Saturday, November 19, 2011
3:30 pm (EST), ABC
Clemson (9-1) at NC State (5-5) Nov. 19, 3:30, ABC/ESPN
Here's The Deal … Now that Clemson has wrapped up the Atlantic Division, how will the coaching staff keep the kids motivated over the next couple of weeks? The Tigers rallied heroically in the second half of last week's pivotal game with Wake Forest, erasing a two-touchdown deficit, and winning on a Chandler Catanzaro field goal as time expired. However, injuries aside, there's not much that can happen this week in Raleigh or next week in Columbia, S.C. that will impact the program's goal of winning the ACC and playing in a BCS bowl game.
It's going to be a challenge to keep the players focused on the task at hand, and not a probable rematch with Virginia Tech in Charlotte on Dec. 3. N.C. State actually has more hanging in the balance this week than Clemson. The Wolfpack remains a win away from postseason eligibility after inexplicably losing to 3-7 Boston College last Saturday. The Pack has been a streaky bunch, though it's clearly been far more consistent at Carter-Finley Stadium this fall than on the road.
Why Clemson Might Win: The Tigers possess too many weapons for a stagnant Wolfpack offense that's scored just 23 points over the last three games. The unit is regressing as the season wears on, making too many physical and mental mistakes.
N.C. State can't survive in a low-scoring game against a high-powered Clemson team that's averaging 478 yards and 37 points a game. Now that RB Andre Ellington has returned from his ankle injury, the Tigers have their full complement of playmakers with which to target the Pack defense. The passing game has been a challenge for opponents all season, showcasing QB Tajh Boyd and his myriad receivers, wideouts Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, and TE Dwayne Allen.
Why NC State Might Win: Yeah, the Clemson offense can be scary, but it has not been invincible. Witness the Virginia Tech game, Georgia Tech game and most of last week's Wake Forest win. Plus, the Wolfpack is not a defense to be taken lightly. It's played much better over the last five games, and ranks sixth nationally with 27 takeaways. It's a playmaking group that's led by CB David Amerson, the nation's leader with 10 picks, and linebackers Audie Cole and Terrell Manning. While N.C. State might give up yards this weekend, it'll also compensate by beating the Tigers blockers to the backfield, and halting drives with tempo-changing turnovers.
What To Watch Out For: What's with the N.C. State offense, and does it have any hope for a turnaround? The Clemson defense is beatable, lacking much pop outside of DE Andre Branch. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the Pack can capitalize. Over the last three games, it's averaged 70 yards on the ground, and has gotten just one touchdown pass from Mike Glennon. Of course, allowing nine sacks and at least as many pressures is going to make life miserable for any quarterback. Someone will have to keep Branch—and DT Brandon Thompson—out of the backfield if the Wolfpack is to have any hope of penning an upset this weekend.
What Will Happen: Clemson will be in for another dogfight, in large part because the motivation for these two schools couldn't be more disparate. A week after beating Wake Forest to wrap up the division, the Tigers must hit the road to play a game that'll have little impact on their postseason destination. N.C. State, on the other hand, needs this one in the worst way, and will be buoyed by the home crowd.
The intangibles ensure a close game, but not an upset. Clemson houses too much firepower for a Wolfpack team that's experiencing too many misfires to knock off a top 10 opponent. It'll be very close, but the Tigers will once again survive, ensuring a 10-win season for the first time in more than two decades.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 28 … N.C. State 24
Clemson will bring the same caliber and size of athletes along their defensive line that NC State faced three weeks ago at Florida State. The Tigers like to turn their guys loose to get after the quarterback and if State isn't careful the results could be similar to what they suffered through in Tallahassee.
Like most teams have done over the last four weeks, Clemson will likely try to control the line of scrimmage and get pressure on Glennon with their front four, allowing them to drop seven into coverage.
This is probably a pretty smart strategy considering Boston College's success a week ago when rushing just three. For NC State's part, it'll help that R.J. Mattes should be back at left tackle with Mikel Overgaard back at his normal position of right tackle. State has to get tougher at the point of attack and they must keep Clemson off of Glennon and give him time to set up and throw the ball.
While the Tigers have been more porous with their run defense, State seems set to build their offense around the pass so keeping Glennon off the turf is a must.
GRIND IT OUT
If Clemson has one Achilles' heel on defense it's their tendency to give up yards on the ground. While their pass defense rates 20th nationally, they've given up nearly 190 yards rushing per game.
Normally this would appear to be an area to attack but State hasn't necessarily benefited from teams that struggle in run defense. However, if the Pack hopes to have any chance of winning this game they must find a way to run the ball.
When State has rushed for better than 100 yards this year they're a respectable 4-2. In games where they've rushed for less than 100, the Pack is just 1-3. Taking it a step further, when the Wolfpack runs the ball 35 times, they're undefeated.
35 rushes may be a little too much to ask but realistically, State needs to have some success on the ground to maintain control of the ball, sustain drives and keep Clemson's potent offense of the sidelines. If the Pack is forced into three and outs consistently then it's going to get ugly most likely.
DO THE LITTLE THINGS
State has struggled mightily to score points over the last four weeks and devolved into one of the nation's least effective offenses. Beyond the obvious of effective blocking, State has had a tough time with some basic issues. One of the real thorns this year has been dropped passes. Another has been pre-snap penalties.
Glennon has made some errant passes. The receivers have had a tough time creating separation. If you can avoid these issues then you greatly increase your chance of success. Many of the problems State has brought on itself are mental and can be easily corrected. If the Pack hopes to have any chance against Clemson they better have them fixed by game time.
NC State Defense vs. Clemson Offense
Strong defense obviously starts on first down and this will be the most crucial play of each series of downs for NC State. Much like with Georgia Tech, Clemson is outstanding at producing big plays, but the Tigers are also strong on third down because of just how good they are on the previous two downs.
What the Wolfpack must do is limit the Tigers on first down to put them in obvious passing situations and make them one-dimensional. Because tailback Andre Ellington is so explosive, the less times he touches the ball the better for the Wolfpack, so by being one-dimensional it could potentially take Ellington out of the game.
Also, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has had issues recently with interceptions. He will take some chances and try to force the ball into tight windows, so if State can put the Tigers in situations where Boyd definitely has to pass, it could open up the door for some turnovers.
It all starts on first down for the Wolfpack defense. If they can win on that down, they will have a chance at slowing down Clemson's high-powered offense.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Head coach Dabo Swinney gives offensive coordinator a lot of freedom and because of this the Tigers are as unpredictable offensively as any team in the conference.
QB draws, halfback passes, wide receiver sweeps, tight end screens, flea-flickers, wideout passes, etc... it doesn't matter. The Tigers will do whatever they can offensively to put points on the board and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.
The Tigers lead the ACC in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense, and a big reason is because of how diversified they are offensively and how Morris utilizes all the weapons at his disposal.
NC State's defense will have to be ready at all times for virtually anything. Tight end Dwayne Allen might catch a middle screen. Halfback Andre Ellington could run a wheel route up the sideline for a catch. Wideout Nuke Hopkins could come in motion, take the hand-off, and pass to quarterback Tahj Boyd. Wideout Sammy Watkins could line up in the backfield and run Clemson's version of the "Wildcat."
The best strategy NC State's defense can take is to be disciplined with their assigments, find the football, and tackle because there is no telling who will have the ball... and be the playmaker, on a given play for the Tigers.
START FAST, UTILIZE THE 12TH MAN
If NC State is going to have any chance of upsetting the Tigers, they must start fast and keep the crowd in the game.
Clemson, despite its 9-1 record, has had issues on the road this season. The Tigers have played just three road games all year, and the best win was definitely at Virginia Tech, where Clemson won 23-3.
However, in the win at Maryland, the Tigers got off to a slow start, trailing 28-10 before rallying to pull out the 56-45 victory. At Georgia Tech, Clemson fell behind 24-3, and the Yellow Jackets were too strong for the Tigers to overcome, as they suffered their only loss of the season in Atlanta.
NC State needs to come out and limit Clemson's offense from the opening series, either by getting stops or forcing turnovers. A fast start should keep the crowd in the game, a necessity in a game NC State has to win to keep its postseason hopes alive.
If NC State falls behind to Clemson, the Tigers offense is too strong, and the Pack's offense isn't strong enough, to make a comeback.
TSX Snapshot: NC State
"We're down, but that's when we play our best, when our backs are against the wall and stuff like that," receiver T.J. Graham said. "We're not a front-running type team."
Pulling itself out won't come easy because the next opponent is Clemson (9-1, 6-1), which already has won the ACC's Atlantic Division.
The Wolfpack could be headed toward another non-bowl season and that is leading to increased grumbling about coach Tom O'Brien's tenure with the program. The Wolfpack went to bowls in two of his first four seasons.
Last season, the Wolfpack had a busy road stretch late in the schedule. This year, it's a reversal and the final two games are at home. But the mood has dimmed around the team after what has turned out to be another mundane season. Now, there will be a last-grasp effort to put a positive spin on it.
Tom O'Brien has led N.C. State to just one bowl game in four seasons. (Getty Images)
THURSDAY NOTES: N.C. State was flagged for only three penalties in its victory Nov. 5 against North Carolina, making the team at the second-lowest penalty yardage per game in the country at 31.9 yards per game. That was N.C. State's third game in a row with three penalties, but that stretch ended when it was flagged eight times for 56 yards at Boston College.
* N.C. State is 5-0 when forcing three or more turnovers in a game this season. The Wolfpack is 0-5 when causing two or less turnovers, something that happened in its most-recent game when Boston College gave up the ball only once on a turnover.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This unit hasn't scored more than 13 points in its last three games and that has become a major issue. Even though QB Mike Glennon completed about 70 percent of his passes (28 of 40) at Boston College, he didn't convert at the end with one of his most poorly thrown balls. The rushing attack needs to get moving again, especially as a means to keep the ball out of Clemson's hands.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has been solid for much of the past month. But now there's another wrinkle that's necessary. Coach Tom O'Brien said the goal has to be to outplay the other team's defense. So even a stingy effort against Boston College, which gained 190 yards of total offense, wasn't enough. A healthier defensive line has helped across the board, limiting rushing up the middle and putting more pressure on quarterbacks and giving opponents less time to run downfield routes with their receivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're in a ditch. We found out way out before. We have to dig out again." -- NC State coach Tom O'Brien, knowing his team must win its final two games to reach bowl eligibility for the second year in a row.
TE George Bryan was a first-team preseason All-ACC selection. (Getty Images)
TE George Bryan -- He has resurfaced as a threat in the offense and with the team sputtering at times it's a much-needed factor. Bryan has likely dropped off the radar for individual honors, but that doesn't mean he can't cap his career with some big performances as the most productive tight end in school history.
S Earl Wolff -- He has been a play-maker in recent games and the Wolfpack's secondary will be tested by Clemson. He has good mobility in the secondary and the Wolfpack will want more of that on display against Clemson's receivers.
ROSTER REPORT: RB Curtis Underwood is no longer on the Wolfpack's injury report, but he has fallen down the depth chart in favor of redshirt freshman RB Tony Creecy as the backup tailback. Underwood rushed for more than 100 yards in the opener, but he has had difficulty moving back into a prominent role. He might be limited to special teams the rest of the way.
* LB Dwayne Maddox is back in a starting role and this is the second time this season he has been pulled up from a backup position because of injuries at the linebacker spot. He made four tackles at Boston College.
* FB Taylor Gentry has missed more than a month since he was injured in the Georgia Tech game, when he played in the offensive backfield and along the defensive line. It might be hard for him to return by the end of the regular season. He is out for the rest of the season.
TSX Snapshot: Clemson
Clemson's game at N.C. State on Nov. 19 is essentially meaningless as the Tigers already have wrapped up a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game. But don't try telling that to Clemson's players.
"We have a totally different mindset," junior center Dalton Freeman said. "We're only guaranteed 12 games a year, and we work 365 days for them. We're sitting here now with a chance to win every division game."
With a win over the Wolfpack, Clemson would become the first Atlantic Division team to beat every other division team in a season since the league went to divisional play in 2005.
"We're the best in the division, but there's more out there -- let's go from good to great," head coach Dabo Swinney said.
A victory also would give Clemson 10 wins, something that hasn't been done since 1990. The Tigers haven't won 10 games in the regular season since 1981, when they went 12-0 and won the national championship.
A win also would give the Tigers seven ACC victories this season -- something the Tigers haven't had since 1983.
"It's all about being the best we can be," Swinney said. "We've still got all kind of improving to do. Nobody can watch our tape and say we've arrived."
-- Clemson leads the ACC in total offense (478 yards), scoring offense (37.3 ppg.) and passing offense (307.6 ypg). All three figures would rank the Tigers in the top 15 in the nation and would be school records if the season ended today.
-- Clemson is ranked seventh in the latest AP poll and eighth in the latest USA Today poll. This is the ninth consecutive week that Clemson has been ranked in the top 25 -- the longest such streak for the program since the 2000-101 season.
-- Beginning with the Tigers' game at N.C. State on Nov. 19, their last four games will on the road. Clemson plays at South Carolina on Nov. 26, followed by the ACC Championship game in Charlotte on Dec. 3, then a bowl game.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads the series with N.C. State 51-27-1 (last meeting, 2010, Clemson 14-13 at Clemson).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Clemson put up 522 yards of offense in last week's win over Wake Forest, but coaches and players alike came away disappointed.
"We left so much out there that it makes me sick," offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
The Tigers were inefficient on third down and turned the ball over three times, yet still escaped with a victory. The return of Andre Ellington to the lineup helped recharge the running game, as Ellington --who had missed the Georgia Tech game with a sprained ankle -- provided 98 yards and two touchdowns. The primary concern as the Tigers prepare to face N.C. State is the health of freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, who sustained an AC sprain in his shoulder against Wake Forest.
He's questionable for the game at Raleigh, N.C. The good news is that other receivers compensated for Watkins' absence late in the game, with Dwayne Allen making all four of his catches in the fourth quarter and Adam Humphries making key catches as well. Clemson also will be without tackle Phillip Price for at least one game, forcing senior David Smith back into a starter's role and left guard Brandon Thomas to tackle. Price is expected to miss just one or two games. Although he passed for 343 yards, quarterback Tajh Boyd threw two interceptions for a second straight game, prompting Morris to conclude that the sophomore may be too confident. "With all the throws he's made this season, he thinks he can throw it into a Dixie cup," Morris said.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Clemson's defense continues to bend but not break while somehow managing to atone for earlier errors. The trend held true to form last week against Wake Forest as the Tigers defense surrendered 21 third-quarter points, then completely shut the Deacons down in the fourth quarter. And when Clemson had to have the ball back for a chance to win the game in the final minute of play, the defense forced a quick three-and-out, with senior linemen Rennie Moore and Brandon Thompson combining for a sack on third down to seal the deal. Clemson kicked the game-winning field goal on the game's final play.
"We've been in that situation before," LB Corico Hawkins said. "We're able to do what we have to do when we need to do it."
Senior CB Coty Sensabaugh has come on strong of late, and Wake Forest's Chris Givens managed just two catches while working primarily against Sensabaugh.
"He's turned himself into a player who will get some looks from some NFL teams," coach Dabo Swinney said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're doing better on third-and-long. I'm thinking about the next time we're in a third-and-one or third-and-two to take a delay penalty so we can have a third-and-six or third-and-seven." -- Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris on his unit's short-yardage woes.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Clemson at N.C. State, Nov. 19 -- Clemson already has clinched its spot in the ACC Championship game, but still would like nothing more than to finish the regular season with impressive performances, beginning with N.C. State. Clemson edged the Wolfpack 14-13 last season and leads the all-time series by a commanding 51-27-1 margin, but has a history of struggling against the underdog Wolfpack. N.C. State certainly will be an underdog this season, even playing at home, but the Tigers have been rather unimpressive themselves in losing to Georgia Tech and nipping Wake Forest in their last two games.
"We know we haven't been playing well, and that irks us," tight end Dwayne Allen said.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Clemson must establish the run with Andre Ellington, and that could prove challenging against an N.C. State defense that is capable of mustering big efforts in that regard. The Wolfpack held North Carolina to three yards rushing on Nov. 5 and is at full strength defensively with the return of lineman J.R. Sweezy. Clemson has a potent passing attack that is on track for the most prolific production in school history, but will have to match up against a Wolfpack secondary that leads the nation in interceptions with 20 and also boasts the national leader in thefts in David Amerson, who has 10 interceptions.
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd will have to be a bit more patient and make sure he goes through his progressions before releasing the ball. On defense, Clemson must keep the pressure on N.C. State QB Mike Glennon, who has struggled of late.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Adam Humphries -- Humphries will replace starter Sammy Watkins if Watkins is unable to play following his AC sprain sustained on Nov. 12. Humprhies, who like Watkins is only a freshman, has shown flashes of his talent and speed. He had three clutch catches for 34 yards after replacing Watkins against Wake Forest.
TE Brandon Ford -- Another guy who may be deserving of more playing time is Ford, who backs up starter Dwayne Allen. Ford has drawn the praise of coaches since moving from wide receiver and is emerging as a reliable target. He had three catches for 51 yards in the Tigers' last game, including a nifty seven-yard touchdown grab.
OG David Smith -- Smith will return to the starting lineup at guard against N.C. State. Starting T Phillip Price is sidelined with an MCL strain, requiring guard Brandon Thomas to move over and Smith to replace Thomas. Smith has starting experience, but coaches have questioned his "fire." He'll need to come up with a strong performance against the Wolfpack to regain the coaches' confidence.
-- WR Sammy Watkins is questionable for the Nov. 19 game at N.C. State after sustaining a shoulder sprain on Nov. 12.
-- OT Phillip Price sustained an MCL strain on Nov. 12 and will miss the N.C. State game.
-- LB Tony Steward sustained a torn ACL in practice on Oct. 18 and is out for the season.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
Clemson Depth Chart
Thanks to NC State and Clemson Athletics for much of the information in this preview.