NC STATE DEFENSE VS. CLEMSON OFFENSE
WIN ON FIRST DOWN
Strong defense obviously starts on first down and this will be the most crucial play of each series of downs for NC State tonight.
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. They are able to churn out yards early to work into third-and-short situations, where they are nearly impossible to defend with their multiple packages and weapons.
What the Wolfpack must do is limit the Tigers on first down to put them in obvious passing situations on third down. It all starts with slowing down the running game which is headed up by Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson. Gallman is a talented tailback who can be physical at the point of attack, but he is also explosive enough to break long runs. Watson can grind away at teams with his legs and is dangerous on third-and-short/third-and-medium situations as a runner.
The Wolfpack's defensive front has to stuff the run early on... it's huge.
Also, Watson isn't as effective when he has to consistently make plays down the field. He will take some chances and try to force the ball into tight windows, so if State can put the Tigers in situations where Watson has to pass, and do so vertically, it could open up the door for some turnovers.
First down is a huge 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.
STUFF THE RUN
NC State has to limit Clemson's running game to try and make the Tigers one-dimensional. That's tough because Wayne Gallman is really good. He has rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last five games, and he will be a tough test for the Pack defense.
However, it's clearly a focal point for NC State.
"We have to stop the run. Clemson is a really good running football team," said Dave Doeren. "They've always had downfield threats and athletes that can take a quick screen and make you look bad. Open field tackling is a part of playing Clemson, but this year the tailback run game is different.
"That guy is really really good. He's the best tailback we'll have played to date and we'll play another when we play Florida State, but we haven't seen him yet. This kid is special."
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Head coach Dabo Swinney gives his offensive coordinator a lot of freedom and because of this the Tigers are as unpredictable offensively as any team in the country.
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 possess one of the ACC's best offenses, and a big reason is because of how diversified they are offensively and how all of their weapons are utilized.
NC State's defense will have to be ready at all times for virtually anything. Deshaun Watson could run a quarterback draw on third-and-nine. Wideout Artavis Scott could line up in the backfield and run Clemson's version of the "Wildcat." Halfback Wayne Gallman could throw a pass. Wideout Deon Cain could stretch the field vertically with a 50-yard bomb on 3rd and 1. You get the idea.
The best strategy NC State's defense can take is to be disciplined with their assignments, 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.
If NC State is going to have any chance of upsetting the Tigers, they must start fast and keep the crowd in the football game. Carter-Finley should be electric at kickoff and State has to keep the fans involved.
NC State needs to come out and limit Clemson's offense from the opening series, either by getting stops or forcing turnovers. Both teams have been really good in the first quarter this season, but NC State must win that quarter. They can't fall behind and put pressure on the offense to chase points.
Also, this is arguably just the second rowdy environment Clemson will be playing in this season. They've only played two games, and at Miami isn't an experience like playing in Carter-Finley or even at Louisville. The Cardinals were able to keep their crowd involved and really had a chance late to upset the Tigers before losing 20-17.
As talented as they are, Clemson's still a young team, and they haven't really been asked to make big plays in crucial situations on the road in an hostile environment a lot this season. NC State has to start fast and put the pressure on the Tigers.