KEYS TO THE GAMENC STATE OFFENSE VS CLEMSON DEFENSE
Avoid The Mistakes
Clemson is clearly one of the best teams in the nation and enters Carter-Finley Stadium as a decided favorite against NC State.
For the Wolfpack to have any chance at all they need to be near-perfect offensively in order to give themselves any chance to upset the Tigers. Clemson is simply too talented, too fast and too skilled to give them freebies.
The Pack has to also avoid penalties, particularly pre-snap penalties that get them off schedule with down and distance. State cannot be successful if they're consistently facing second or third and long against Clemson's stifling defense. An occasional holding penalty will happen over the course of a game, but the Pack cannot withstand unforced mental errors prior to the snap.
Secondly, and it sounds like a broken record, but the Pack has to protect the football. Clemson's going to get their points and State can't give them additional possessions, short fields, or points off turnovers. The Wolfpack has taken care of the football all season, with just four turnovers in seven games. That trend has to continue, and it would really help if they win the turnover battle.
Finally, execute. Don't drop passes and/or have poor plays that can stall drives. The Clemson defensive backs will be the best State has faced all year so the window for completing passes will be tighter. When the opportunity is there, the Wolfpack receivers have to make the catch.
If NC State can avoid mistakes offensively they will have a chance to compete with the Tigers.
Running Right At ‘Em
We feel one of the key indicators for NC State and their chances of winning revolves around the ability to run the football. State can't get into a situation where they have to ask QB Jacoby Brissett to consistently make plays on third-and-long. To accomplish that, the Pack has to be able to run the ball.
Clemson's defense is one of the nation's best, ranking in the Top 15 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense. They are fast, physical, and extremely aggressive. The Tigers know the Pack will try to use the short passing game to spread the field and get their play makers out in space.
Because of Clemson's quickness at linebacker and safety, State may be better served to run right at the Tigers with junior Matt Dayes. His two best runs, both touchdowns, against Wake Forest came from simple runs between the tackles where he was able to get into the secondary and make defenders miss.
Clemson will load the box and try to take away the run, but that's going to give some opportunities for explosive running games if Dayes can get past the first level.
The Wolfpack has to get an interior push, especially from the center and guard positions. If the Pack's offensive line can open any creases at all then Dayes and Jaylen Samuels will have chances to make big plays. We believe for State to have a shot they have to show that they can consistently run the football which allows them to control the clock and keep Clemson's high-powered offense on the sidelines.
Dave Doeren was looking for more explosive plays from his offense and he got that last week at Wake Forest.
Four scoring plays of 50+ yards... that will do the trick. NC State must be able to create big plays against Clemson or they won't have any shot to win the game. Frankly, Clemson is probably too strong defensively (and too good offensively) for NC State to win by simply grinding out drives. The Wolfpack must hit some easy scoring plays to put points on the board.
What does that mean? Well, Jacoby Brissett has to stay aggressive. Clemson's going to play press man coverage on the perimeter. The Wolfpack must take shots down the field to wideouts Maurice Trowell, Nyheim Hines, and Jumichael Ramos among others. There are opportunities there, but if you can't hit a big pass play if you don't attempt a big pass play.
It looks like NC State realized this given their offensive approach against Wake Forest. That has to continue on Saturday.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.
QUOTABLES: Dave Doeren
Excited to have an opportunity, like we do this week. It's homecoming weekend for us. It's Halloween. It's a sold-out game. A great team, Clemson, coming to play us in our stadium.
Our players, our coaches, our fans, everybody knows we got a great team coming in here, an opportunity to play against a great team. This environment is what you sign up for as a player and a coach.
Looking for the opportunity to play them. They've got great personnel across the board, even though young players are playing at a high level. It's going to be a tremendous challenge and opportunity for our guys.
Coming off a good win for us on the road.
Anytime you can erase a streak that you don't want in your program, that's a positive step when you're trying to build something. It had been 12 years since NC State had won at Wake. We were able to change that on Saturday.
Really good start in the football game.
Defensively other than one run I felt like we played a four-quarter game. Special teams were very strong in the game. A punt return for a touchdown. A lot of things to get better at still, a long way to go to play four quarters against a team like Clemson. Looking forward to that.
You mentioned homecoming weekend. As bloggers, writers, self-proclaimed experts, we get to sit back and talk about big games like this Clemson game where the student-athlete has the responsibility of attending classes, practice, rehabbing injuries and so forth. But with the distractions coming up this weekend, as a leader, what do you have set in place to stress the importance with your team about time management so they will be in a better position to handle the pressures of such games on game day?
It's hard because you're playing the No. 2 ranked team.
What we talk about all season is we're facing ourselves every week. It's really a faceless opponent. If we don't play the best we can play, if we go out there and beat ourselves, it doesn't matter who is on the other side, we're not going to beat them. It starts with that philosophy. It's a faceless opponent.
What you put on tape the week before, the last week, that's your résumé. You have to understand they're studying you. You have to take pride in that as a player.
We want to be a student-athlete that people look up to, act the right way, treat people with respect. Off the field, we talk about those things.
We've played in big games here before.
We've played against really good football teams here, in our stadium, Florida State last year when they were unbeaten. This isn't the first time our guys have seen a team like this. You have to play four quarters and try to block out any noise.
I'm not trying to be funny or disrespectful with this question, but do you show your team any game film or video of this Miami blowout by Clemson? Have you let them watch that game?
Yeah, we watch every game. It is what it is. Our guys know what happened down there. They know we were in this situation a year ago at Clemson. It's not like we got to show them film that they're good. Our guys know they're good. We also know that we're capable of beating anybody on any given day.
They did what they did. They did it to us a year ago. They're a fast-starting football team. We can't let one play or one quarter be the game. It's a four-quarter game. We got to play hard for 60 minutes.
Last year facing Clemson to now, just how and where have you seen quarterback Jacoby Brissett grow to where he is today? Where you've really seen him grow up?
Well, just the management of the game.
He's thrown only one interception, knock on wood. This time last year he had done worse. He held on to the ball too long at times, was careless with it in the pocket. I think he learned a lot from that. He understands this may not be a good play so let me get to the next one.
A lot of times as a quarterback you don't want to do that. You want to make every play the best play you can. It's not always realistic, if your protection breaks down or your receiver gets covered up, you got nowhere to go.
I think he learned from those things. He's definitely throwing the ball deep, better than he did a year ago, better accuracy. His underneath throws have been good. Those are the main things.
As far as on the other side, for your defense, just what you can say about the Clemson running back Wayne Gallman, what you've been able to see from him so far?
He's running with a lot more purpose and confidence. I mean, I think he was a great player a year ago, he just didn't play as confident. He's running hard. He's trying to break tackles and running through contact. He's the best back we've played this year.
Until we get Florida State, he'll probably be the best back we play.
In practice, when we play against our offense, we get to see really good backs. That's the one positive for us. Our guys have seen him in practice. He's a special player and lineman, and the receivers, they're all blocking for him.
When you study Clemson in comparison to the other teams you've played this year, what stands out? Are there things that stand out just in terms of the athletes they have, what they might do better than teams you've played already this year?
Well, their personnel is better. I mean, that stands out. They don't have weak links. There's not guys you say, Let's form this way and pick on this guy. They're a good football team with good talent.
Been there for a while, been able to recruit the guys he wants, develop guys, redshirt guys. They've got good depth.
What stands out is just how strong they are from a depth standpoint. They got a lot of receivers that play. There's a lot of playmakers.
You see freshmen coming in. (Eric) MacLain, (Deon) Cain are making plays for them on offense. Their tackles are freshmen and are playing at a high level. The talent really stands out.
You talked about keeping your team focused. What do you do in terms of seeing what Clemson did last week in keeping your team confident they can win this game?
It's really not what Clemson does. We have to do the best that we can do. We have to execute our plays, our defenses to the best of our ability. We have to play with confidence and passion. When we do that, we're a really good football team. That's what we have to do.
They have who they have. They're going to call the plays they are going to call. If you go out there 11 strong, everyone does everything they can, plays with good eyes, knee bends, sheds blocks, finishes blocks, doesn't matter who you're playing, you're going to play well.
We've always said it starts with us. It's no different. Clemson is a good team. They're a beatable football team if we play the best that we can, and that's what we have to do.
When you look at Clemson, your coaching career, teams you've faced, have you faced a team more balanced on offense and defense than what you're going to see this Saturday from Clemson?
You guys are making them out to be like the Green Bay Packers. They're a really good football team, but we played a lot of good football teams. We played Florida State when they won the national championship. At Wisconsin, we played Ohio State and beat them when they were undefeated and ranked number one.
They're good. They've got good players, coaches, they make plays. Like I've been saying, it's going to come down to execution, not beating ourselves and making plays.
If I've learned anything this year from watching college football, anybody can win any game.
The way they've played the last couple weeks, have you seen any weaknesses that makes you think you have an advantage?
I mean, statistically special teams we're playing really good. Those are the only stats you're going to look at and see we have an advantage. Does that mean we'll out-execute them on Saturday? That's what we have to do.
But on paper, those are the phases that you look at other than other our goal kicker, our coverage units, our return units are ranked higher. Everything else, they're really, really good. That's what it is. That's why they're the second ranked team in the country.
Your five touchdowns including the punt return were all over 50-yard plays. Ever had a team that's been that explosive in one game before?
Not since I've been here, no. I mean, at NIU we had games like that, but not since I've been here.
Was it the matchups you were able to take advantage of?
You know, I think it's a combination of things. I think we played really good in the first quarter on offense. Jacoby put the ball right on the money, receivers made catches with people on them, which we haven't done. Down-the-field routes, we've been able to do that underneath a lot.
We went up for deep balls and made plays. Matt Dayes made [plays]. I thought we executed at a high level.
If you watch our Virginia Tech game, there were a ton of runs where we were one man away from 80-yard runs. We didn't bust one of those tackles. They were nine for nine tackling our back with their safety.
This past week Matt did a great job of making that guy miss. He house-called both of them. That's what you want as a back, is a one-on-one at the second level for a touchdown.
We made a big deal with that of our line getting there, with our back finishing it, our receivers being a play-maker, and our quarterback putting it where it needs to be.
We've played pretty good in the return game. That wasn't unexpected. We've done that in a bunch of games, not to the end zone, but we've had a lot of really positive returns.
NC State Game Notes
THE TEXTILE BOWL
For the past 34 years (since 1981), the series between NC State and Clemson has been dubbed the Textile Bowl, as that industry has a major economic impact on both states and both universities boast renowned textile colleges.
NC State's College of Textiles produces more than half of the textile graduates in the country each year. The North Carolina textile manufacturers donate money to NC State's scholarship fund every year in honor of the Wolfpack's MVP from the game.
PACK LOOKS FOR DEJA VU
Heading into Saturday's contest, No. 3 Clemson has won 35 consecutive games over teams not ranked by the Associated Press, and 33 in a row over teams not ranked in either the AP or USA Today polls. The last loss by the Tigers to an unranked team? NC State in 2011.
The Wolfpack celebrated its Homecoming that season with a 37-13 victory over the seventh-ranked Tigers, exploding for 27 unanswered points in the second quarter.
The defense forced four turnovers and tallied six sacks in the game.
THE PACK VS TOP 10
Three of the last six times that the Wolfpack has faced a top 10 team, the team hasn't been ranked in the top 10 following the game.
In 2014, the Wolfpack opened up with a 24-7 lead over No. 1 Florida State and was within four points entering the fourth quarter before falling 41-56. The Pack was blown out by No. 2 FSU in Tallahassee in 2013, 17-49, and held tight with third-ranked Clemson that season, down just six at halftime.
Prior to that three contests, NC State won three in a row versus the top 10 - twice vs. FSU and once versus the Tigers.
|2||@ Florida State||10/26/13||L||17-49|
|9||@ Florida State||11/05/05||W||20-15|
Wolfpack junior Matthew Dayes currently ranks 21st in the FBS in rushing yards with 793 - the second best mark in the ACC (to FSU's Dalvin Cook). He leads the league in rushing touchdowns with a dozen (7th in FBS) and is tied with Cook for the conference lead in total touchdowns with a dozen each.
In the Wolfpack's win over Wake, Dayes became just the sixth individual in school history to rush for over 200 yards in a game and his 205 yards ranks as the fifth-best mark in school history.
Dayes is attempting to became the Pack's first 1,000 yard rusher since T.A. McLendon accomplished the feat in 2002. If he were to break that mark, it would mark only the fourth time NC State has had a 1,000 yard rusher since 1984.
He is the first Wolfpack players since 2002 to rush for 100+ yards in five games during the season.
Last season, Dayes was one of just three players nationally with more than 300 yards rushing, receiving and in returns (Jamal Morrow of Washington St. & Temple's Jahad Thomas were the others). He was the ONLY player nationally to reach those marks and also boast five or more touchdowns rushing and receiving in 2014.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
One area where the Wolfpack has shown vast improvement in 2015 is in the return game.
Heading into game 8, NC State boasts a 15.8 yard punt return average - a mark which would be the second-highest in school history and the best mark since the 1967 season if the season ended today.
The Wolfpack's kickoff return average of 26.5 yards per return would also ranks as the second-best in school history.
Junior Bra'Lon Cherry currently ranks second in the ACC in punt return average with a 16.4 mark, while freshman Nyheim Hines ranks second on the kickoff return list at 27.4 yards per return.
STRIKING A BALANCE, SEASON 2
NC State fielded the most balanced offense in the FBS last season, rushing for 204.5 yards per game and gaining 204.0 passing yards per contest. With 5,311 yards of total offense, the difference between the rush and the pass was just seven yards (2,659 rushing, 2,652 passing).
This season, the Wolfpack is once again one of the most balanced squads in the FBS, averaging 212.3 rushing yards and 200.1 passing yards per game (1,486 rushing yards, 1,401 passing).
Here's a look at the most balanced teams (for teams with more than 1,400 rushing and passing yards for the season):
Senior defensive end Mike Rose is currently the ACC leader in sacks with 6.5, the 11th-best mark in the FBS. He had three crucial sacks in the win over Wake Forest - with all three coming on third down plays. That mark is tied as the fifth-best mark in school history (he also had three in the win over Syracuse last season).
The Bednarik Award candidate has now recorded a tackle for loss in 14 straight games dating back to last season. Over that span, Rose has 20 tackles for loss for 105 yards - including a career-best three sacks in the win at Wake Forest.
Rose has 28.5 career tackles for loss - the No. 17 mark in school history, while his 12.5 sacks ranks 19th.
SPREADING THE WEALTH
It is no secret that NC State likes to spread the ball around in the aerial game, as a total of 14 players have caught a pass this season. But the majority of the Wolfpack's throws are not connecting with wide receivers. Instead, 70-of-130 passes (54 percent) have been caught by the tight ends, fullbacks and running backs.
FB/TE Jaylen Samuels currently leads the Pack in receptions with 34, followed by running back Matthew Dayes' total of 22. The top ranking wideout is Jumichael Ramos with 18 catches.
The last time a non-WR led the Pack in receptions was Anthony Hill (TE) in 2006, and the last time the Pack's top two receiving targets for a season were not wide receivers was in 1995 when tight ends Mike Guffie and Jimmy Grisett were tops in receptions.
COLE ON A ROLL
True freshman punter A.J. Cole is quietly having a solid season for the Wolfpack, averging 43.1 yards per punt over the last four games. His season average of 41.1 yards ranks ninth in the ACC, and he's booted a 50+ yard punt in each of the last five games.
Cole has put the Wolfpack defense in great position - literally - all season. He's placed 16 punts inside the 20 yardline - the league's fourth-best mark - and seven of his 32 punts have been inside the 10.
For the season, the opponent's average start after a Cole punt has been its own 18.9 yardline.
After seven games, junior Bra'lon Cherry is tied for sixth on the Wolfpack single season record list in punt return yardage total. Cherry, who currently ranks second in the ACC and seventh in the FBS in punt return average (16.4) has 19 returns for 311 yards thus far in 2015, and is just 11 yards shy of ranking in the top three in school history.
Cherry's 16.4 yard per return average would be the first-best in school history if the season ended today. His average was boosted with a 52-yard touchdown return in the win over Wake Forest.
Cherry returned four punts for 74 yards in the win over EKU. He would have been the first Wolfpack player to go over the 100-yard mark on punt returns since 2004 if not for a somewhat questionable block in the back call).
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2015 NC State Depth Chart|