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Sept. 21, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – It's one of football’s most basic “games within the game” – a great defensive line against a great offensive line.
That’s one of the intriguing elements of Saturday night’s marquee matchup that sends Clemson to play at Florida State. Not only does the game have significant impact on the Atlantic Division of the ACC, it has national implications as well. In the current Associated Press poll, the Seminoles are ranked fourth and the Tigers 10th.
You can analyze the matchup in various ways – skill players against defenders, return teams against coverage teams, quarterbacks against defenses. But one that stands out is Florida State’s defensive line against Clemson’s offensive line.
“If they dominate our offensive line,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, “it’s going to be a long night.”
That’s exactly what the Seminoles have in mind, although they realize the task won’t be as easy as it was in their first three games. Florida State has allowed just three points so far, ranking first nationally in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense.
But the Tigers, with their array of offensive weapons, will be by far the toughest test.
“It’s all going to come back to the D-line,” said FSU defensive end Tank Carradine. “If the D-line wins up front, I’m pretty sure we can stop them from scoring and prevent them from converting third downs and not let them pound the ball on drives. They have great skill guys and they have a great quarterback as well, so we have to contain them, and we’re looking forward to doing all this.”
Carradine’s first name is Cornellius but he was nicknamed “Tank” when he was two years old because he used to charge around running over anything and anyone in his path. Nearly everyone calls him that and it has served him well playing football.
He grew up in Cincinnati, went to Butler Community College in Kansas and was a first-team junior college All-American, recording 26 sacks in two seasons. Carradine wanted to play Division I football in the south and some friends at Butler helped him decide where.
“I had a couple of friends who were from Florida and every day they would convince me to go to Florida State,” he said. “They told me ‘you have to go there because you fit the defense.’ Once I came on a visit, I saw that I wanted to come to Florida State, and I saw that I did fit their defense.”
As a junior, Carradine became part of a rotation at end with Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. Coach Jimbo Fisher called them “1A, 1B and 1C” at that position. Once he settled in and adjusted to the speed of the game at this level, Carradine went on to make 38 tackles, including 5 ½ sacks.
All three ends returned to start this season, but Jenkins went down with a knee injury in the first game and will miss the rest of the year. Carradine, who played both sides of the line, has now moved into Jenkins’ spot on the right side.
So far, he and Werner have kept up their pressure, with help from some younger players. Carradine leads the team with 12 tackles, including 4½ tackles for loss and 3½ sacks. Werner has 11 tackles, including nine for loss and 6½ sacks.
“And we’ve been very pleased with the young guys when they’ve played, they’ve been getting quality reps,” Fisher said. “But those two older guys, I think, have done a phenomenal job.”
The Seminoles didn’t encounter much resistance from their first three opponents but they realize Clemson presents a completely different task. The first job is to contain the Tigers’ mobile quarterback Tajh Boyd. He’s the catalyst that opens things up for running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and De’Andre Hopkins.
“Our quarterback has got to make plays,” Swinney said. “He’s got to extend some drives with his legs, and there will be some times where it isn’t going to be pretty and he’s got to scramble. So far this season he’s made some really big plays for us in that regard.
“He’s going to have to play great in every area Saturday night against this defense. This is definitely the biggest challenge to this point and may end up being the biggest all year from a defensive standpoint. These guys are as good as anybody you’re going to play in the country.”
Pressure on the quarterback is an essential part of any defensive game plan.
“I don’t care if you’re Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or whoever,” Fisher said, “if they can affect you with rush and pressure, it’s not comfortable whoever you are. The challenge is to make sure you do it within your rush lanes and not let him scramble and create (big) plays with his legs.”
Carradine believes film study has given FSU’s defense a good read on Boyd.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for sure,” he said, “but just watching film we have a head start on what he likes to do. We know where he likes to run, we know how he likes to drop (back to pass), we know everything about him from knowing about their offense.
“With knowing our keys, we’ll be able to say, ‘on this play don’t lose your contain, try to keep him in the pocket and push up the field,’ especially on a pass. On runs, they do a lot of trick stuff, a lot of motion, so we have to well-prepared to play very good techniques for us to be able to stop their run.”
With teams this talented, each is going to make plays during the course of the game. How the ebb and flow progresses may determine the outcome.
“They’re going to win some battles but we’ve got to win more than they do at the line of scrimmage,” Swinney said.
Carradine, who is 6-5, 265, will line up most often against Clemson left tackle Brandon Thomas, (6-5, 305, junior). He understands what Swinney meant.
“We know adversity is going to happen,” he said. “We know they’re going to make plays. What we have to do is stop them from making as many as they want to in order for us to win the game.
“And we can do that if our D-line can dominate up front. So by us being able to control that line of scrimmage, which I know we can do, it will slow (their offense) down a lot, it will slow down everything with their skill guys.”
Carradine considers himself a physical player who can defend the pass and the run. He set high standards this season and believes he has a lot to prove to himself and his teammates. The FSU defense, especially the line, was highly touted coming into this season and this game provides a measuring stick to prove it’s for real.
“We’ve got to live up to the hype, you know?” Carradine said. “We know people are looking for us to have one of the best D-lines in the country, so we’ve got to live up to the potential.
“We’ve got the guys who can get the job done. Our whole D-line is on the same page, we all know our assignments and technique, and we know what we’re going against in our opponent.”
And now it’s just a matter of playing that game within the game.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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