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CUTigers Preview of Clemson's Halloween Game at NC State

#3 Clemson is looking to improve to 8-0 and 5-0 in the ACC. The Tigers are riding a 10-game win streak and have beaten 35 consecutive unranked teams, dating back to their 2011 game in Raleigh.

Welcome to the Textile Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing! I appreciate your patience in waiting until Thursday this week. I know most of us aren’t interested in switching gears to basketball yet in the middle of an undefeated football season, but the coverage will pay off later when National Signing Day is behind us and basketball is in full swing! As a brief recruiting update, Gary is working on a piece today about an upstate offensive lineman who is starting to receive a lot of interest. He has also compiled a lengthy list of visitors for the big showdown against FSU next week, so look forward to that! I can tell you that the display of utter superiority in Miami will pay huge recruiting dividends for years. That was the worst loss in Miami history, folks, and a win like that in the state of Florida gets the full attention of every football player in the state over the age of 10. The reason Clemson ever landed on the radar of guys like C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins was the success they had in beating Miami down there in 2004 and 2009—as well as beating Florida State in Tallahassee in 2006. A Scout reporter who covers Florida said that a Miami recruit told him that it felt more like a Clemson recruiting trip than a Miami trip. Another inside source said that some Miami recruits were trying to walk over to the Clemson side of the field at one point, and Miami officials had to herd them back over to their camp. When you hand a program like Miami their worst loss in history on their own field, and it’s followed by the firing of their head coach just one day later, that tends to linger in people’s memory banks. If Clemson can follow that with a dethroning win over FSU next week, that is recruiting gold for Clemson in the talent-rich state of Florida for years to come. Obviously, the FSU game is a subject for next week. First, let’s discuss the Miami game and NC State.

What a day it was in Miami. Although I predicted a 21-point blowout of the Canes last week, I was hesitant to expect as much of one as we saw. Those kind of things don’t happen often, and of course Brad Kaaya leaving the game in the first half with a concussion also contributed to the shutout. I suspected that if the offense was able to score on its first 2 or 3 possessions and jump out to a big lead that Miami would essentially give up, and that’s exactly what we saw. The play call to Jordan Leggett on the opening drive was a thing of beauty. Chad Morris ran that play several times, including the Auburn game in his first year as coordinator, and I have seen defenses refuse to bite on it a couple of times. This time, however, Elliott picked the perfect time and the perfect opponent against whom to run the play, and it worked to perfection. Leggett almost ruined the play by cutting back against the grain instead of following his blockers, but he was able to make a man miss and then follow his blockers all the way into the end zone. On the subsequent possession for Miami, the interception by Jadar Johnson was enormous. If Miami is able to answer and tie the game on that possession, the atmosphere and momentum of the game becomes totally different. Instead, Clemson was able to score another touchdown off of the turnover and totally deflate the Miami players and what little crowd there was in the stadium.

Incidentally, in addition to being Miami’s big recruiting game on Saturday, it was also the Miami Hall of Fame game, and several former Miami greats were in attendance, such as Willis McGahee and Santana Moss. I guess you could say Clemson reigned on their Parade All-Americans!

Interestingly, Miami is still undefeated in the Coastal division, so if the Canes were somehow able to circle the wagons and win the rest of their ACC games--bear in mind that they still have the second-best QB in the league--we could remarkably see a Clemson-Miami rematch in the ACC Championship Game! I'm not saying I expect that to happen, but it's possible. A lot will hinge on whether Kaaya is able to play against Duke on Saturday, but remember Miami went into Tallahassee a couple weeks ago and almost won. They've already beaten Virginia Tech. Many expected them to win the division in the preseason. All of those considerations seem to be a thousand years old after the events of the last week in Miami, but they still have talent, and we all know the Coastal division is a wide-open, schizophrenic league. 

By the way, if Clemson can take care of business in Raleigh and remain unbeaten, next week will be very exciting, as the first CFP Selection Committee rankings will be released on Tuesday! Many have had Clemson ranked as high as #2 and even #1, so this is the time when teams need to not only win but look good doing it. Another resounding road victory to follow the one in Miami would go a long way toward Clemson's case for a top ranking.

You can read my Miami game grades and analysis HERE.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Clemson players of the game versus Miami were the entire defense, the offensive line and Dorian O'Daniel on special teams....With his TD reception in the opening possession against Miami, Jordan Leggett became the first Clemson TE in history with a TD in 5 consecutive games. He has 6 total TD's during his active streak....Clemson's 58-0 win at Miami set a Clemson record for largest margin of victory in an ACC road game. It is the largest margin of victory in any game since a 94-0 win at Furman in 1915, just over 100 years ago. Coincidentally, the victory tied Clemson's record for margin of victory in an ACC game, home or away. Clemson beat Wake Forest in Death Valley by a score of 82-24 in its 1981 National Championship season. Ironically, the 58-point margin of victory is the same number as Miami's NCAA record for consecutive home wins, set from 1985-1994......Saturday was Clemson's first road shut out since a 17-0 win at Maryland in 1995....Clemson had 33 first downs on Saturday, tied for second-most allowed by a Miami team....Clemson has won 10 consecutive games for the first time since 1983.....The series between Clemson and NC State was dubbed the "Textile Bowl" back in 1981 because the textile industry has a major economic impact on both states, and both universities boast renowned textile colleges....Clemson leads the all-time series 54-28-1, including a 14-9 lead in games played at Carter-Finley....Clemson has won 3 straight and 10 of the last 11 meetings.........9 of the last 18 meetings have been decided by 8 points or less, including a 14-13 Clemson win in Death Valley over Russell Wilson....This Saturday will be Homecoming at NC State. It was also Homecoming in 2011, the last time the Pack beat the Tigers and the last time Clemson has lost to an unranked team......The series dates back to 1899, when Clemson won 24-0 in Rock Hill, SC. It was Clemson's 16th football game played.....Clemson won the ACC each year from 1986-88 under Danny Ford. During that stretch, NC State was Clemson's only ACC loss in each of those seasons....Clemson has beaten NC State 54 times, which is more than any other team except for South Carolina (66) and Wake Forest (62).....The 62-48 Clemson win in 2012 was the highest-scoring in the series and Clemson's highest combined score total (110) in ACC play....In 1903, Clemson Head Coach John Heisman married the former Evelyn Barksdale in Columbia after a 24-0 victory over NC State that same day....In 1967, Clemson painted its shoes orange for the NC State game in Death Valley, in response to State's defense wearing all white shoes. They defeated the #10 Wolfpack, 14-6, and Clemson clinched a tie for the ACC Title with the win....

 

CLEMSON STATUS

One of the best things about the Miami game being over by halftime was the fact that the coaches were able to get an abundance of significant playing time for a ton of backups. Morris played 41 snaps, Hearn 43 snaps, Falcinelli 33 and Fruhmorgen 46. Tyshon Dye and C.J. Fuller were able to get significant carries, and both performed well. Dye had 8 carries for 52 yards, and Fuller had 8 for 42. Ray-Ray had 4 catches for 36 yards and 2 rushes for 22 yards. Trevion Thompson made a nice catch. On defense as well, Van Smith played like a starter, leading the team in tackles and recording an interception and a tackle-for-loss in less than a half of play. Adrian Baker started on Saturday and had his best game. D.J. Reader was able to get back on the field and show he is close to being back in form, running down the quarterback to the sideline on 3rd down to force a punt. Richard Yeargin and Jalen Williams each recorded a sack. And what about that pick-six by Tank?! He has really stepped up this season to be a reliable lock-down corner. Teams are testing him each and every week because they don't want any part of Mackensie Alexander, but Tankersley has proven to be formidable in his own right. Jefferie Gibson came in and made arguably the hit of the season. So there were great contributions all over the field by non-starters, and all of that experience is going to be critical as Clemson makes a run at the CFP.

And then there was Kelly Bryant. We have seen brief glimpses of his potential during garbage time of a couple games, but we saw it big time on Saturday. He had touchdown runs of 59 yards and 10 yards, and I think he has instilled in the coaches the confidence that should something happen to Watson, they can continue to win with Bryant. That is a level of comfort that was lacking last season. IF Clemson should be able to put the game out of reach early on Saturday, it will be very interesting to see who lines up under center to relieve Watson. My hunch is that it will be #2.

One player who was absent from the stat sheet on Saturday was Deon Cain. Dabo benched him against Miami for what Dabo termed an “attitude adjustment.” It had to be tough on the Florida native to see 69 of Clemson’s 72 players get on the field while he sat out—especially since Cain had made big plays in each of the last two games. However, Dabo said that he took it like a man and responded in the way he hoped Cain would. He should be as fired up as anyone to make an impact in Raleigh on Saturday.

Clemson's defense leads the nation in completion percentage allowed (43.2%) and is among the nation's best in several other categories. They rank #2 in three-and-outs per game (7), #2 in 3rd down conversion percentage (20.4%), #1 in first downs allowed per game (11.2), #9 in pass defense (157.0), #13 in rush defense (105.4), #4 in total defense (262.3), and #7 in scoring defense (14.3), which includes a kickoff return for a touchdown. Clemson's completion percentage allowed (43.2%) would be the best since at least 2008, when Alabama allowed 46.8%. Amazingly, Clemson's defense has been even better in several areas in ACC play. They are allowing just 223.5 yards/game, 75.5 rush yards/game, 14.5 points/game and 16.9% 3rd down conversions--all of which lead the ACC. Finally, Clemson has allowed less than 30 points in 16 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the nation!

Offensively, Clemson is hitting its stride, showing tremendous balance. They passed for 420 yards against BC and rushed for 416 yards the following week at Miami. It is the first time in school history Clemson has gone over 400 yards in both categories in the same season, let alone in consecutive weeks. The only other team to accomplish the feat in consecutive games is Baylor, and it had not been done by any other school in four years. In ACC play, Clemson leads the conference in rushing (232.8), passing (275.5), total offense (509.2), scoring (38.8), 3rd down conversion (47.5%) and first downs per game (25.2).

Clemson has outscored its ACC opponents by an average of 38.8-14.5.

As for injuries, Jabril Robinson and Zach Riggs will be held out this week, but both should be fine for the FSU game. Dodd and Norton will play on Saturday.

 

NC STATE SYNOPSIS

The Wolfpack come into the game as one of the best defenses in the nation statistically. They are #3 in total defense (251.1 yds/game), #3 in pass defense (144 yds/game), #15 in rush defense (107.1 yds/game), #7 in 3rd down defense (27.7%), #4 in 1st downs allowed and #11 in scoring defense (16.1 points/game). They are also 6th in three-and-outs. They play a 4-2-5 nickel defense and are well-coached. They are led by senior DE Mike Rose, who is leading the ACC in sacks, with 5.5. That is 11th in the nation. He had 3 big sacks at Wake last week—all of which came on 3rd down. They have another strong pass rusher in DE Darian Roseboro (45), who has 4 sacks on the season. The other starting DE, opposite Mike Rose, is sophomore Bradley Chubb, who is a Georgia native and the brother of Nick Chubb, UGA's Heisman hopeful RB who suffered a season-ending injury. By the way, DE Mike Rose hails from Fountain Inn, SC, so I'm sure this game holds special significance for him. The Pack have been stout in the 4th quarter, allowing just two scores in that quarter all season—both were touchdowns allowed in the last two games.

State runs a multiple offense with a lot of play-action and quick throws. Unlike Miami, their passing game is predicated on their run game, and they are very balanced offensively. They rush for 212.3 yards/game and pass for 200.1 per game. They throw a lot to their backs and tight ends. In fact, 70 of their 130 completions have been caught by TE’s, RB’s and FB’s. Between Brissett’s penchant for getting the ball out quickly and his ability to run, it will be hard for Clemson’s defense to sack him. At WR, #7 Nyheim Hines is a guy that Clemson recruited and was ranked the #133 player in the nation overall by Scout. He was a North Carolina state finalist in both the 100 meters and the 300 meter hurdles. So he is a guy that can get behind a defense and score from anywhere on the field. It will be interesting to see if Mackensie Alexander and the Clemson secondary can lock him down. State lost their starting RB, Shadrach Thornton, when he was dismissed from the team following an arrest. He rushed for almost 1,000 yards last season and was averaging 6.8 yards per carry this season, with 3 touchdowns, before he was dismissed at the end of September. However, it seems the Wolfpack have not missed him too much. Junior RB Matt Dayes already has 793 rushing yards on 125 carries and leads the ACC with 12 rushing touchdowns. He has also caught the ball 22 times for 174 yards. Dayes will likely be the first NC State RB to rush for over 1,000 yards since T.A. McLendon back in 2002. That would make him only the 2nd NC State 1,000-yard rusher since 1984. Dayes is the first State player to rush for 100 yards in 4 consecutive games since 1981. FB/TE Jaylen Samuels has been a nice complement to Dayes. He is 3rd in the ACC with 9 touchdowns and leads the Pack with 34 receptions. State's offense is second in the nation in time of possession, and Clemson's defense is second in the nation in three-and-outs, at 7 per game. So that will be a key metric to watch. Clemson ran 88 plays against Miami. If Clemson's defense can keep Brissett and Dayes off the field and keep giving the ball back to Deshaun Watson, the game could get out of hand again. On the other hand, if State is able to mount some time-consuming drives and Clemson turns the ball over, this game could be a nail-biter similar to the one we saw at Louisville.

The linchpin of the State offense is QB Jacoby Brissett. The former Florida Gator has found his niche in Raleigh. He is completing 67% of his passes this season and only has 1 interception against 10 touchdowns. In fact, he had a streak of 241 pass attempts without an interception that was snapped a couple of weeks ago at Virginia Tech. That streak is 3rd on the all-time ACC list, behind Russell Wilson’s record. Brissett had a tremendous game against #1 FSU last season and nearly pulled off the upset, but the Clemson defense was able to shut him out the very next week in Death Valley. He is a savvy, dual-threat quarterback who distributes the ball well and is good at escaping pressure, so he will be hard to sack. Shaq Lawson has been fantastic this season, but he is not as speedy a pass rusher as Vic Beasley was last season. He is much better at setting the edge and stopping the run than Beasley was, however. It will be interesting to see if Shaq is able to run down Brissett and bring him down in the backfield.

State’s special teams are also very sound. Their punter has been averaging 43.1 yards per punt over the last 4 games, and the average starting field position for State’s opponents is the 18.9 yard line. Bra’Lon Cherry is an excellent return man, averaging 16.9 yards per punt return, which is 7th in the FBS. That average is currently fifth-best in school history. Kicking, however, has been an issue for the Pack. They are only 3-8 on FG’s, with a long of 36 yards.

 

PREDICTION

Carter-Finley Stadium is an underrated difficult place to play. We all remember that the last time Clemson lost to an unranked team was 4 years and 35 teams ago in that very stadium. The 2013 Thursday night game was closer than we would have liked as well. State has also given FSU fits in that stadium over the years. They are playing with confidence—especially on defense—and when you add a raucous crowd and a #3 opponent to the mix, you can bet we will see NC State play its best game of the season. Like Boston College, their defense ranks among the best in the nation. Also like BC, however, their schedule has somewhat inflated their statistics. Their toughest two games have been at Virginia Tech and versus Louisville at home—both of which they lost. Their wins include Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and Wake. Clemson's offense has been clicking ever since the Louisville game. They have shown the ability to score either running or throwing, going over 400 yards in the air against BC and over 400 yards on the ground against Miami. So it will be extremely difficult to stop this offense for any defense.

Under normal circumstances a few years ago, a game like this on Halloween would scare the heck out of me. It’s sandwiched in between a monumental 58-0 blowout of Miami and the biggest game of the season against FSU. The AP moved Clemson up 3 posts to #3 in the poll. NC State has the home crowd and is seeking a resume-building win. They are also looking to avenge last season’s 41-0 shut out at the hands of defender-hurdling Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley and the boys in Death Valley. Don’t think they have forgotten about that game. However, as I espoused last week, this Clemson team is playing with the confidence, focus, unity and resolve of some of the most dominant championship teams to take the field. They have found the ability to truly block out all the outside noise and prepare for each and every game as if it’s the last game of their lives. For that reason, I don’t see this team repeating the past of four years ago. Saturday will be a treat for Clemson fans with no tricks allowed. 36 straight wins over unranked teams and counting.

The prowl toward the CFP and a 15th ACC Title in ’15 continues…..

 

CLEMSON  38  NC State  14

 

 


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