But that's easier on paper than in practice - the Pack can't simply close its eyes and throw a right hook. Despite its terrible performance against Boston College, the Tigers are a dangerous team – taking national championship contender Auburn to overtime and easily dispatching both Georgia Tech and Maryland in league play. They'll also be playing at home, where the Pack hasn't won a game since 2002, and fighting for their life as they cling to the smallest of championship hopes.
Below are how the teams stack up with each other on both sides of the ball. The Pack will have opportunities on Saturday and will have to exploit some of Clemson's weaknesses to escape Death Valley with a win.
Pack Offense against Clemson Defense
|Category||NC State Offense||Clemson Defense|
|Points per Game||35.0 (20)||18.1 (18)|
|Yards per Play||5.5 (58)||5.0 (32)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||7.1 (59)||6.5 (34)|
|Yards per Rush||3.8 (89)||3.9 (49)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||44.2% (37)||35.9% (35)|
|Turnovers per game||1.9 (74)||1.8 (58)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||77% (95)||88% (96)|
The Pack has faced three of the top-10 stingiest defenses in yards per play so far – Boston College, Central Florida and Florida State. The slate of strong defenses helps explain why the offense looks so pedestrian in the per-yardage rankings despite the obvious talent on hand. East Carolina is the only FBS team outside the top 50 that the Pack has faced.
Unfortunately it doesn't get any easier – three of the Pack's final four opponents rank in the upper third nationally. Clemson is part of that trio, a team that has been especially effective defending the pass thanks to one of the best pass rushing ends in college football. Da'Quan Bowers is now second in the nation with 10 quarterback sacks after being shut out by Boston College. The Pack is going to need a consistent, effective running game to slow down Bowers and take advantage of Clemson's weaker rush defense.
One hole in the Tigers defense has been its red zone performance, where Clemson has struggled to keep teams off the board. Against the Seminoles the Pack went four of five in the red zone - scoring four touchdowns. Not having to settle for three points gave the Pack enough cushion to escape with a win, and another strong performance inside the 20 could make all the difference on the road this weekend.
Pack Defense against Clemson Offense
|Category||NC State Defense||Clemson Offense|
|Points per Game||23.8 (58)||27.8 (58)|
|Yards per Play||5.6 (73)||5.3 (73)|
|Yards per Pass Attempt||6.9 (63)||6.1 (99)|
|Yards per Rush||4.4 (78)||4.6 (37)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||32.4 (13)||36.7% (87)|
|Turnovers per game||2.4 (16)||1.4 (30)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||88% (91)||76% (96)|
The Pack defense continued its opportunistic ways against Florida State, falling on one fumble that led directly to a touchdown and another that ended the game. The Clemson offense isn't nearly as potent as the Noles, but even without Ellington the Pack has to expect the Tigers to be a run-first attack.
The Clemson passing game has, to date, been awful – worse than Boston College awful. If the Pack can stop the run, this is not a team that's proven it can beat you with its passing attack.
Third down remain a crucial part of the Pack's defensive success, and Thursday's disaster in this area showed how close the game becomes when the Pack defense can't get off the field. The ‘Noles picked up almost 60 percent of their third downs while the Tigers have only cracked the 50 percent mark once all year in a win against the Yellow Jackets.
One interesting match-up will be the Clemson pass protection against the Pack blitz. The Tiger offensive line is giving up less than a sack per game, while the Pack is getting to the quarterback three times a contest. If the Pack can get to Parker a few times, it might lead to a few more miscues by a Clemson offense that is doing a superb job of taking care of the football so far this season.
The road to victory
Offensively the Pack is probably best served sticking with an attack similar to the second half against Florida State - a steady diet of Mustafa Greene, some short passing and the occasional big play. The game plan for the Pack on defense has to be ‘make Kyle Parker beat you'. He's a capable quarterback, but he's surrounded by young receivers who so far haven't done the job. The first eight games have shown this team to be a sub-par passing offense and if the Pack shuts down the running game the Tigers should have trouble moving the ball down the field.