Here's The Deal … With one timely fumble at the end of last Thursday's game against Florida State, NC State has taken over the lead in a tight Atlantic Division race. The Wolfpack won a thriller, 28-24, becoming bowl-eligible and ensuring it'll wear a fat and rare target in November. It lost its last road trip to East Carolina, and will play three of the final four games outside Raleigh. Half of the division is still in the hunt for a spot in the ACC title game, but Clemson is surprisingly not one of them. The Tigers, last year's champ, suffered a crushing blow last weekend, losing to sputtering Boston College, 16-10. It put a halt to the program's recent surge, which included blowouts of Maryland and Georgia Tech, and perpetuated its problems away from Death Valley. It'll spend the next four weeks playing spoiler and trying to qualify for the postseason.
Why NC State Might Win: The one constant for the Pack this season has been the offense, specifically a passing attack that leads the league at almost 300 yards a game. While QB Russell Wilson has been less than perfect with his reads, he continues to make things happen, running for three scores against the Seminoles. He got help on the ground from Mustafa Greene and has a terrific receiving corps that's led by Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer. If NC State even approaches its 35-point average, Clemson will struggle to keep pace. The Tigers have averaged 22 points over the last six games, and will labor to seal off hard-charging linebackers Nate Irving and Audie Cole.
Why Clemson Might Win: The Pack wants to pass, but the DeAndre McDaniel-led secondary rarely gives up much ground. State wants to create pressure, but the Tigers lead the ACC in sacks allowed. On the reverse side, the Wolfpack has done an awful job at protecting Wilson, which will be a particular problem this Saturday. DE Da'Quan Bowers has had All-American season so far, and if he gets too much attention, fellow end Andre Branch and DT Jarvis Jenkins are going to make State pay. Lost in the .500 record has been this defense, which excels in the red zone and gets an added boost from P Dawson Zimmerman.
What To Watch Out For: There could be a shake-up in the Clemson backfield, especially after last week's debacle. One thing that's certain is that RB Andre Ellington is out with a toe injury, which means more touches for beefy Jamie Harper. At quarterback, while Kyle Parker's job is safe, might it be time to give a few series a game to redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd? Clearly the future, he's capable of giving a spark to an attack that sure could use it.
What Will Happen: Like so many of the games involving these teams, this one is going right down to the wire. Its offense struggling and its back in the corner, Clemson will put its fate in the hands of a defense that's done a terrific job for most of the season. The Tigers will contain Wilson, picking off a couple of his passes, run the ball, and move to 5-1 in front of the home crowd.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 26 … NC State 21 … Line: Clemson -3
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