FSU Football: Why Cam Akers is the key against Clemson

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 11: Cam Akers #3 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with the ball against the defense of the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 11: Cam Akers #3 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with the ball against the defense of the Clemson Tigers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

FSU football heads to Death Valley to take Clemson this weekend, and Chop Chat’s Sam Tschida takes a look at why Cam Akers is the key for a win.

After a much-needed bye week, FSU football return to action this weekend on the road against #2 Clemson. The much-hyped ACC rivalry has lost its luster in recent years, with Clemson winning the past four matchups, with last year’s game resulting in the biggest blow out loss in FSU history.

Last year, the Seminoles somehow held the Tigers at bay for the first quarter, ending it tied 0-0 before Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers exploded for a 58-10 win. With the ‘Noles on a two-game win streak, many fans are hoping the newly-found momentum carries over into Death Valley.

For the ‘Noles to even have a chance against the Tigers, one player who has to make an impact is running back Cam Akers. So far this year, Akers has been having his best season as Seminole, running for 582 yards and seven touchdowns this season, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. With an offensive line that is still bad, and facing easily their toughest test so far this year, Akers will be the key to any sort of chance the Seminole have.

Florida State Seminoles Football
Florida State Seminoles Football /

Florida State Seminoles Football

So, how has Akers played against Clemson in his first two contests, and what should FSU fans expect on Saturday?

First and foremost, one thing should be made clear: the biggest factor when looking at how successfully Akers runs the ball is the offensive line, which has majorly struggled since he joined the ‘Noles in 2017. That being said, his numbers against the Tigers aren’t pretty.

In 2017, Akers ran for 40 yards on 12 carries in the 31-14 loss to the Tigers
2018 saw Akers run for 7 yards on 11 carries, for an average of 0.6 yards a carry in the gigantic loss to Clemson.

In two games against Clemson, Akers has totaled 47 yards on 23 carries, for an average of barely 2 yards a carry. As stated above, this isn’t really on Akers in any aspect, rather it’s on the complete and utter failure of the offensive line to give the halfbacks and running room. Still, it’s quite telling that in two years against Clemson, this is Akers’ best play.

Now, this season has been better on the ground for the ‘Noles, but they’re still not very good. Currently, FSU ranks 83rd in the country in rushing effectiveness (which measures how often runs go for positive yardage on a consistent basis) and 113th in stuff rate-allowed (which measures how many tackles for loss or no yards-gained plays a team allows).

Combine that with Clemson’s defense being ranked 10th in SP+ and allowing 2.7 yards-per-carry so far this season, things don’t look good for the ‘Noles running game.

Obviously, barring most of the Clemson front-seven getting suspended before game time, FSU and Akers will have a tough time running the football. But, if the ‘Noles can get even a little bit of the ground game going, and get over 3.5 yards a carry, then FSU might actually have a shot at making this a game. With this offensive line, how is that possible?

For starters, the offensive line has to play almost perfect football. This is not a group that will be able to physically beat the Tigers, but if they don’t make mental mistakes and stay in front of their guys, the running game can (marginally) work. The ‘Noles will have issues with RPOs because most of the time the handoff is the correct read, the running back will be bottled up.

So even though the ‘Noles need to run the ball to allow for cleaner passing lanes, a healthy dose of bubble screens will help the run game exponentially. Making Clemson’s linebacking core and safeties have to cover sideline-to-sideline will open up the middle of the field not only for passing lanes but inside zone as well.

Through five games, the ‘Noles are averaging 121.2 yards a game on the ground. To even have a chance against Clemson, FSU will need to come close to around 80 yards rushing. If the ‘Noles can run the ball semi-effectively, which means keeping Cam Akers contact-free until he reaches the line of scrimmage, it sets up nicely for the offense.

Clemson is a very good defensive team with a lot of studs, but they are very young. They’re secondary is also on a pretty-even footing with FSU’s receiving core. This is why the running game is so crucial. If Clemson does not have to stack the box to stop the run (meaning +5 defenders near the line of scrimmage), FSU is screwed. This is what happened last season against Notre Dame, Clemson, and UF, and we all remember what happened then: the ‘Noles could barely run the ball.

The chances for an upset on Saturday are small. But, if Cam Akers can find open holes on the ground to run through, the ‘Noles can stay in the game. Let’s hope he finally finds some success against the Tigers.