Clemson's secondary will be put to the test once again, this time it's versus N.C. State and quarterback Russell Wilson in the 2009 Textile Bowl.
He's thrown 24 touchdowns through nine games this season. That's already the third-best single-season total in school history. If Wilson throws two more on Saturday, he'll have the second-most in one season at N.C. State.
Senior end Ricky Sapp leads the team with four sacks. Da'Quan Bowers' replacement at defensive end, true freshman Malliciah Goodman, also has a pair of sacks. (Roy Philpott)
Though the starting cornerbacks were banged up against Florida State last week, both Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor are expected to play. Of course, it they've got two ball hawking safeties in DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall behind them.
Wilson is among the more efficient passers in the nation. He's smart in how he dumps the ball down to check downs at running back and tight end. The tall Clemson corners give several inches to each of the first four wide receivers on the N.C. State depth chart.
Clemson's pass rush takes a bit of a hit with Da'Quan Bowers still on the shelf with a knee injury. In eight games this season, he's second on the team with three sacks. Ricky Sapp leads the team with four sacks. Bowers' replacement at defensive end, true freshman Malliciah Goodman, has a pair of sacks.
Clemson has already faced top 25 rated passers Andy Dalton, Riley Skinner, Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder. Dalton is the only one to have finish with a higher efficiency rating than he currently has. None threw more than two touchdowns against Clemson.
CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. N.C. STATE FRONT SEVEN
C.J. Spiller reintroduced himself to the nation last week when he rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on national television versus Florida State. The smaller, younger version of Spiller--Andre Ellington chipped in for 54 yards and another touchdown. Both are lightning quick with the ability to score with each touch.
C.J. Spiller reintroduced himself to the nation last week against Florida State when he rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown. (Roy Philpott)
N.C. State's defensive line has been the most reliable unit on defense this season. Despite a number of season ending injuries to the defense, the line has remained intact with four starting seniors: Willie Young and Shea McKeen on the ends and Leroy Burgess and Alan-Michael Cash inside. All four are seniors.
Missing from the N.C. State defense is linebacker Nate Irving, who has been out for the entire season because an automobile accident during the summer. Second leading tackler Ray Michael missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Prior to missing those two games, he'd started in 21 straight. He's not listed on the Wolfpack's two-deep depth chart. Strong-side linebacker Audie Cole is the only linebacker that's started every game this season. Dwayne Maddox and Terrell Manning have shared starts in place of Irving.
There's been a solid seven-man rotation along Clemson's offensive line in recent weeks. Mason Cloy has split time between both guard spots and at center. He continues to push Antoine McClain for the starting nod on the right-side. Landon Walker and David Smith have makeup a quality one, two combination at right tackle.
Both Clemson and N.C. State have veteran fronts with lots of continuity. The game breaking abilities of Spiller and Ellington are just too much for the patch work group of Wolfpack linebackers. In N.C. State's three most recent games, the Wolfpack has given up 708 yards rushing to Boston College, Florida State and Wake Forest.
N.C. STATE RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
The talk around the players and coaching staff at Clemson when looking at N.C. State's running game starts with leading rusher Toney Baker.
A bruising, hard-nosed runner, Baker runs through arm tackles and is rarely brought down on first contact.
There's also got to be concern about Wilson's ability to run with the ball in his hands. He's the team's second leading rusher. He was the leading runner in State's 38-31 with 91 yards over Pittsburgh in late September. Baker also had solid outing during the win, going for 81 yards and a touchdown against a unit that is currently ranked 26th in the nation in rushing defense.
Russell Wilson's dual threat could pose the biggest problem for Clemson's defense. Coupled with Baker, the Wolfpack ground game will have an impact early. (Roy Philpott)
Bowers remains questionable for Saturday with a sprained PCL/MCL. He commands double teams, making room for the heavy rotation of interior lineman that Kevin Steele and Dan Brooks send in and out through the course of a game.
WILL linebacker Kavell Conner has been a tackling machine. He's fourth on the team in tackles, but he's played over 100 fewer snaps than anyone else above him.
The N.C. State offensive line has seen its fair share of shakeups this season. Center Ted Larsen and right tackle Jeraill McCuller are the only two members of the starting five who've started all nine games. Allen Barbee moved into R.J. Mattes' starting right guard spot when Mattes when down with a knee injury versus Florida State.
Wilson's dual threat could pose the biggest problem for Clemson's defense. Coupled with Baker, the Wolfpack ground game will have an impact early. The longer N.C. State keeps the game within reach, the more opportunities for Wilson and Baker to make an impact rushing.
CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. N.C. STATE SPECIAL TEAMS
A week ago for Clemson, there were no concerns about kicking extra-points and field goals. After three missed extra-points and two missed field goals, there's plenty to think about with Clemson's special teams.
Spencer Benton is starting at place kicker for Richard Jackson, who's serving a disciplinary sit-down for academics. Jackson will still dress and be available to kick and surprisingly still ranks among the top kickers in the nation. He's tied for fourth place with two others at 1.89 field goals per game.
Spencer Benton is starting at place kicker for Richard Jackson, who's serving a disciplinary sit-down for academics. Jackson will still dress and be available to kick and surprisingly still ranks among the top kickers in the nation. (Roy Philpott)
Spiller's game breaking ability is always a threat in the return game. Paired with Ford, Clemson's return duo is unmatched by any others in the nation. Spiller averages over 35 yards per return and has three touchdowns.
N.C. State has quality returners in T.J. Graham and Clem Johnson. Both average over 10 yards per punt return while Graham averages 25 yards per kick return and has returned one for touchdown. Like several other important players for the Wolfpack Graham is injured for the season. He suffered a stress fracture against Boston College.
CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. STATE SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
Quarterback Kyle Parker continues to show resiliency in the face of pressure. He took over two Clemson freshman passing records Saturday. He now has the most touchdowns and passing yards for a Tiger freshman.
Much of his success comes in thanks to Ford, who leads Clemson in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Tight end Michael Palmer has emerged as Parker's second favorite target this season, despite missing the Coastal Carolina game.
Like anywhere else on the field, Spiller is just as dangerous a threat catching the ball as anyone else in college football.
Xavier Dye continues to impress after nearly leaving the program after two games this season. He and Terrance Ashe continue to look like viable complimentary threats at wide receiver. Dwayne Allen grabbed his second touchdown catch this season against Florida State and figures to be a big-time target at tight end for the remainder of this season and those to come.
N.C. State's secondary has started seven different combinations in nine games this season. Clem Johnson is the only starter in the group that's not a freshman. The starting four against Maryland will start this Saturday. It's the second time all season the Wolfpack has started the same four in back-to-back games.
The N.C. State pass rush is led by Young, who is tied for 23rd nationally and tied for third in the ACC in sacks with seven this season. Against Wake Forest, he had three, a career high.
Against FCS opponents, the lowest total passing yards given up by the N.C. State came in the season opener against South Carolina (148). Maryland is the only other opponent that's had less than 200 yards passing.
PREDICTION: Clemson 42 N.C. State 31