For all the talk about Clemson’s great defensive line against NC State’s great defensive front, the reality is neither group will face each other.
Instead, as we all know, the fourth-ranked Tigers will face an offensive line that is considered one of the best groups in the country. Led by junior left tackle Tyler Jones (6-3, 300) and junior center Garrett Bradbury (6-3, 298), the Wolfpack might be the most physical offensive line Clemson has or will face this year.
They’re also very experienced. Of their five starters up front, plus tight end Cole Cook, all of them have either graduated, are seniors or fourth-year juniors. In other words, not only are they physical, but they’re very experienced, too.
“It’s definitely going to be a great battle, and they are very good up front,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney Wednesday during the ACC Coaches Teleconference with the media. “In fact, I thought they blocked us well last year.”
Last year, the ‘Pack averaged 4.0 yards per carry as running back Matt Dayes ran for 106 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. The offensive line took over the game in the fourth quarter as Dayes ran behind them to set up what looked like a potential game-winning field goal.
However, as we all know, Kyle Bambard missed on his 33-yard field goal attempt as time expired in regulation and the Tigers escaped with a 24-17 overtime win .
“That was a very physical game, and the same as I said earlier, you’re looking at a bunch of fourth-year juniors, graduates, seniors,” Swinney said. “It’s a veteran first-group that has played a ton of football and has a good understanding of what they’re doing, and then again, on the flipside, they’re going against a veteran D-line.”
That veteran defensive line consists of All-Americans Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence inside and then potential All-Americans in Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant on the outside. Last year, Clemson did get to quarterback Ryan Finley three times.
“Yeah, that’s kind of what championship football is all about,” Swinney said. “For the most part, (the Atlantic Division) is pretty much down to us and NC State. You know, when you’re in the mix for some type of championship, you’re usually pretty good in the trenches, and that’s the case for both of these teams.
“The strength of our team is our offensive line and defensive line, and the strength of their team is their offensive line and defensive line.”
Clemson leads the country in sacks with 32 and is ranked eighth in tackles for loss with 68 overall. NC State ranks second in the ACC and ninth nationally in sacks allowed with just nine. They have given up 49 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
NC State, ranked No. 20 in the CFP Committee Top 25 rankings, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Clemson is allowing just 3.2.
“It should be a heck of a challenge, and the same thing for our offensive line going against their defensive line, vets on vets, strength on strength, and you know, that’s usually what championship games come down to.”