A week after playing what head coach Dabo Swinney says was its best game, No. 3 Clemson returns home on Saturday to host a team that currently is playing as well as anyone in the ACC.
NC State comes to Death Valley on a three-game winning streak and undefeated in conference play, though it has played just one ACC game to this point – a 33-16 win over Wake Forest on Oct. 1.
“NC State is a big challenge for us. They’re a veteran team. I think 17 starters back, definitely the most experienced and complete team that I think Coach (Dave) Doeren has had,” Swinney said. “They’re undefeated in the league just like we are, so both of us are tied for first place in the division, and both teams want to stay in control of their destiny, so this is a huge game, big challenge for both teams, and we’re looking forward to playing these guys.”
The Wolfpack, who beat Notre Dame last week, comes in averaging 34 points and 443.6 yards per game. Quarterback Ryan Finley, who transferred in from Boise State with new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, is one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the country as he has nine touchdowns and no interceptions through the first five games.
“I’m very impressed with their quarterback that’s transferred in. They have outstanding back who’s ranked nationally. They’ve got, I think, one of the best players in the country in the (Jaylen) Samuels kid. They’re athletic and physical up front, big tight ends and have speed at receiver,” Swinney said.
Running back Matt Dayes is third in the ACC in rushing at 112.6 yards per game, while Samuels leads the team in touchdowns with seven, three rushing and four receiving. Stephen Louis is averaging 25.2 yards per catch and leads the ‘Pack with 328 receiving yards on 13 catches.
NC State (4-1, 1-0 ACC) ranks third in the ACC, and eighth nationally, in total defense at 279.8 yards per game. It has given up just 10 touchdowns so far this season.
“They’re playing very well, and have a lot of seniors and juniors on defense, so I think the experience is paying off for those guys,” Swinney said. “They are very, very good on the defensive front.”
The defensive front is led by defensive ends Kentavius Street (6-2, 278) and Bradley Chubb (6-4, 275), while Justin Jones (6-2, 312) and B.J. Hill (6-4, 313) man the inside. Swinney, along with co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, say this is the best defensive front the Tigers have faced since the Auburn game.
And then there is special teams, as always, State is sound in the kicking game as punter A.J. Cole leads the ACC with a 46.1 average, while kicker Kyle Bambard has made four of his five kicks thus far.
“They hurt us last year. (Nyheim Hines) is a very dangerous returner, fast, and same thing with (Braylon Cherry). Their punter leads the league, so this is a really good team that we’re going to be facing on Saturday,” Swinney said. “For us it’s just trying to continue to find a way to win each and every week, and to do that this week we’re going to have to continue to improve.”