RALEIGH, N.C. — Despite a shaky start, fourth-ranked Clemson took control of the ACC Atlantic Division race with its 38-31 victory over No. 20 NC State on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
Kelly Bryant threw an early interception, while Clemson’s defense struggled against NC State’s productive offense, which totaled 244 yards in the first half. The Tigers came in only allowing 282.3 yards per game.
Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) was able to retain its focus from then on out and take its first lead of the game in the third quarter when Bryant hit Deon Cain with a 12-yard touchdown pass. NC State (6-3, 4-1 ACC) fought hard, but the Tigers survived the battle in the end.
Following the Wolfpack’s fifth consecutive loss to Clemson, the media spoke to Bryant, head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Here is what we heard:
Saturday’s win marked Clemson’s ninth straight win over a top-25 team. Though it was a tough test, Swinney said that the Tigers are built for this.
“It was an unbelievable ball game,” Swinney said. “It was a great effort by both teams. NC State played a heck of a game, especially in the first half they kicked our butt. This was championship-type football where you have to make critical plays in critical situations. I’m proud of the perseverance of our guys, especially how we played in the third quarter when we got control of the ball game.”
Bryant helped the team secure the victory as he threw for 191 yards and a touchdown and ran for 88 yards and two more scores. The quarterback said that Clemson’s determination, focus and perseverance in defeating the Wolfpack truly showed the Tigers’ colors.
“It just shows the kind of team we have,” Bryant said. “A group that’s going to stick together and keep playing. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game, so it’s a confidence boost for our offense, defense and special teams for us to come into an environment like this and come away with a win against a great team in NC State.”
Clemson’s defense faced adversity right off the bat. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley came out firing on all cylinders as he completed 31-of-50 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns and the offense totaled 497 yards against Clemson’s dominant defense. Ferrell said that the offense helped keep the Tigers in the game early on.
“It was huge because we had our struggles,” Ferrell said. “We knew that we could lean on the offense and the special teams and hopefully they could take up some of the slack. That was huge and that is what we have to do as the season goes on because everybody is not going to play well all the time. It’s about being a team and being able to lean on each other when we need to.”
Luckily, the defense got it together in the second half. Venables moved Van Smith to free safety and placed K’Von Wallace at strong safety to relieve a banged-up Tanner Muse. The defense held control of the game from then on out.
“I felt like we were in really good control in the second half,” Venables said. “I felt very good about our guys and matchups. Guys made plays when they had to. I’m really proud of them. They showed a lot of courage, grit, and toughness.”
With NC State in the rearview mirror, Clemson can secure a third straight trip to the ACC Championship Game next week with a win over Florida State or an NC State loss at Boston College.