Explosive Pack needs strong finish

Much like last year, it's a little like postseason football has started early in Raleigh this year.

That's because, like last year, the team entered November with no margin for error. With five losses already, and two wins against lower-division teams, the Wolfpack will have to finish November a perfect 4-0 to be bowl-eligible for a second consecutive year.

The stretch began well last weekend, with a victory at home over Maryland. That was a badly-needed victory to boost the confidence of a team that had done nothing to cheer about since knocking off Pitt a month earlier.

But that was the easy part. The remaining three games are Clemson, at Virginia Tech and North Carolina, all of which have a winning record.

For that to have any chance of happening, a couple of things are going to have to change. The first is that the defense is going to need to keep teams out of the end zone. The 31 points Maryland scored -- and to be fair, seven of those came on a pick-six by the Maryland defense -- were the fewest allowed in more than a month. N.C. State opponents have scored more than 30 points in each of the last six games, which is a lot of pressure to put on the offense.

That offense has been explosive, but it has also made mistakes. Russell Wilson set the NCAA record for pass attempts without an interception, but has since thrown nine picks, and he had three against the Terrapins. If he has another game like that one against the remaining three opponents on the schedule, that will likely spell the end of the team's bowl hopes.

One encouraging statistic for the Wolfpack is that Tom O'Brien's tenure in Raleigh has been at its best late in the season. He's 7-2 in November after last week's win.

SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 49-27-1 (last meeting, 2008, 27-9 Clemson)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The State offense was unstoppable in the first half against Maryland, except for two Russell Wilson interceptions. Though it slowed down after intermission, it was able to generate points when it had to. Clemson's defense is aggressive, which the Wolfpack can take advantage of if they play within themselves, but any mistakes are going to hurt.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: State's defense is going through another lineup change, with Jarvis Byrd moving into the starting lineup at corner, C.J. Wilson shifting to the other side of the field and DeAndre Morgan heading to the sidelines. If LB Ray Michel can play, the leading tackler would help the difficult matchup against the Tigers' offense and the ever-dangerous C.J. Spiller.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are still fighting for a bowl bid, so we're going to keep playing hard." -- S Clem Johnson, on his team's attitude for the last month of the season.

CB Jarvis Byrd -- The true freshman is poised to make his first career start this weekend against Clemson, with C.J. Wilson moving to the other side of the field and DeAndre Morgan to the bench. The coaches liked how he played against Maryland and that he wasn't intimidated in the previous game against Florida State, and he's sure to get all the action he can handle from the Tigers this weekend. It's a big step forward for a guy who spent the first half of the season planning to redshirt.

QB Russell Wilson -- Wilson came close to setting a career-best for passing yards in last weekend's victory over Maryland. However, he also set a personal worst for interceptions, tossing three to the Terrapins. He'll have to do a better job at playing within himself and not trying to do too much this week.

LB Dwayne Maddox -- Maddox played a strong game against Maryland, leading the team in tackles. Particularly if Ray Michel is on the sidelines again with his injured ankle, Maddox will have a key role in the game plan this week.

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