By Joe Reedy
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State is hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself as it prepares to face another Heisman Trophy contender.
The 12th-ranked Seminoles had one of their worst games of the Jimbo Fisher era in a thumping against Lamar Jackson and no. 5 Louisville. On Saturday, they face Deshaun Watson and third-ranked Clemson for the third time.
“You watch the consistency he plays with, he throws the deep ball, the short ball, can run,” Fisher said of Watson. “He’s a great competitor and always finds ways to make the plays.”
This will be the third time that Watson has faced the Seminoles. Two years ago he came off the bench and completed 19 of 28 for 266 yards along with a rushing touchdown. Last season he had 404 yards of total offense (297 passing, 107 rushing) as the Tigers beat FSU for the first time in four years.
Compared to other Atlantic Division teams, the Seminoles (5-2, 2-2 ACC) have had better success against the Tigers (7-0, 4-0) and Watson. FSU is the only division foe to defeat Watson and the two touchdowns they’ve given up to him is the least an Atlantic Division team has allowed against Watson.
Florida State’s defense comes into the game a confident bunch. They held Miami and Wake Forest under 300 yards for the unit’s best performances of the season. Though both of those teams featured conventional pocket quarterbacks.
Watson brings back memories of the Seminoles’ nightmarish start.
In FSU’s first five games, it allowed an average of 35.4 points and 438.4 yards against mostly dual-threat quarterbacks. It allowed Jackson to compile 362 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the 63-20 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 17.
Watson is also going into the game beaming with confidence. In three October games, he has completed 68.5 percent of his passes and is averaging 318 passing yards.
But Watson said the Louisville game wasn’t a good indicator of what he expects from Florida State’s defense.
“Each game is a different type of scheme and a different way they want to play,” Watson said. “Those guys are building their chemistry each and every week, again they trust in each other and they’re trying to get better and help their team win.”
Tigers co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is another who has noticed a difference from the Louisville game to now.
“I think they were doing a lot of things on defense early in the season, but you notice the last four games it looks like they’ve kind of simplified and allowed their athletes to go out and play,” he said.
One major reason for Florida State’s improvement has been better communication among players, but they have continued to struggle when teams go no huddle.
Cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who is tied for the national lead in interceptions with five, said the unit has done a better job of not missing assignments. However, that will be put to the test against Clemson.
McFadden also said they need to get pressure on Watson. The Seminoles had a season-high five sacks in the Oct. 15 win over Wake, but has only had three in the previous two meetings against Watson.
That sets up a critical matchup between Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who has 8.5 sacks, and Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt.
Walker said that the Tigers’ offensive line does a good job with blocking schemes and that Hyatt should be a tough matchup because he has strong hands and good feet.
If Walker and his teammates can force Watson into mistakes, the odds shift in their favor. The only problem is, Watson doesn’t make many.
Watson has committed only one turnover against Florida State but the Seminoles have done a good job this season of forcing turnovers. They have forced one in eight straight games dating back to last season and already have nine interceptions after having eight all of last year.
Something will have to give on Saturday night.