The Final Breakdown

An in-depth look at what to watch in Saturday's game versus N.C. State.

WHAT: N.C. State at Clemson
WHERE: Death Valley (81,000)
WHEN: 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
SPREAD: Clemson by 14

N.C. STATE RUN GAME VS CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
The Wolfpack have been solid running the ball, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and ranking fifth in the ACC in rushing (231.2 yards per game). That starts with a veteran offensive line with a senior, a graduate student and three juniors listed as starters on the depth chart. Shadrach Thornton leads the way with 368 yards and seven touchdowns, and he is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Clemson’s defense took a hit last week with its performance against North Carolina, but those struggles came through the air. The Tigers have been dominant on the ground, except for the fourth quarter at Georgia in the season opener. In that quarter, Clemson allowed 211 yards rushing. The rest of the season (15 quarters), the Tigers have allowed just 221 yards. In the past three games, Clemson has surrendered just 104 rushing yards.

Advantage: Clemson

N.C. STATE PASS ATTACK VS CLEMSON PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Jacoby Brissett has been one of the stories of the year in college football, especially in the ACC. He has completed 68.9 percent of his passes (115-of-167) for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception. Bo Hines has been his favorite target with 24 catches for 312 yards, while five other players (Matt Dayes, David Grinnage, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Johnathan Alston and Bra’Lon Cherry) all have reached double figures in catches already. It’s a talented and dangerous group, and combined with the way Brissett is playing, that makes for a tough matchup for any defense, especially a unit that played as poorly as Clemson did last week. After a solid start as the Tigers built a 20-0 lead, Clemson’s defense fell apart the rest of the way with missed assignments throughout the second half. If the Tigers are going to slow down the Wolfpack, the secondary members and linebackers have to play better and stick with their assignments, and the pass rush will need to put some pressure on Brissett.

Advantage: N.C. State

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. N.C. STATE FRONT SEVEN
As bad as Clemson’s pass defense was last week, its running game was even worse. There was little push from the offensive line, and now that line got even thinner with the news that Joe Gore is out for the game after having an emergency appendectomy during the week. While the line needs to play better, someone needs to step up and take the lead in the backfield. The Tigers rank 12th in the conference in rushing offense (averaging just 137.3 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry). C.J. Davidson is the leading rusher with just 133 yards, while D.J. Howard, Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice continue to get carries as the Tigers look for someone to take over the job. This might be a good week to get that done as N.C. State ranks ninth in the conference in rush defense, allowing 160 yards per game.

Advantage: Push

CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. N.C. STATE PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
This pits strength against strength. N.C. State’s secondary is a veteran group with a graduate student and two juniors among the four starters. The Wolfpack are still only ninth in the conference in pass defense, actually one spot behind the Tigers in that stat, but they have the talent and experience on the back end to be dangerous. The key will be getting some pressure on Clemson freshman standout quarterback Deshaun Watson. Clemson ranks first in the conference in passing offense (353.3 yards per game), and Watson has outstanding. He has completed 72.7 percent of his throws (56-of-77) for 914 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. His first start last week was something out of a movie with an ACC-record-tying six touchdowns, and the offense just looks different with him at the helm. Mike Williams (15 catches-365 yards) and Germone Hopper (7-205) have stepped up as big-play threats, and Artavis Scott (18-305) is having a big impact, as well.

Advantage: Clemson

SPECIAL TEAMS
Ammon Lakip made both of his field goal tries last week and has been really good at home. He just needs to transfer that to a road game, but he won’t have to worry about that this week. He is 6-of-9 on field goals and made a 45-yarder last week, which could get his confidence going. Bradley Pinion had another strong game as the special teams were much improved. North Carolina’s Niklas Sade has made 4-of-7 field goal tries, including a 41-yarder. Two of his three misses have come from 50 yards or longer.

Advantage: North Carolina

PREDICTION: Clemson 42, N.C. STATE 28
Clemson is looking for its third straight win in the series, but to get that win, it probably will have to survive a shootout, unless the defense can play better than it did in the second half last week. The Wolfpack are second in the ACC in scoring (40.4 points per game), and the Tigers are right behind them at 40.3. N.C. State is first in the conference in total yards (505.6 yards per game), while Clemson is second (490.3). Watson has to continue to play great, while he could use more help this week from his running game and defense to pull out another win.


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