In A Nutshell
Sum this one up in two words- total domination. Offense, defense, special teams, NC State was clicking on all cylinders Saturday. Although the offense gave State a 7-3 lead, it was the defense that turned this game on its head.
While the Pack has posted a 3-2 record over the last five weeks, the defense has played lights out. In four of those five games they've given up 14 or fewer points. State has created turnovers and that played a huge role against Clemson. The Wolfpack forced back to back fumbles and in less than three minutes, State's lead ballooned to 17-3. With the Tigers forced to play catch up, the Pack was able top tee off on Clemson QB Tahj Boyd, holding the Tigers to just seven yards of offense in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, State's offense found a rhythm and put up 10 more points to take a commanding 27-3 lead at the half. For all intents and purposes this game was over but if there were any doubts, those were put to rest on Tobais Palmer's sizzling 43-yard catch and run that put the Pack up 37-6 with about six minutes to go in the third quarter.
Something that worked
Everything...When was the last time NC State played such a complete game? The offense took advantage of several short fields but put together touchdown drives of 85 and 61 yards. The defense tallied six sacks and 14 tackles for loss while holding the Tigers to just 34 yards rushing. T.J. Graham had a 34 yard punt return that set up a score and K Niklas Sade connected on three of three field goals.
Something That Didn't
After further review, we could find nothing to complain about in this game.
Player Of The Game
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer...No one in their right mind could've predicted that NC State would keep Clemson out of the end zone until the final two minutes of the game. But this wasn't a one hit wonder. Other than the Florida State game this unit has played light's out and given the Pack a tremendous opportunity in each of the last five contests. Getting healthy across the defensive line has certainly helped but State's scheme and play calling finally seems to be confounding opposing offensive coordinators. Archer has taken a lot of heat when the Pack has struggled so he certainly deserves praise for the way his gang has responded in the second half of the season.
Manning On A Tear
There's still a game to play but if I had a vote when the all-conference ballots are sent out, LB Terrell Manning would definitely be on my list. Is there anyone in the conference playing better right now? Saturday was just another day at the office for Manning- 8 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a pass breakup.
Palmer Shows Explosiveness
With the offense struggling over the last several weeks there have been plenty of folks screaming for Tobais Palmer to get more touches. His acceleration and toughness are as good as anyone's in the league. On Saturday he put together a Sportscenter quality catch and run en route to a 43 yard touchdown. Palmer broke several tackles and used a nasty cut back that sprung him down the field. It came off a very simple toss and catch and with Palmer, if he breaks that initial tackle it's going to go for big yards. Hopefully State will revisit this play down the road.
A Few New Offensive Twists
Give offensive coordinator Dana Bible credit for implementing a few subtle changes in this game. They weren't necessarily big changes but they certainly helped jump start a stagnant offense. The Pack used more motion than we've seen them use all year. They also used several formation shifts that forced Clemson to make adjustments right at the snap of the ball. The Pack also used the screen pass to perfection on three different occasions with each going for good yardage. You also have to put some of that on Clemson as they never seemed to figure out a way to stop it.
Graham And Amerson In The Record Books
Hats off to T.J. Graham for setting the ACC mark for most return yards in a career. He now has 2,989 yards during his time at NC State. David Amerson recorded his 11th interception of the year which ties him with UNC's Dre Bly for the most picks in a season.
Catch Of The Day
The beauty of the touchdown catch made by George Bryan can't be overstated. When QB Mike Glennon released the ball the first words uttered were, "that has no chance." The Clemson defender had Bryan blanketed perfectly. While he's struggled with drops this season, that catch may have been the most impressive of his career. Bryan virtually stabbed the ball out of the air from it's highest point and one had to wonder how he even could see where the ball was. The look on the Clemson defender's face after the catch was priceless.
Where To Go From Here?
State has become quite predictable in their unpredictability. Over the last five weeks there has been a W, L, W, L and a W. If State wants to go to a bowl then they better break the pattern.
Make no mistake though, if the Pack even comes close to matching Saturday's effort then they should have no problem beating Maryland. But State has been down this road before. They need look no further than last year's loss to the Terps. Seemingly every year, State's season boils down to a game against Maryland and the Pack has come out on the short end way too often.
Last week T.J. Graham mentioned needing motivation before a game. If playing for a bowl isn't enough, wear black or red or pink. Have coach O'Brien climb the bell tower in a Speedo if that's what it takes. If State wants to close out on a positive note, quiet the critics and put the doom and gloomers back in their cage for nine months then State needs to find a way to win number seven next week.