By Ashley Denny.
RALEIGH, NC- This weekend, Dabo Swinney’s 9-1 Clemson Tigers will travel to Raleigh, NC to take on the 5-5 NC State Wolfpack, in what the national media is calling a possible trap game for the Tigers’. Last weekend Clemson clinched the Atlantic Division with a 31-28 win over Wake Forest and they are squaring off against their instate rival South Carolina in two weeks, therefore this weekend’s matchup with NC State could be an interesting one if Clemson doesn’t take it seriously. The Tigers have played sloppy during their past two games, but somehow found a way to come back from 14 point deficit and take the Atlantic Division from the Demon Deacons last weekend. If the Tigers are unable to get back on track and play the way they played to get to 8-0 to start the season, they may be in for a long afternoon.
Overall, the Tigers have a 51-27-1 lead in its series over the Wolf Pack, including an 18-15 record when playing in Raleigh, and a 13-8 record when playing at Carter Finley Field. Clemson’s seven straight victories over the Wolf Pack is the team’s longest active winning streak against an ACC foe.
“NC State is a very capable team,” Dabo Swinney said in his weekly press conference. “They went to Virginia and won, and now Virginia is playing for the Coastal Division Title, they also battled hard against Georgia Tech and shut out a good North Carolina team. They’re starting to get guys back off of the injured list and we’re just going to have to play better than we have the past two weeks if we want to win this one.”
NC State on Offense–
After the transfer of starting quarterback Russell Wilson during the off season, the Wolf Pack have had to lean on first year starter Mike Glennon, a player that NC State head coach Tom O’Brien has watched play since high school and has a lot of confidence in.
Although the Wolf Pack must miss Wilson’s ability to scramble and run the ball for positive gains, Glennon brings to the table what Coach Swinney believes to be one of the strongest arms in the ACC. So far this season, Glennon has thrown touchdown passes of 63, 65, 67, and 87 yards.
At tight end, Glennon’s go to guy has been George Bryan, who broke the school record for receptions by a tight end with 112. Bryan’s 15 career touchdown catches ranks 2nd among active FBS tight ends.
Running back James Washington has been a dual threat for the Wolf Pack this season, as he can both run and catch the ball effectively. Washington currently ranks 9th in the ACC in rushing, as he averages 67.6 yards per game.
“Glennon has as good of an arm as we’ve seen this season,” Swinney said. “He throws the football into some tight spots and just is an overall good player. James Washington is the guy that’s been around a while and is very talented. He can catch the ball very well as well. They have three receivers that they can spread the ball out to with over 30 catches, so we’ll have to do a good job matching up on them. Their tight end (Bryan) is always doing something; Coach O’Brien has done a great job of getting their tight end involved. We’re not only going to have to do a good job of stopping the run this week but the pass as well if we want to compete with these guys.”
Week 10 Offensive Performance–
The Wolf Pack is coming off their 5th loss of the season, a 14-10 loss to Boston College. The NC State offense, which has had trouble this season with slow starts, got off to another slow start against the Eagles, however were able to make a comeback in the second half with a 3 yard touchdown ran in by James Washington. Mike Glennon completed 28 out of 40 passes on the day for 220 yards and a costly interception in the end zone. James Washington ended the day with 13 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown and the Wolf Pack’s tight end, George Bryan had 5 receptions for 50 yards.
Advantages for NC State-
A big advantage for the Pack this weekend against the Tigers is that they’re undoubtedly playing for more. With a win over the Tigers’, NC State will be on its’ way to becoming bowl eligible. Expect the Pack to come out hungry against Clemson because they literally are in a must win situation if they want to continue play into December.
Second, the Wolf Pack has the home field advantage over the Tigers and although some may say that this simple fact doesn’t matter, for Clemson it does. In every away game that the Tigers’ have played thus far, it’s taken longer for quarterback Tajh Boyd to get into a groove. Even in Clemson’s 23-3 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Boyd came out looking a little off, with his throws a little too high for his receivers to catch. With NC State’s defense leading the nation in interceptions (20), a slow start by Boyd and Clemson’s offense could be costly.
A third advantage for the Wolf Pack is their ability to run the ball at home. For some reason, NC State averages 148 yards in rushing when playing at home and only 56 yards of rushing when playing on the road. If NC State’s offense is able to get their run game going on the Tigers like Wake Forest did last weekend, the Tigers may dig themselves into a hole quickly.
Lastly, an advantage for the Pack would be that they may not have to match up against Clemson’s break out freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins went down in last week’s game against Wake Forest with an AC joint sprain and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. If he can’t go, although the Tigers have a plethora of capable receivers, they’ll miss the spark that he provides. Watkins is second in the ACC in kickoff return average, as he averages 26.4 yards per return, and also leads the ACC in receptions per game and yards per game.
Clemson’s Week 10 Defensive Performance-
Clemson’s defense had its ups and downs in the Tigers’ 31-28 victory over Wake Forest last weekend. They continued to face the problem of giving up big plays, which turned out to be costly for the Tigers in the 3rd quarter when the Demon Deacons put 21 points on the board in under 5 minutes. The Tigers’ defense responded in the 4th quarter that they may be down but not out, as they helped get the ball back into the hands of Clemson’s surging offense by making several critical stops in the last few minutes of the game. Defensive Tackles Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore combined for a sack on Wake Forest’s Tanner Price to conveniently end Clemson’s final defensive outing of the day, giving Clemson’s offense great field position as they quickly moved down the field and scored as time expired.
Advantages for Clemson-
The Tigers have the momentum coming into this meeting, as they’re not only coming off a win that clinched the Atlantic Division for the second time in three years, but they also realize that they have played sloppily over the past two games and are looking to get back on track.
One advantage for the Tigers’ is that although this may seem like a trap game to many, they’ve been in this situation before. In 2009, the Tigers’ clinched the division in a win over Virginia and then the following week, traveled to Columbia to take on their rival South Carolina and were thoroughly embarrassed. The older members of the 2011 team also played during the 2009 season and therefore have made it clear to their younger teammates that they can’t look past their next to opponents in thinking about the Championship game on December 3rd.
Another advantage for the Tigers would be that they have a lot at stake in this game. They’re playing for their 10th win, something they haven’t achieved since 1990. They’re also playing for a chance to go 7-1 in the ACC which hasn’t occurred since the 1983 season.
Lastly, the Tigers are playing with something to prove. They continue to show the nation that they are not the same Clemson team from years past and that when faced with a potential trap game like Saturday’s they’ll play as hard as they would if it were the ACC Championship game. By winning this game, there will be little question that Clemson
The Wolf Pack has shown that they are a very capable team and have lost some close ACC games season. However, the Tigers have continued to show this season why they are the best team in the Atlantic Division. Although they haven’t played as well this past two games, they realize what is at stake with this game and will come out focused and ready to play. In my opinion, getting down 14 to Wake Forest on Saturday may have been a wakeup call for the Tigers, where if they’d lost that game there would be no ACC Championship game in their future. They realize now that they’re not playing their best football and will do whatever it takes in practice this week to look back to the earlier weeks of the season and see what it is that made them so successful. Even if Watkins isn’t able to play against NC State this weekend, I don’t see the Wolf Pack being able to control all of Clemson’s offensive weapons, including Watkins’ backup Adam Humphries who showed against Wake Forest how talented Clemson’s depth at receiver really is.