This summer, The Clemson Insider is taking a closer look at Clemson’s opponents heading into the 2022 season. The series will be rolled out in the order in which each opponent appears on the Tigers’ schedule.
After previewing Georgia Tech, Furman, Louisiana Tech and Wake Forest, North Carolina State is up next.
N.C. State has made significant strides under Dave Doeren.
After needing a handful of seasons to get some momentum going under their head coach, the Wolfpack have put together three nine-win seasons in the last five years, including a 2021 season that saw N.C. State notch its first win over Clemson since 2011.
Will the Wolfpack take another step this fall? Plenty of key contributors return at some positions while N.C. State has some important pieces to replace at others, but Clemson will be seeking revenge when the teams meet at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 1.
Devin Leary is back as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks after leading the nation’s No. 18 passing offense a season ago. The Wolfpack’s starting signal caller since the end of the 2019 season, Leary ranks in the top 7 in N.C. State history in career passing yards (5,542) and passing touchdowns (51). He’ll have a largely experienced line protecting him, too, headlined by all-conference center Grant Gibson.
But N.C. State has to replace its top receiver (Emeka Emezie), its top two running backs (Ricky Person and Donovan Knight) and the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu. Thayer Thomas (51 catches, 596 yards last season) could become the Wolfpack’s new WR1 while Maryland transfer Darryl Jones should further provide a boost to the receiving corps, but N.C. State will need others to step up in the backfield and up front if it wants a more balanced offense this fall. The Wolfpack ran for just 126 yards per game last year.
N.C. State’s defense was often overshadowed by the offense’s production, but the Wolfpack allowed the 14th-fewest points in the nation last season. With some key pieces returning from injury, the unit could be just as formidable this fall. The strength may be the linebacking corps, which has leading tackler Drake Thomas back. Fellow linebackers Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson, the team’s leading tackler in 2019 and 2020, are also returning after dealing with season-ending injuries last fall.
All-ACC safety Tanner Ingle is also back after finishing second on the team in tackles, and starting corners Shyheim Battle and Derek Pitts Jr. return as well. Up front, the Wolfpack have to replace defensive end Daniel Joseph, who had nine tackles for loss and five sacks last season. But tackle Cory Durden is a legit NFL prospect who should be an anchor in the middle, though N.C. State will need the all-conference talent healthy after he missed the spring rehabbing following shoulder surgery.
N.C. State has to replace one of the ACC’s top punters in Trenton Gill, who excelled at flipping the field by averaging better than 45 yards per kick. The Wolfpack do have placekicker Christopher Dunn back in the fold. Dunn will be looking to improve his 70.5% conversion rate on field goals last season (12 of 17).
Wolfpack at a glance
Head coach: Dave Doeren (10th season)
2021 results: 9-3, 6-2 ACC (t-2nd in Atlantic Division)
Last meeting: Beat Clemson, 27-21, in 2021
Key departures: WR Emeka Emezie, RB Donovan Knight, RB Ricky Person, OL Ikem Ekwonu
Key returners: QB Devin Leary, WR Thayer Thomas, WR Devin Carter, TE Trent Pennix, OL Grant Gibson, DL Cory Durden, LB Drake Thomas, LB Payton Wilson, DB Tanner Ingle,
Key additions: RB Michael Allen, WR Darryl Jones, P/K Shane McDonough