Clemson and NC State meet with ACC Championship aspirations on the line
RALEIGH, N.C. — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney feels like today’s ACC Showdown between his fourth-ranked Tigers and No. 20 NC State will be one “heck of a game.”
And it should.
The Tigers and Wolfpack are playing perhaps the biggest game in the series since 1979 when NC State edged the Tigers to win its last ACC Championship. Whoever wins today’s 3:30 p.m., clash at Carter-Finley Stadium will gain control of the conference’s Atlantic Division and will put the winner within one game of advancing to next month’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) needs a win today and then to beat Florida State in next week’s ACC regular season finale to wrap up its third straight division crown, while a Wolfpack win, coupled with any win over Boston College, Wake Forest or North Carolina in the final three weeks will give them the division crown for the first time.
“This is a great challenge and a game that our players are excited to play in,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. “We’ve played well against them and obviously we want to find a way to win this football game. The guys will work their butts off to do that.”
The Wolfpack (6-2, 4-0 ACC) is coming off a 21-point loss at No. 3 Notre Dame last week, a game in which they were embarrassed on both sides of the football. But despite that, and the fact his team got banged up a little in the game, Doeren expects his team to be ready when the Tigers come to town this afternoon.
“I asked them (on Monday) where they think we’re at and they said we’re in first place and we control our own destiny,” Doeren said. “That was a good sign to hear the first thing out of their mouth was they knew we were playing for a lot still.”
And that’s why Swinney knows, like always, they will get NC State’s best shot.
“I’ve been really impressed with this football team,” the Clemson coach said. “The biggest thing that jumps out at you is the veterans. They have them…they have 21 starters back, and 19 of them are graduates, seniors or redshirt juniors. That is very rare in college football.
“It’s a very experienced, well-coached and talented football team.”
NC State is led in the trenches were it has one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference.
“This is a team that’s really capable of playing with anybody…there’s no question. They’re physical in the trenches on both sides, and it’s definitely the best defensive line we’ve played,” Swinney said. “All four of their starters are NFL guys, and they really play seven or eight guys, so they’ve got a lot of depth. They’re very active at backer…they force the issue and play downhill. They’ve got good experience on the back end.
“Offensively, up front, every single one of them is back, and they really understand their scheme. They do a great job of creating distortion in the defensive line with their stretch-zone scheme. They do a great job of presentation…very seldom do they just line up and run a play.”
Offensively, the ‘Pack is led quarterback Ryan Finley, who has a host of skill players at his disposal, including running back Nyheim Hines and Mr. Everything Jaylen Samuels.
“There are just really good players all around this quarterback , who I think is an outstanding player,” Swinney said. “I think they’ve only got four turnovers all year, but he’s done a great job of taking care of the football. He can make all of the throws…deep throws to the far sideline, to the field from the opposite hash. He throws a nice deep ball.
“(Nyheim Hines) is special…he is electric. (Reggie) Gallaspy, the other running back, is downhill…he came into the game at Notre Dame and I thought ran really hard and tough. (Jaylen Samuels) is one of the best players to probably come through this conference. He’s an all-around instinctual, versatile football player. He does it all…he plays tailback, tight end, receiver, he’s a returner…he does everything. (Hines) is a returner, and he took one to the house up there against us a couple of years ago.”