NC State has been waiting for its opportunity for another shot at Clemson as the Wolfpack have come close to defeating the third-ranked Tigers in each of the last two years.
That opportunity will come as the undefeated ‘Pack (5-0, 2-0 ACC) travel to Death Valley to take on the Tigers, who are also undefeated this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“They’ve played us well over the last couple of years so they’re going to come in here excited to play and it’s going to be a good challenge for us,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
In 2016, Clemson narrowly escaped defeat after NC State’s Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard attempt at a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. Instead the Tigers won the game in overtime thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Artavis Scott and a Marcus Edmond interception in the end zone on the Wolfpack’s first play in the extra session.
After trailing for almost the entire game at Carter-Finely Stadium in 2017, Clemson went on to pull out a 38-31 victory to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Elliott is well aware NC State is going to come to Clemson Saturday with expectations of leaving with a win. The Wolfpack have an experienced defense who won’t go unnoticed.
“You have to give those guys credit,” Elliott said on Monday. “They work their butt off in recruiting. They’re a top-tier program and again with their defense you don’t really see much of a drop off. I know on paper it seems like they do not have a lot of returning starters but all those guys in the front four and their two deep have played a lot of football. With the exception of, I think they have one freshman, (Alim McNeill) that’s coming in and he’s a really, really good player with a very, very bright future.
“So they’ve done a really good job of recruiting. They recruit to their system. They know what they want to do on defense and with the mix of the guys that had experience last year, some of the returning starts, they’re very confident. I think their linebacker leads the ACC in tackles. So they’re a very, very confident group.”
Despite the close calls between these two teams for the past two years, Clemson did make mistakes in both games, especially the 2016 game that gave the Wolfpack more opportunities than they should have had.
Elliott knows if the Tigers want to be get to 7-0 after this weekend, they do not have any room to keep giving NC State those kinds of opportunities.
“No question they’re going to come in very, very confident and ready to play,” Elliott said. “They’ve played us well over the last couple of years and what I remember from the last time they were in the Valley is they played us tough. Now we gave them some opportunities. We turned the ball over three times in the red zone. I know we fumbled on the one. We got stopped on a fourth-and-one with Deshaun. We had a pick-six. So we gave them some opportunities to stay in the game.
“But looking at what they did last year, forcing us to try and go down the field and we didn’t convert on the plays. They’re going to be very, very confident coming in here and again the front four is an experience bunch even though they don’t have a lot of starts between them. They are very experienced. Their linebackers are experienced. Then obviously they have some guys in the secondary that the feel very confident with and they are going to challenge us.”