By Will Vandervort
Through two games, NC State has done some pretty good things on defense. However, the best thing the Wolfpack has done has been forcing turnovers.
In wins over Louisiana Tech and Richmond, NC State forced six turnovers. If the Wolfpack (2-0) hope to take down third-ranked Clemson next Thursday night in Raleigh, NC, they will have to do the same.
“We’ve got to be able to keep lining up and make some plays,” NC State head Dave Doeren said earlier this week. “We’ve got to be opportunistic on defense this week and continue to force turnovers. That is one thing we’ve done well for two weeks and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
That’s exactly what the Wolfpack did two years ago when they knocked off a seventh-ranked Clemson team at Carter-Finely Stadium. NC State picked off Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd two times, while the Tigers also lost two fumbles.
Thanks to those two fumbles, NC State (2-0) started three straight drives inside the Clemson 20-yard line in the second quarter. The other was a long punt return that set up a touchdown. The Wolfpack started drives at the Clemson 6, 18 and the 11-yard lines.
NC State took advantage of all three as it increased its lead from 7-3 to 24-3 with 4:58 to go in the first half.
“We went up there last time and got our tails handed to us,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
The good news for Clemson fans is that the Tigers (2-0) seem to be taking care of the ball, right now. Clemson ran 167 offensive plays before having its first turnover of the season and right now only has one in two games overall.
The Tigers have two as a team, but one is credited to special teams after Sammy Watkins muffed a punt against Georgia.
“They’re very good,” Doeren said. “Obviously, they are not ranked in the Top 10 in the country without having great players and great coaches. We know we’re up for a very, very good football team coming in here.
“I think they return more starters and lettermen than anyone in the league. So they’ve got experience on top of talent. So we’re going to have to play our best. I know our guys are excited about the challenge.”
That challenge will be trying to stop Boyd—who is considered the top Heisman Trophy candidate right now—wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the rest of the Clemson offense that is averaging 45 points a game.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is not give up big plays,” Doeren said. “You have to contend routes and tackle well in space. We’ve got to shed blocks and get more people to the ball. But they are going to make plays.
“To win the football game, they can’t be explosive plays that lead to points.”
Swinney is interested to see how this Clemson team responds in a tough environment and how they handle being on the road for the first time this year. Last year, the Tigers were 3-1 in road games, with three straight wins to close the season.
“It’s a very difficult place to play,” Swinney said about Carter-Finley Stadium. “Our last experience up there was not good. We played one of our worst games of the year that year, and we won the league. It was a very disappointing night. I think we had about five turnovers, I believe, three of them inside our own 20. That’s a recipe for disaster. That’s what it was.
“We’ll have to play much, much better to have a chance to win this game.”
This week’s ACC Schedule (All games on Saturday)
Virginia Tech at East Carolina, noon (FSN)
La. Monroe at Wake Forest, 12:30 p.m. (RSN)
New Mexico at Pitt, 12:30 (ACC Network)
Boston College at Southern Cal, 3 p.m. (Pac 12 Network)
Georgia Tech at Duke, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Nevada at Florida State, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Wagner at Syracuse, 4 p.m. (ESPN 3)
Maryland at UConn, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN 3)