After Swinney points out they were beat up front in last year’s NC State game
Through its first five games, NC State has allowed just two sacks, which ranks second in the country.
Through its first six games, Clemson’s has 20 sacks, 3.33 per game, which ranks seventh nationally.
Something will have to give on Saturday when No. 15 NC State visits the third-ranked Tigers at Clemson’s Death Valley.
“They are really good up front. This is one of the best offensive lines we will see,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They are physical, nasty, and aggressive.”
The Wolfpack’s offensive line will no doubt be the biggest challenge Clemson’s defensive front has had face to date. Left tackle Tyler Jones (6-3, 306) is having an All-American type season, while center Garrett Bradbury (6-3, 300) is an All-ACC candidate. Then there is left guard Terronne Prescod (6-5, 334), one of the best in the conference.
“They do a great job of cutting you on the back side and they do a great job of cutting your linebackers on the second level. They’re very good up front,” Swinney said.
Jones, Bradbury and Prescod returned from last year’s offensive line, which limited the Tigers to one sack in last year’s matchup. State (5-0, 2-0 ACC) averaged 4.5 yards per rush and 5.8 per play, while quarterback Ryan Finley was able to stand in the pocket and pick apart the Clemson secondary.
Finley completed 31-of-50 passes for 338 yards and threw three touchdowns.
“I thought they beat us up front last year. I thought they won that matchup to be quite honest with you,” Swinney said.
There are not many teams that get the best of Clemson’s defensive front. Led by defensive end Clelin Ferrell’s six sacks and eight tackles for a loss, the Tigers’ front four has produced 15 of Clemson’s 20 sacks and 38 of the team’s 58 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
However, in last year’s game, NC State’s offensive line won that battle upfront against Ferrell, fellow defensive end Austin Bryant, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
“From watching film, yeah, definitely. They got us a little bit,” Lawrence said. “They were a little bit more physical. They were a little more ready to play than we were in that game.”
It can be argued they got the best of the Tigers’ defensive front in the 2016 game as well, especially late when they racked up most of their 128 rushing yards on the final two possessions of regulation, including what appeared to be a game-winning drive, which ended in Kyle Bambard missing a 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.
Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) eventually won the game in overtime.
Though NC State’s offensive line gave up four sacks in that game at Death Valley two years ago, they still averaged 4.0 yards per carry and kept Finley upright enough that he averaged 12.8 yards per attempt.
Then there is last year’s contest in which the Tigers’ massive, athletic and physical defensive front was kept off balance all afternoon.
“Coach Swinney, he has kind of been preaching that also. He is trying to get us right mentally for the game, knowing what we are going up against,” Lawrence said. “Coach (Todd) Bates keeps talking about how good the offense is and stuff like that, but you just have to wait until game day.
“The scout team can give you the most perfect look and they kind of give you a look to simulate what they do, but you just have to wait until game day and see how that goes.”
Lawrence admits he and the rest of his defensive line teammates don’t like being called out and they don’t like being beat by anybody.
“We are very competitive,” he said. “We are the type of guys, the whole group as a unit, we were sending each other videos during the bye week of our workouts, just trying to stay healthy and to stay right so we do not have to get right during the week.
“You kind of see there is a little edge because we hate when Coach Swinney comes in there saying someone kicked our tail or something like that, so we just try to keep that off the film.”