Welcome to the Textile Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers yielded their second consecutive dominant road performance last Friday in capturing their 6th consecutive O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy at Boston College. Amazingly, there were still some in the media talking “let down game” despite the fact that this program under Dabo Swinney has proven to be impervious to the infamous let down for years…literally. There is a reason Clemson has not lost once in its last 44 meetings with unranked opponents. Ironically, the last unranked team to beat the Tigers was NC State way back in 2011, just after the Tigers had clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game. To put that into perspective, Dexter Lawrence was 13 years old and probably only 250 pounds at that time. Well the Tigers virtually laid to rest any notions of an upset by the end of the first quarter with a 21-3 lead, and they never took their foot off the pedal. They torched BC’s #1-ranked defense to the delight of the many Clemson fans in attendance and demonstrated which defense was really the class of the ACC. The coaches were able to play 67 of the 72 players that made the trip, and they were able to save Austin Bryant for one more week. Dabo has the Tigers 6-0 for the fourth time under his watch—something Clemson had accomplished just once in the 30 years prior to his tenure as head coach and just 5 times in the 78 years before his hire. The trip to BC is always a nostalgic one for Dabo, as it is where he won his first game as head coach back on a Halloween weekend in 2008. Last Friday was his 81st win, which is obviously a very significant number to Dabo and all Clemson fans. It was another great team win for the Tigers, and for a complete breakdown of the game, read my grades and analysis HERE.
The trip up to Boston was also a reminder of how well Dabo and the Tigers have recruited over the last few years because Massachusetts is the home of sophomore star Christian Wilkins, a former high 4-star recruit who decided to make the long migration south to become a Clemson Tiger. This week, the Tigers face the in-state team of another marquee defensive tackle, Dexter Lawrence, who was a 5-star recruit last year from the state of North Carolina and a top-5 overall prospect according to Scout. The Wolfpack were hoping to retain Big Dex all the way to the end, but he joined Christian Wilkins on the Clemson D-Line and has had an immediate impact for the Tigers. He’s 4th on the team with 38 tackles and recorded the first sack of the season for the Tigers in his college debut at Auburn. Just a few days ago, the Tigers landed another big-time North Carolina recruit in 4-star linebacker Justin Foster. Gary was up in Shelby, NC for live coverage of the big commitment announcement, and you can watch the announcement and Gary’s post-game interview with Foster HERE: http://www.scout.com/college/clemson/story/1715936-foster-is-all-in The Tigers now have 14 commitments for the 2017 class and have moved up to #8 on Scout’s team rankings. The Tigers’ class consists of twelve 4-star players and two 3-stars, and their average star rating of 3.86 is 4th behind only Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama (3.90). You can catch up on last week’s recruiting news in the Radar HERE. Be sure to visit our Recruiting Radar Screen forum daily for the latest developments and updates on the Clemson recruiting front!
As always, we will have a photo gallery of visiting recruits at Saturday’s game in Death Valley, and don’t forget to check in at The Valley forum for LIVE video coverage of the Tiger Walk (approximately 9:45) and pre-game warmups!
Now on to the Textile Bowl….
Clemson leads the all-time series 55-28-1, dating back to 1899. That inaugural meeting in Rock Hill, SC was the 16th game in Clemson program history…..The game was anointed the Textile Bowl in 1981 because both institutions had nationally renowned textile colleges....State is the third-most defeated team by Clemson, behind South Carolina (69) and Wake Forest (63)…..Clemson has won 4 straight meetings and 11 of the last 12. The lone NC State win over that period was in 2011, which is also the last time Clemson has lost to an unranked opponent. That game was Homecoming for NC State, and Saturday’s game will be Homecoming for Clemson….The Tigers have won 6 straight home games versus the Wolfpack….Clemson won the last meeting in Death Valley 41-0 when Deshaun Watson was a true freshman…From 1986 to 1988, Danny Ford and Clemson won the ACC Title for 3 straight seasons but lost to NC State in each of those seasons. Clemson also lost to NC State in 2011 when the Tigers won the ACC Title…..The highest combined scoring ACC game in Clemson history occurred when the Tigers beat NC State 62-48 in 2012….Clemson's 56-10 win at Boston College was the 10th largest margin of victory in an ACC game in school history. 4 of Clemson's top 10 largest ACC margins of victory have come in the last 4 years, and 3 have been on the road....Clemson is one of 11 undefeated FBS teams and just 6 teams with a 6-0 record….Clemson is the only Power Five school with 3 true road wins in 2016….Clemson has the longest active streak in the AP top 5 at 15 straight weeks....The game between Clemson and Louisville had an overnight rating of 6.0 according to ABC/ESPN. That was the highest rating for a Saturday night ABC game since the 2014 ACC Championship between Florida State and Georgia Tech, and it was the second-highest rating for any game this sesaon, behind the Notre Dame vs. Texas game.....Wayne Gallman has 15 career games with 100 yards or more. He needs one more to break the Clemson record he currently shares with Raymond Priester….
The Tigers are humming on both sides of the ball right now. The 56 points they scored at BC were the most ever allowed by Head Coach Steve Addazio. The 124 yards of total offense by Georgia Tech against the Tigers were the fewest in Paul Johnson’s career. Offensively, the Tigers have averaged 503 yards per game over the last 4 contests. In the first halves of those games—I like to look at the first halves because so many starters come out in the second half of blowouts—the Tigers have scored 45, 23, 28 and 21. And two of those four games were on the road. Wayne Gallman seems to be hitting his stride, going over 100 yards in each of the last two games, rushing for 6.9 yards per carry against Louisville and 12.1 yards per carry at BC. The Wayne Train was named MVP of the Boston College game and won the coveted Leather Helmet. It seems as though the offensive line is doing a better job finishing blocks and creating running lanes for both Gallman and Watson, who also rushed for nearly 100 yards against Louisville. We also got a preview of things to come from Tavien Feaster, who exploded for a 45-yard touchdown run at the end of the BC game. If the Tigers make the College Football Playoff again, Feaster could be a big-time weapon by that time.
With the balance the Tigers have been able to establish in the running game—and no longer dropping balls in the passing game—the offense has been able to go high tempo, and they are scoring at an alarming rate. Against Louisville, the Tigers scored their first 5 touchdowns in a total of just 12 plays, consuming only two and a half minutes of game clock! That proved to be no anomaly, as the Tigers scored their first 4 touchdowns at BC in just 15 total plays and five and a half minutes off the clock. When this offense is clicking on all cylinders, it is arguably the most explosive in history, and they have done this with starting WR Hunter Renfrow on the sideline! Jordan Leggett has been a big part of the Tigers’ offensive awakening, scoring a touchdown in each of the last 3 games. His 31-yard game-winning touchdown against Louisville broke Dwayne Allen’s Clemson record for career touchdowns by a tight end, and he had a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter at BC. Down in Atlanta, he had another clutch touchdown with 4 seconds left before halftime to put the Tigers up 23-0. Deon Cain has also been red-hot, catching 2 touchdowns in each of the last 2 games. Cain broke Sammy Watkins’s Clemson freshman record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch last season, and he looks to be poised to go on a similar streak now. Amazingly, Cain just has 13 total catches on the season, and 6 have gone for touchdowns! He is averaging 18.3 yards per catch.
Don’t look now, but the offense is steadily climbing up the national ranks to the top where it belongs. The Tigers are #34 in total yards per game, #27 in passing offense and #29 in scoring offense. Incidentally, Auburn has turned out to be a much better defense than people expected, so the criticism of Clemson’s offense after that season opener on the road was a little premature. Auburn is currently #12 in scoring defense.
Defensively, the Tigers continue to make Brent Venables look like a genius. Despite all the inexperience in the secondary and at defensive end, the Tigers’ defense has remarkably looked even better than it did last season. In fact, they have given up far less big plays so far this season, and that’s a testament to the discipline of the group and the pride and attention to detail and preparation by the secondary. As good as the 2015 defense was, they were #102 in plays of 20 plus yards allowed. Currently, they are #10 in that category. They were even worse in 2015 on plays allowed of more than 40 yards (#116). They are #2 in that category currently, having allowed just 2 such plays through 6 games. The Tigers are currently #9 in total defense, allowing 282.2 yards per game. They are #6 in pass defense (149 yards/game), #8 in scoring defense (15.0 points/game), #8 in 3rd down defense (26.0%), #11 in sacks (3.5 per game) and #5 in tackles-for-loss (9.3 per game). The Tigers are #3 in the nation in three-and-outs per game, with 6.5. That trails only Michigan (7.5) and Alabama (6.67). The Tigers have forced a three-and-out in 47% of opponents’ possessions, and that is also #3 behind Michigan (56.2%) and Alabama (50%). Three-and-outs and tackles-for-loss have been the hallmark of Brent Venables and the Clemson defense. Over the past 3 years, they have led the nation in both categories.
Even on special teams, the Tigers are much-improved from last season. They were #115 out of 127 FBS teams last season in kickoff coverage, and it cost them a national title. Currently, the Tigers are #5 in that department, allowing just 15.44 yards per return! Brent Venables and Marion Hobby worked hard during spring practice and August camp to shore up the only hole on this Clemson team from last season, and the hard work appears to have paid off. The improvement can also be attributed to the work Huegel has put in on increasing his distance on kickoffs and the play of guys like Dorian O’Daniel, Van Smith, Tanner Muse and Jamie Skalski on the coverage unit. Those guys are taking a lot of pride in special teams this season, and it shows.
The Tigers are really in a great spot mentally and physically right now. Over the course of the last 4 games, they have silenced the criticisms and doubts with which they were being berated, and they seem to be having fun on the field again, playing looser and with more swagger. The bye week comes at an ideal time for this team to collect itself mentally and physically. I asked several players how much it helped to know that they have just one more home game to play before they get a respite, and every one of them said it was huge. Dabo echoed those sentiments when I talked to him on Wednesday. Last season, the Tigers’ bye came early in the season, and they had to endure 10 straight games including the ACC Championship. It was a grueling grind, and it was impressive that they were able to pull it off unscathed. This time, the bye comes right in the middle of the season and precedes the biggest remaining obstacle to making a repeat appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have been relatively lucky with injuries (knock on wood) to this point and have been able to weather the losses of two starters in Austin Bryant and Hunter Renfrow thanks to the depth at wide receiver and the defensive line. Even the secondary, which was a major question mark with would-be starter Adrian Baker recovering from a torn ACL, has not missed a beat. With one more game before the bye week, Bryant and Renfrow are both ready to return to action, and Adrian Baker is extremely close. Jalen Williams is also ready to return from his pulled hamstring, so the Tigers are about to be as deep as they have been all season headed into the bye and the showdown in Tallahassee. Assuming they take care of business on Saturday, they will be in a perfect spot from a confidence standpoint as well with their sights fixed squarely on the Noles.
NC STATE SYNOPSIS
The Wolfpack comes in with a 4-1 record and a lot of confidence after winning 3 in a row, including a home win over Notre Dame last week in a backyard brawl during a torrential downpour. They won that game 10-3 thanks to a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. State’s lone defeat was a 33-30 loss at East Carolina in which the Pack led late and actually outgained the Pirates.
Offensively, the primary concern has to be stopping RB Matt Dayes. He has a nice combination of power and speed, and had he not left last year’s meeting early with an injury, the game might have been even closer than it was. He has 3 touchdowns on the season and is averaging 5.75 yards per carry. If the Tigers can limit him to less than 4 yards per carry, it will put a lot of pressure on QB Ryan Finley and will be tough sledding for the Pack. Finley is a transfer from Boise State, along with new Offensive Coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, a Gus Malzahn protégé at Arkansas State. You’ll see a lot of familiar zone-read principles that you have been used to seeing from the Tigers since the Chad Morris days. Getting back to Finley, the 6’4, 200-pound QB has not lit up the scoreboard this season, but he has been very efficient. Not counting the Notre Dame monsoon game, he has completed 72.4% of his passes for 1,014 yards in 4 games with 9 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He is not much of a running threat, but he does have one rushing touchdown on the season. Including his time at Boise State, the most intimidating road environments he’s faced were BYU and East Carolina, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of Death Valley on Homecoming and the Brent Venables blitzes that will be coming his way. I expect Venables to key on stopping Matt Dayes and force Finley to make throws under duress. A couple play-makers to watch out for are FB/TE Jaylen Samuels (#1), WR Stephen Louis (#12) and WR Bra’Lon Cherry (#13). At 5’11, 225 pounds, Samuels is a load to tackle, and he has 7 touchdowns already (3 rushing, 4 receiving). Louis is a big WR at 6’5 and 215 pounds. He only has 13 catches and one touchdown but averages 25.2 yards per catch. Nyheim Hines (#7) has missed a couple games with injury but is a weapon on kick returns, averaging 24.9 yards per return in his career. Bra’Lon Cherry was #12 in the nation last season in punt return average. The Pack spreads the ball around among their receivers. Kelvin Harmon caught both of his two TD’s against Wake, and no other WR has more than one TD catch. You can probably expect to see QB Jalan McClendon (6’5, 212) come into the game in certain run-friendly situations. Most who follow State expected McClendon to be the starter before the transfer of Finley. He has rushed 19 times for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s also 11-15 passing with one TD and one INT.
NC State’s new offensive line coach is Dwayne Ledford, who coached against Clemson when he was with App State last season. Their O-Line has performed very well, allowing just 5 sacks on the season. That will be a matchup to watch, as Clemson is one of the best defenses in the nation at pressuring the quarterback. If the Tigers can live in State’s backfield, it will be a long day for the Wolfpack offense.
State does a good job protecting the football. They have just 5 turnovers in 5 games this season, and 2 of those came in the Notre Dame monsoon game. They are #10 nationally in fewest turnovers.
Defensively, it all starts up front with DE Bradley Chubb, cousin of UGA RB Nick Chubb. Bradley was selected to wear #9 this season, the number of NC State’s #1 overall NFL Draft pick, Mario Williams. It’s an honor bestowed each season to the defense’s top returning player. Chubb has worn it well so far. He has 5 sacks in the last 2 games against Notre Dame and Wake. Chubb was 7th in the preseason voting for All-ACC defensive ends. State has a stout defensive line. They’ve recorded 16 sacks and 40 tackles-for-loss on the season. They rank #8 in total defense, allowing 279.8 yards per game. They are also #8 in rush defense (91.0 yards/game), #29 in pass defense (188.8 yards/game) and #15 in scoring defense (17.6 points/game). They are #17 in sacks (3.2 per game) and #16 in tackles-for-loss (8.0 per game). They have recovered 3 fumbles and 4 interceptions on the season. State is good on 3rd down both offensively and defensively. They have converted 46% on offense and allowed 28% on defense. In the red zone, they have scored 85% of the time, and they have scored touchdown in 73% of their chances. They have allowed opponents to score touchdowns in just 46% of their opportunities in the red zone.
Finally, State is sound in special teams. Their senior kicker, Connor Haskins, missed two field goals that were the difference in the East Carolina game, so they made a switch to sophomore Kyle Bambard, who has made 4 of 5 field goals since then. I mentioned the dangerous return game weapons they have in Hines and Cherry, and they have the top punter in the ACC in A.J. Cole, who is on the Ray Guy watch list. He averages 46.1 per punt and averaged 37 yards in the driving monsoon of the Notre Dame game. His long for the season is 72 yards against Wake Forest, so he can flip field position in a hurry. Cole has only allowed one solitary return this season.
NC State has been very fortunate with injuries this season and came out of the Notre Dame game with a clean bill of health.
Just as we saw last week with Boston College, the Wolfpack come into this game with one of the best defenses in the nation on paper. However, as with BC, their stats are probably inflated thanks to a less than formidable early schedule, including the likes of Bill and Mary, East Carolina, Old Dominion and Wake Forest. And the Notre Dame game was played in such deplorable conditions that just about any defense would look good in that one. They are a veteran group on defense, so that should account for something, but last season they were #51 in scoring defense, and the Tigers hung 56 points on them at their place, so I think it’s fair to question whether it’s a good thing that they return all those players. They have been solid this season, but there’s an awfully big difference between facing an Old Dominion, William & Mary or Wake Forest offense and that of the Clemson Tigers. I’m also skeptical about whether former Boise State QB Ryan Finley is ready for what he’s about to experience with a blitzing Brent Venables defense and 80,000 screaming fans on Homecoming. I honestly don’t think the Wolfpack have the weapons on offense to keep up, and their defense will only be able to stem the tide for so long against a Clemson offense that has found its rhythm.
The Tigers keep on trucking in this one, making it 45 straight wins against unranked teams and extending their nation-leading home win streak to 20 games. They stay in the Atlantic Division driver’s seat with a week off before their date with Florida State.
The prowl toward a 16th ACC Title in ’16, a repeat appearance in the College Football Playoff and a second National Title continues……..
CLEMSON 48 NC State 7