For the fifth time in the history of Memorial Stadium two undefeated teams with 5-0 or better records will meet.
Third-ranked Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) will host No. 15 NC State (5-0, 2-0 ACC) today at 3:30 p.m. The winner of the game gets a leg up in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division race and an almost clear path to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 1.
This will be the second year in a row the two rivals meet as ranked opponents and just the sixth-time in the history of the series. The Wolfpack own a 3-2 edge in games in which both teams were ranked. However, Clemson won last year’s classic in Raleigh, N.C.
NC State has entered this game 4-0 or better four other times. It is just 1-3 in those games.
Clemson has entered the game 5-0 or better five other times. The Tigers are 4-1 against NC State in those five meetings.
This is just the second time in the history of the rivalry both teams have come in with 4-0 or better records. The last time it happened was in 2000, when the Tigers beat the Pack, 34-27, at Death Valley.
So, who has the edge in this year’s matchup?
Clemson’s corners vs. NC State’s wide receivers: Last year, because of injuries and a lack of depth at cornerback, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables played mostly zone, allowing NC State quarterback Ryan Finley to pick apart the secondary with quick passes and screens to his wide receivers. The Tigers come into this year’s game healthy at the corner spots. So, look for corners Trayvon Mullen (6-1, 195) and A.J. Terrell (6-2, 190) to play press-man and be physical at the line of scrimmage in hopes to knock off the timing of Finley and his receivers. It is easier said than done. Three Wolfpack wideouts rank in the top 10 in the ACC in receptions in Jakobi Meyers (2nd, 7.5/game), Kelvin Harmon (3rd, 6.6/game) and Emeka Emezie (10th, 4.0/game). In terms of receiving yards per game, Harmon leads the league (and ranks 6th in the FBS) with 106.8 yards per game. Harmon (6-3, 214), Myers (6-2, 203) and Emezie (6-3, 208) are all tall, fast and physical and can highpoint the football. This will be the most challenging wide receiving corps Clemson has faced to date. Advantage: NC State
Clemson’s D-Line vs. NC State’s O-Line: This is a classic case of what will happen when an immovable object (State’s offensive line) meets an unstoppable force (Clemson’s defensive front). The answer right now is we don’t know. The Pack has allowed just two sacks through the first five games and ranks second in the country in sack avoidance. The Tigers on the other hand have 20 sacks and rank seventh nationally in sacks per game at 3.3. However, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney challenged All-Americans Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant this week by calling them out in the team meeting and pointing out how the NC State offensive line beat them last year. Clemson’s defensive line will be hungry for this game. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s defense vs. Ryan Finley: The NC State quarterback comes to Death Valley leading the ACC in passing yards (1,621), average yards per game (324.2), attempts (187) and completion percentage (69.5). He is without a doubt the best quarterback Clemson has faced to this point in the season. Getting pressure on him will be the key if the Tigers hope to slow him down. Last year, Clemson managed just one sack and Finley responded with 338 yards and three touchdowns while completing 31-of-50 passes. However, the Tigers did get two interceptions, including one at the end of the game to preserve the victory. Two years ago, when Clemson could get pressure, Finley struggled. The Tigers sacked him four times that afternoon as he completed just 20-of-40 throws for 231 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Clemson’s ability to get after the quarterback has allowed it to rank second in the ACC and second nationally in passing defense (152.8 yards/game) so far this season. Opponents have completed just 49.3 percent of their passes, which leads the league and ranks fourth nationally. The five total touchdown passes the Tigers have allowed also leads the league and ranks sixth nationally. However, Clemson did allow Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond to throw for 430 yards and three touchdowns. They showed improvement against Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, limiting him to just 250 yards and getting an interception with no touchdown passes allowed. Advantage: NC State
Trevor Lawrence vs. NC State’s defense: Lawrence will be making his third start today for Clemson and if his protection holds up, he will have an opportunity to have a big game. State likely will load up the box and dare the freshman to beat them. They will come after him and force him to make quick decisions. He should have opportunities on the outside if indeed this is the Pack’s game plan. Lawrence comes into the game completing 69 percent of his passes for 868 yards with 11 touchdowns to go against two interceptions. NC State’s defense, if it can’t get to the freshman, could be exposed on the back end. The Pack ranks 11th in the ACC in passing defense, allowing 234.0 yards per game. Opponents have completed 59.3 percent of their passes. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s O-Line vs. NC State’s D-Line: Gone is Bradley Chubb and three other NFL Draft picks from last year’s defensive front at NC State that has been so dominant. The new line led by Darian Roseboro, Eurndraus Bryant, Larrell Murchison and James Smith Williams has done well for itself. NC State ranks third in the ACC and in the top 15 nationally in rushing defense (107. 4 yards/game). However, NC State has struggled to get to the quarterback and has had to use its linebackers and safeties to get pressure. As a team, the Pack has 13 sacks, which ranks ninth in the ACC. Clemson’s offensive line is having a fantastic year in running blocking, paving he way for Etienne, Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster and Lyn-J Dixon. The Tigers are averaging 7.0 yards per carry, which ranks second in the country and leads the ACC. However, pass protection has been an issue and they have allowed 10 sacks and mostly due to breakdowns and missed assignments. This could be the most important matchup of the day. Advantage: Even
Clemson’s wide receivers vs. NC State’s secondary: Like Clemson, NC State wants to be physical at the line of scrimmage, knock off the timing and eliminate the screen game, while trying to win those one-on-one matchups. However, if the Pack can’t get pressure then the opportunities on the outside will be there for Clemson wide receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Amari Rodgers and Hunter Renfrow. Ross (4) and Higgins (3) lead the Tigers with seven of the team’s 14 touchdown receptions. Ross is averaging 20.4 yards per reception and has a long of 57 yards. He also has caught a 55-yard touchdown. Higgins is averaging 17.1 yards per catch and has a long of 64 yards and has also hauled in touchdowns of 30 and 20 yards as well. Rodgers has one touchdown, but he can make big plays too as he has a 64-yard reception. NC State’s defense has given up 1,170 yards in five games, including an 82-yard touchdown so the opportunities for big plays will be there. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom Line: This game will be closer than the experts think. Clemson has some areas where it can make plays, but it will have to come through the air as it is unlikely the Pack is going to allow Etienne and the running game to beat them. If the Tigers can’t get to Finley, they could be in trouble especially if Finley can find his tall and talented receivers on a consistent basis. I expect this to be a four-quarter game that will come down to whosever defense can make a play to turn the tide. Right now, I give that edge to Clemson.
Prediction: Clemson 28, NC State 17