Winston knows that Clemson will be motivated.
“They're after our necks,” Winston said. We beat them at our home field last year. They beat us at their home team the year before that. It's just going back and forth battle."
The winner will have a huge advantage in a quest for a national championship. While Alabama and Oregon continue to soar at the top of the rankings, either FSU or Clemson could make things very interesting if either of them can run the table for the rest of the season.
The key for FSU will be to establish their running game early. The effective trio of James Wilder, Karlos Williams and Devonta Freeman will need to create opportunities against a Clemson defense that gives up 158 rushing yards per game.
It’s a battle that could determine supremacy in the ACC, but one that could also lead to bigger and better things for either program at the end of the season as well.