|Phil Sears/Associated Press|
|Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith is the Seminoles' leading tackler after making a position switch.|
Florida State hasn't won at Clemson since 2001, losing in its past five trips to Memorial Stadium, and if that trend is to end, the Seminoles' touted linebackers will be a key.
In particular, middle linebacker Christian Jones and outside linebacker Telvin Smith, both seniors, must play well. While FSU will use a lot of nickel packages Saturday, Jones (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and Smith (6-3, 218) are three-down linebackers who will be asked to do a lot of things, to the delight of NFL scouts.
Jones, who played outside linebacker in his first three seasons on campus, is considered one of the top three inside linebackers in the nation. He led FSU with 95 tackles last season and is fifth this season with 21. Jones is extremely athletic, but he's better against the run and on the pass rush than he is in coverage. He has a chance to be the first FSU linebacker to be drafted in the first round since Lawrence Timmons in 2007.
While Jones moved from the outside to the middle this season, Smith made the opposite move. He had been a backup on the inside for three seasons and is starting for the first time on the outside this fall; he leads the Seminoles with 32 tackles and four tackles for loss. He is seen as a potential third- or fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft.
Saturday against Clemson's prolific offense, expect to see Jones line up at defensive end at times in an attempt to rattle Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. And the speedy Smith likely will be asked to cover slot receivers on obvious passing downs. They also will have to worry about stopping Clemson's rushing attack, which features tailback Roderick McDowell and quarterback Tajh Boyd, a 225-pounder who is an effective short-yardage runner.
"When teams come in and spread the ball, that just shows you, 'How athletic are you? How can you play in space?' " Smith told The Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat. "As a player, obviously that's a challenge -- to show how good you are in certain situations."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday that FSU's defense doesn't employ many tricks. Instead, Swinney said, they rely on their talent and make you beat them.
Clemson ranks 13th nationally in total offense, gaining an average of 514.5 yards per game, and the Tigers will be the most explosive team FSU has played thus far. The Seminoles are seventh nationally in total defense (276.8 yards per game) but have played just one top-50 offense and just two top-95 offenses.
One issue for Clemson is its propensity for bad plays. The Tigers have had 40 negative-yardage plays, which is tied for 30th-most nationally. Can FSU take advantage? Despite having one of the most athletic defenses in the nation, FSU has come up with just 33 tackles for loss, which ranks 79th nationally.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.