After Wayne Gallman left the game in the first quarter, it was obvious what NC State’s game plan was from then on out. The Wolfpack sold out on stopping the run, forcing the Tigers into second- and third-and-long situations
Clemson was held to a season-low 117 rushing yards on 39 carries. The three yards per carry isn’t winning football. But Clemson still has perhaps the best quarterback in the country and the Tigers needed every one of Deshaun Watson’s 378 passing yards.
Watson took on the challenge from NC State’s defense and completed a school record 39 passes on 52 attempts. The offense, for most of the day, was clicking. The Tigers ran 91 plays and totaled 495 yards against what was the No. 8 defense, from a statistical standpoint, coming in.
“Offensively, it’s one of the best games we’ve had, to be honest with you, from a football standpoint if you know what you’re looking at and what we’re asking our guys to do,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We had one three-and-out. We had a good rhythm all day. We just left a lot of points out there. I mean a lot of points, and that’s just very disappointing.”
Leaving points on the field has been a trademark of this Clemson offense all year. The Tigers have struggled in the red zone in just about every game, and in some cases, especially recently, have turned the football over in the red zone.
In three of the last four games, the Tigers have turned the football over five times in the red zone and that isn’t counting Mike Williams’ fumble at the four-yard line, while trying to get extra yards after a 19-yard completion.
“Obviously we had four opportunities in the red zone that we got zero points, and three of those were inside the 5-yard line. So that game really could have been in hand, but we didn’t finish in those critical situations,” Swinney said. “Altogether we had four opportunities where you get zero points, and not only that, but you’ve gone on long drives. So it was kind of the perfect formula for those guys to have a chance to win the game, and we’re just disappointed that we left all those points because they were there.”
Clemson, who is off this Saturday and returns to action at No. 15 Florida State on Oct. 29, currently ranks 108th nationally in red zone offense with a 75.8 conversion rate. In 33 opportunities, the Tigers have scored 25 times with 19 touchdowns and six field goals.
“It’s something we have to get corrected,” Swinney said. “Again, you can sit around and you can talk about it all you want, but we’ll go back and work on our fundamentals and keep swinging the bat. That’s what we’re going to do, get back in that batter’s box and keep playing. It’s all about what’s in front of us and trying to improve. But at the end of the day we’re 7-0, and that’s where we want to be.”