Wolfpack expected to start 13 freshmen against the Tigers tonight
Clemson rides into Raleigh, North Carolina today on a mission.
The Tigers (9-0, 6-0 ACC) are eager to show the College Football Committee they are without a doubt one of the four best teams in the country. The Tigers have won 24 straight games overall, the nation’s longest winning streak, including 17 straight regular season games against ACC foes.
On the other side of the ball, NC State (4-4, 1-3 ACC) is just trying to survive after being decimated by injuries all season. In all, 12 players are out for the season due to injury. Nowhere has that impact been felt more than at cornerback, where they have already lost three players for the year and another, senior Nick McCloud, has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Taiyon Palmer (knee), Chris Ingram (knee) and Teshaun Smith (shoulder) are all out for the season, while McCloud has missed most of the year after he injured his left knee in a win over East Carolina early in the season. Three of the four season captains have missed a combined 15 games this year.
NC State has started 40 different players this season, the second-highest total in the Power 5. On Saturday, the Pack is expected to start 13 freshmen against the Tigers.
Who has the edge in tonight’s 7:30 kickoff at Carter-Finley Stadium?
NC State’s rushing attack vs. Clemson’s run defense: Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the Wolfpack’s strength on offense is on the offensive line, where they are very big and physical. However, the Pack’s production in the running game is saying otherwise. NC State ranks 9th in the ACC at running the football, averaging 149.3 yards per game on the ground. Against the Tigers they will play three freshmen running backs—Zonovan Knight, Jordan Houston and Trent Pennix—while redshirt freshman Devin Leary will start at quarterback. By the way, the Wolfpack is starting one true freshman [left tackle Ikem Ekwonu] and two sophomores on the offensive line. Clemson’s defensive line is considered to be the weakest link of the Tigers’ nationally rank defense. However, Clemson will get defensive end Xavier Thomas back on Saturday. He missed the last 3 games with a concussion. Plus, the rest of the defensive line continues to improve with each game and freshman Tyler Davis is already an All-ACC candidate at defensive tackle. Clemson ranks third in the ACC at stopping the run (113.2 yds/game allowed). The Tigers also rank third in the conference in yards per carry allowed (2.9 yards). Advantage: Clemson
Travis Etienne vs. NC State’s rushing defense: NC State’s run defense has been Jekyll and Hyde all season long. The Wolfpack ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing yards allowed at a respectable 119.0 yards per game. However, they allowed a West Virginia team that is averaging just 78.9 rushing yards per game to run for 173 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Then they were bullied by Boston College a few weeks backs to the tune of 429 yards and five touchdowns. BC averaged 7.2 yards per carry. So, 602 of the 952 yards they have allowed came in two games. Which defense is going to show up against a Clemson offensive line that has four seniors and is plowing the way for perhaps the most prolific running back in Clemson history in Travis Etienne? The Tigers ranked second in the ACC and sixth nationally at running the football. Etienne is averaging 122.4 yards per game, which ranks sixth nationally as well. Of the national leaders in total rushing yards, his 9.0 yards per carry leads the country. As a team, Clemson is averaging 7.0 yards per carry, which ranks second nationally to Oklahoma’s 7.1. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s wide receivers vs. NC State’s cornerbacks: Of all the matchups today, this is perhaps the biggest mismatch of them all. As mentioned above, NC State’s cornerbacks have been plagued by injuries all year. Malik Dunlap, a redshirt freshman, moved over from safety to start at right-side corner and he is backed up by two true freshmen. Sophomore De’Von Graves will start at the left corner position. They will have the task of trying to matchup with one of the best receiving groups in the country, which is led by 6-4, 220-pound receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, as well as speedster Amari Rodgers, who is emerging as the Tigers’ big-play threat from the slot position. To top it off, Clemson has the best quarterback in the ACC throwing them the football in Trevor Lawrence. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: NC State is literally beat up heading into Saturday’s game. The injury situation is so bad, NC State head coach Dave Doeren had to stop their weekly developmental practice periods, where players who are redshirting and younger backups get a chance to work with their position coaches instead of with the scout team. The reason? So many of the guys who should be on the developmental squad are now having to play. Clemson is coming in as a team on a mission knowing it has to keep winning in order to own a playoff spot. The playoff starts Saturday for the Tigers and they will not take it easy on a beat-up NC State team.
Score prediction: Clemson 45, NC State 13
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