There’s no denying that the Florida State offensive line is improving.
After giving up 10 sacks in the first three games of the season, the Seminoles have surrendered just eight in the last four games.
Six of those came against a talented Miami defense that is tied for sixth among all schools with 25 sacks this season.
In two of FSU’s last three games, the Seminoles haven’t allowed any sacks.
FSU also had its first ACC game with 100-plus rushing yards Saturday against Wake Forest.
“I just think our guys are having a better understanding of what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to get accomplished and now that they have a better understanding they’re not panicking and they’re able to go out there and execute their assignment the way that we need to,” FSU head coach Willie Taggart said.
“I think that’s happening because they have a better feel for what we’re doing and understanding of how we’re going to get it done.
“We’re not where we want it to be completely but we continue to make little improvements like that, we’ll get there.”
These improvements over the past few weeks have moved FSU from among the worst FBS teams in sacks allowed to a tie for 84th out of 130.
It’s far from perfect, but as things currently stand, it would be a better finish for FSU in the stat than in three of the last five years.
“Definitely starting to come together. We’re starting to communicate better, we’re starting to recognize different defenses,” senior offensive lineman Derrick Kelly said.
“As far as confidence level, I feel like last week was definitely a big step for us.”
This improvement has come while there has still been significant shuffling among the starters.
FSU is the only team in the country that has used seven different combinations of offensive line starters in as many games this season.
Offensive linemen Cole Minshew, Derrick Kelly, Landon Dickerson and Brady Scott have all suffered injuries this season that have caused them to miss time.
While Dickerson remains out this week with no timetable for his return, the rest of the unit enters the week healthy.
Entering this week, FSU is hopeful it can repeat its starting offensive line unit for the first time this season.
“Hopefully more continuity,” FSU offensive coordinator Walt Bell said of what the same starting lineup could provide.
“Not necessarily just continuity in terms of how you block something, but just continuity in communication, continuity in comfort and knowing that this guy next to me has been there before.”
Added FSU offensive lineman Brady Scott, “It definitely helps just being able to communicate better with all the same guys in the same week.”
For FSU’s sake, it had better hope its healthy starting five is able to play Saturday.
The Clemson defensive line is among the best in the country.
Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant all shocked the world last offseason when they passed up being early-round NFL Draft picks to return for their senior seasons.
They join junior defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence to create a starting defensive line that will all play on Sundays after their collegiate careers are over.
“They have a great defense, great defensive line. A lot of All-Americans on the defensive line, a lot of good talent,” FSU running back Cam Akers said.
“We have to be ready. We have to have our best foot forward to deal with that.”
Added Scott, “It’s going to be a great competition for us. I’m really excited just to show what I can do and go against guys that are supposed to be pretty good.”
Any team would struggle to prepare for a defensive line of Clemson’s caliber.
While this holds true for FSU, the Seminoles believe they go against a comparable defensive line every day in practice.
“I think for us it’s not necessarily difficult to prepare because we have one of the top defensive lines in the country as well. So I think going against our guys daily helps our guys,” Taggart said.
“Our guys are just as talented as their guys are and so it helps.
“Our guys get some good competition daily going against those guys, so they will be prepared for them.”
The stats back this bold statement up.
FSU has 25 sacks this season to Clemson’s 21. Against FBS opponents, FSU has 25 to Clemson’s 18.
Ferrell has six sacks for the Tigers this season while no one else has more than three.
Defending the run, the team’s numbers are also comparable.
The Seminoles (103.71 rush yards per game allowed) rank eighth-best in the country in this stat, four yards better than Clemson (107.71, 14th).
Breaking down rush yards per attempt, Clemson (2.58, 3rd in FBS) is marginally better than FSU (2.68, 5th).
“For every great one that they’ve got, in practice we’ve got a Brian Burns, we got a J-Rob or Wally or Christmas or Marvin. I mean, we get to go against a pretty good group every day too,” Bell said.
“In terms of speed of the game, I think that will help us more than anything.
In terms of preparation, I think it’s — whether it be a matchup we know that’s going to occur — just making sure that we’re putting our kids in a position to be successful. That’s really going to be our focus this week.”
Florida State vs. Clemson
When: Saturday, 12 p.m.
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
TV/Radio: ABC/103.1 FM