By Heath Bradley
CLEMSON – The Clemson defense did not have its best day, but they did find a way to make the necessary plays when it mattered to help lead the No. 9 Tigers to a 62-48 victory over NC State Saturday.
“We were able to get some stops in critical situations,” Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey said. “Our offense was able to pick us a little bit, especially towards the end when they were able to run the clock out and stuff.
“We got the win. We were able to pull it out as a team, and we were happy with it.”
A bright spot for the Clemson defense was the play of Shuey and defensive end Vic Beasley. Shuey was once again big for the Tigers, totaling 10 tackles including a tackle for loss, while Beasley wreaked havoc rushing the passer. The sophomore totaled four tackles, three sacks, and a fumble.
“When it is a passing down, I just look at the type of stances and it gives me a better chance of being able to get off the ball,” Beasley said. “So when I look at the tackle, I look at the type of stance and go from there.”
Cornerback Xavier Brewer also had a big day for the Tigers, recording 10 tackles and three pass breakups.
While the defense allowed a few big plays to the Wolfpack, Clemson (10-1, 7-1 ACC) also had a few big plays of its own on defense, and those plays turned out to be the difference in the game. The first came with the Tigers trailing, 24-19, in the second quarter.
The Tigers had just scored to pull within five points, but NC State immediately struck back with Tobias Smith returning the kickoff to the 50-yard line. Clemson stood the test, stopping NC State on fourth-and-one at the 41.
The Tigers took advantage of the turnover on downs, turning it into points quickly on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins.
After each team traded punts, the Wolfpack were once again driving. With the ball deep in Clemson territory and the chance to tie or take the lead the Clemson defense stepped up to the challenge once again. On second-and-goal from the Clemson nine-yard line Mike Glennon’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by Rashard Hall.
The interception gave the Tigers the ball and they never looked back. Clemson took advantage of the turnover and scored on a 62-yard strike from Boyd to DeAndre Hopkins. The 62-yard catch gave Hopkins the career receiving yards record in Clemson history and gave the Tigers a 34-24 lead late in first half.
The Clemson defense was not done however, on the very next NC State play defensive end Malliciah Goodman beat the right tackle, sacking Glennon and forcing a fumble. Corey Crawford recovered his second fumble in as many weeks and gave the Tigers possession of the ball at the NC State 32-yard line with just over two minutes remaining.
Clemson once again took advantage of the mistake, this time in only four plays, scoring on a nine-yard Tajh Boyd scamper. Boyd’s second rushing touchdown of the first half. The score gave the Tigers a 41-24 advantage at the half.
“Those were definitely big plays for us,” Shuey said. “Anytime you get a turnover it is a big momentum change. Those were two great plays. Rashard was able to get his in the red zone and that was huge. Those plays definitely contributed to us getting this win.”
Over a 25-minute span between the second and third quarters, the Clemson defense forced two punts, intercepted a pass, forced and recovered a fumble, blocked a field goal, and forced two NC State turnover on downs to help propel the Clemson offense to 42 unanswered points.
Though it gave up 597 total yards and 48 points, the Clemson defense made plays when it needed to the most.
“I’m very proud of everyone for handling adversity and finding a way to win,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.