Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
CLEMSON, S.C. -- The tailgating is in full swing here in Death Valley, and it’s a beautiful evening for it -- finally. It has rained at some point during each of the first five Clemson home games this year. If the game lives up to the pregame excitement and buzz, it should be a great one. The Atlantic Division standings are on the line, and it’s Clemson’s division to lose. FSU has some momentum, though, and can still sneak in. The Noles will move into second place with a win.
Here are three keys to this game:
1. Pressure on Ponder. This is the biggest key. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has been one of the top performers in the country in recent weeks, but only he knows how much pain he’s truly in from the bruised ribs he suffered in last week’s win over NC State. Clemson’s defensive line is one of its deepest units and biggest strengths. Their backup defensive ends are good enough to start for some other ACC teams. Guys like Kevin Alexander, Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch are still going to bring the heat. Clemson leads the ACC in sacks.
2. Turnovers and penalties. These could be the X factor. Clemson is the least penalized team in the ACC. Florida State is the worst. All Florida State needs in this kind of game is a little bit of help from a fumble or an interception. Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has shown marked improvement over the past couple of weeks, but he’s also got eight interceptions and 10 touchdowns this year. FSU has a plus-four turnover margin, but Clemson is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to interceptions with 15.
3. Will FSU’s defense show up? It was an emotional week with the announcement of Mickey Andrews’ retirement, so you’d think the Seminoles would be driven to play for him in one of their most critical games of the season. You don’t morph from one of the country’s worst defenses, though, into one of the best in a matter of four quarters. What the Noles need to do is stay fundamentally sound, make their tackles, stay away from penalties, and limit the big plays from Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller.