By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Let’s take a look a Thursday night’s ACC showdown between Clemson and NC State.
When the Wolfpack have the ball: If Pete Thomas looks familiar when you see him for the first time Thursday night, that’s because he looks a lot like Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. The junior transfer from Colorado State stands at 6-foot-6, 236 pounds and is very mobile. Pete Thomas has good pocket presence and is very instinctive. He ranks fourth in the ACC in total offense with 247 yards per game. He has completed 59 of 39 passes for 449 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 45 yards. NC State runs a very similar offense to Clemson’s and they like to establish the running game to set up the play action pass which is where most of its big plays come from. They have big strong running backs in Matt Dayes, who leads the team with 127 yards and three scores, and Tony Creecy, who has rushed for 103 yards and has one touchdown. Freshman wide receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling has emerged as a big-play threat and has been getting the ball a lot. He has 12 catches for 174 yards, while senior Rashard Smith has 12 catches for 145 yards, including one for 56 yards. Smith makes plays in a lot of different ways. He is the Wolfpack’s move guy and return man as well. Left tackle Rob Crisp (6-7, 300) and right tackle Tyson Chandler (6-7, 334) lead an offensive line that has helped NC State average 212 yards per game on the ground and allowed only two sacks. This is one of the biggest offensive lines the Clemson defensive will see this year.
When the Tigers have the ball: NC State is very active on defense and based on what Clemson has seen on film this is the best group it has played to this point. The first group defense is very good and creates a new line of scrimmage. They come off the ball with a great motor and intensity and play well with their hands. There is a lot of movement and a lot of slanting. They like to create some problems as far as being able to target guys with the movement they present. NC State’s leading tackler is middle linebacker Robert Caldwell, who is averaging nine tackles per game. They are also very good in the secondary. Corners Justin Burris and Dontae Johnson are very aggressive and playing with a lot of confidence. They will mix things up from a coverage standpoint and will challenge Clemson’s wide receivers. This means someone other than Sammy Watkins will have to show up for Clemson. NC State leads the ACC and is allowing only 79.5 yards a game on the ground and is giving up only 318 yards a game overall.
Keep an eye on:
Art Norman, DE: He was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his play against Richmond when he tallied a sack, had four tackles, caused a fumble and recovered a fumble. At 6-0, 243 pounds, the junior has 60 quarterback pressures in his career. He likes to use his speed to get around bigger offensive tackles. He had 5.5 sacks off the bench last season, which tied for first on the team.
NC State head coach Dave Doeren is 14-0 at home as a head coach, including 2-0 at NC State. He has not lost a home game as a head coach or as an assistant coach since 2009 when as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, the Badgers lost to Iowa on October 17, 2009. During his time at Wisconsin the Badgers posted a 32-3 mark at home… Clemson has won eight of the last nine meetings in the series… This will be the 33rd meeting between Clemson and NC State that game has been dubbed the Textile Bowl as that industry has a major economic impact on both states and both schools renowned textile colleges. Clemson leads the series 22-10 since it became known as the Textile Bowl in 1981.
To win, the Wolfpack must…
Take care of the football: In Week 1, NC State forced four turnovers, all fumbles, in a 40-14 rout of Louisiana Tech. The ‘Pack only had one themselves, which was big key in the win. Richmond nearly upset the Wolfpack the next week because NC State had four turnovers, two interceptions and two lost fumbles, while forcing only two. The Wolfpack needed a last second field goal to hold off the Spiders in a 23-21 victory. Clemson by the way is plus-3 in the turnover department which ranks 11th nationally.
Throw the football: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ game plan will be simple. He is going to try and force Thomas to stay in the pocket and make throws down field and in tight windows. If the Wolfpack are to pull off the upset, Thomas will have to improve on his touchdown to interception ratio which right now is 0 to 3.
Keep everything in front: S.C. State may have shown a game plan to slow down the Clemson offense. The Bulldogs played a lot of Quarters coverage or Cover 4 in the secondary—when the defensive back field is divided into quarters. They forced Boyd to have to take what was given to him and see how patient he could be. Chad Morris likes to take six to seven shots down field a game, or at least once a quarter. But a Quarters defense limits Morris’ play calling somewhat and Boyd’s rifle arm. It also takes guys like Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant out of the game.
To win, the Tigers must…
Execute the game plan. It’s that simple. If Clemson executes its offensive game plan it will win. Let’s not be mistaken, NC State’s defense is pretty good, but it is not to the level of what South Carolina, LSU or even Georgia is for that matter. The main reason the Tigers lost two years ago was due to their failure to execute on offense, which led to four turnovers, penalties and several missed assignments.
Run the football. That sounds cliché, I know, but if the Tigers can run the football against NC State, especially if the Wolfpack is playing in Cover 4, then this could pull them out of it and it can allow Clemson to take its shots down field. NC State currently ranks eighth nationally and leads the ACC in run defense. Clemson is averaging 190 yards per game on the ground.
Bring pressure. At 6-6, 235 pounds, Thomas is a big body to bring down. But Clemson must keep him in the pocket; much like it has did to Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas the previous two years. Pete Thomas is a mobile quarterback, but he prefers to stay in the pocket. But like any quarterback, bring pressure, and it will disrupt his throws and make him make bad decisions. It will be in Clemson’s best interest to keep No. 4 in the pocket as best they can and when they do try to tackle him, and make sure there is more than one guy trying to do it.