Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney set the tone for this week on his weekly teleconference call with the media on Sunday night. NC State, who the Tigers play this coming Saturday in Death Valley, is 4-1 and is tied with Clemson for first place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
“We are tied and we want to break that tie,” Swinney said.
Swinney says the Wolfpack, who has won three straight games, is the best team they have faced outside of Louisville this season. However, I know what you guys are thinking right now.
“Will, Three of their wins has come against William & Mary, Old Dominion and Wake Forest, and the fourth came in a torrential downpour against a Notre Dame team that has won just two games this year. How can they be the best team? Also, they lost to East Carolina who turned around the next week and lost to a bad South Carolina team. How can they be good?”
I hear you. Swinney is saying all the right things, though. It is coach speak at its best. I get it. But is it all coach speak.
Let’s look at the facts. No one in the ACC last year scored more points (41) and put up more yards (389) against Clemson’s defense last year than NC State. Running back Matt Dayes had 72 yards rushing on nine carries in the first half before and injury took him out of the game.
“They are a 4-1 team that is coming off a huge win and are very confident,” Swinney said. “They are always tough, especially when we go up there. It has been a slugfest every time. We have had some tough games here as well. We have a lot of respect for them.”
But this is not the first time an NC State team has come into Death Valley with a 4-1 record and the perception they can stay on the field against the Tigers. Two years ago, the Wolfpack came to Death Valley with a 4-1 record and with the ACC’s top-ranked offense. They left with a 41-0 beatdown.
Last year, they were 5-3 and came in with supposedly the ACC’s second best overall defense at the time. The Tigers hung 56 points on them and put up 623 yards.
But, as Swinney likes to remind us all, that was last year. What they know right now is that the ‘Pack is playing well and is coming into Death Valley with a lot of confidence.
“They are different this year. They brought in a transfer quarterback with a new coordinator. They both came from Boise (State), I guess, and are very familiar with each other,” he said.
“This will be another good defense. They are eighth in the country in total defense. They are eighth in rush defense and 15th in scoring defense so it is another big challenge for us this week. They have a good running back.”
All that stuff might be true, but as we know, stats can sometimes lie. The Notre Dame game, for lack of a better word, is a wash.
The Irish is still probably the best offensive team the ‘Pack has faced, but with the heavy rain, the poor field conditions and the 40 mph wind gust at times, they were limited from a play calling standpoint and never got to unleash their full arsenal.
“Obviously, the game on Saturday was just a mess, but it was equal playing surface for both teams, but you could still tell with the athleticism, and things like that, it was still relative with the conditions,” Swinney said.
The better comparison for Saturday’s homecoming game is East Carolina, at least from an offensive standpoint. The Pirates racked up 445 total yards against NC State’s “vaunted defense,” including 297 through the air on 33-of-43 passes. They had two touchdown passes to one interception as East Carolina won a shootout, 33-30.
So tell me. Is NC State truly the eighth best defense in the country?
“We will have to play very well. This will be the best team we have played outside of Louisville to this point. Louisville has been the best team we have played, but this team is right there with them. So we have a big week,” Swinney said.
“They have good players. This is a really good defensive front that we are going to play. They’re very good. They have good linebackers and they’re always good in the secondary,” Swinney continued, “and then offensively, they have a new coordinator. But that 28 (Dayes) last year, he switched to No. 1 and he is a big-time playmaker. They’re running back is a very good runner. This is a good football team. Again, they are 4-1 and they’re playing for the same things that we are.”
That might all be true, Coach, but let’s be honest here. They’re not as good as you. At this point in the season, based on who you have played, their numbers don’t lie. NC State’s on the other hand, considering who it has played, the jury is still out on whether they are a good team or not.
We are going to find out this week and next week when they follow up their trip to Death Valley with a trip to Louisville on Oct. 22. I’ll just say it. I don’t think their defense will be ranked No. 8 in the country on Oct. 23.
But, what do we want Swinney to say? He has to say these things. He has to set the tone for the week.