Scan the nation's defensive rankings, and you'll likely find NC State near the top. Through five games, the Wolfpack ranks No. 8 in total defense (279.8 ypg), No. 8 in rushing defense (91 ypg), No. 12 in third-down defense (28.17%), No. 15 in scoring defense (17.6 ppg), and No. 29 in pass defense (188.8 ypg).
For defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, his group is coming off the best performance of the year where they held a high-powered Notre Dame offense to just three points in horrible weather conditions.
"I was very, very proud of them," Huxtable said of the defense's performance against the Irish. "The execution was as good as its been. We worked really, really hard on the game plan, and the guys worked very, very hard on it. All we talked about all week was the discipline and the execution of the call versus their call, and being where we're supposed to be, doing our job. I was very, very proud of what the guys did.
"We had adverse situations this last week. The whole philosophy for us defensively that we've talked about since day one is, put the ball down. Whether it's warm, it's hot, it's cold, it's wet; whatever the situation is, the mentality has to be put the ball down, and let's play. That is exactly what the guys did last week, and now we've go to do it again this week in the environment we're going to be in."
That environment is Clemson's Death Valley, one of the toughest stadiums to play in. Homecoming for the Tigers, the crowd will be loud and Clemson's offense is loaded with weapons and plays uptempo.
"They're going to try to put you back on your heels," Huxtable said of Clemson. "They've got the emotion to start the game. The crowd's into it. They're excited. We're excited too. We just have to do what we're supposed to do and execute, and do it with great detail."
"They're a fast-start team," added Huxtable. "That first quarter is going to be really, really big for us."
Leading the way for Clemson is star quarterback Deshaun Watson, a player who has had his way with NC State over the last couple of seasons. In two games against the Wolfpack, Watson has passed for 650 yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions while completing 68% of his passes. The dual-threat star has also added 116 rushing yards and three more scores.
"He's just an excellent football player," said Huxtable. "He's big. He's strong. He's athletic. They've used him in the run game to create an extra gap. He has great escape ability to keep a play alive. He can throw the ball a country mile. He is a really good football player."
Joining Watson in the backfield is talented junior tailback Wayne Gallman, who is coming off back-to-back 100-plus yard rushing games against Louisville and Boston College. Like Watson, Gallman has been strong against the Pack, rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in last year's 56-41 victory in Carter-Finley Stadium.
While most people focus on Watson, and rightfully so, it is just important to be able to limit Gallman and the running game.
"You always have to start with stopping the run game," Huxtable said. "[Gallman is] a good back now. He runs very, very hard. He's got great vision and great feet.
"We've got to stop the run. Our secondary has to do a great job of staying on top of the routes. They're a team who's going to take their chumps, take their shots, so we've got to stop the run with our front and our back-end guys have to do a great job staying disciplined with their eyes and staying on top of coverage."
One of the biggest reasons for NC State's recent defensive success has been the play of junior defensive end Bradley Chubb. Arguably the Pack's best defensive player, Chubb has five sacks in his last two games and State will need him to play well again on Saturday.
"He's really started to play well, and is playing with a lot of confidence," Huxtable said of Chubb. "I need him to continue that high level of play he's played with the last couple of weeks, and maybe even take it a little higher."
NC State is a heavy underdog for a variety of reasons, and Clemson's known for how explosive they can be on offense. While Huxtable is impressed with the Tigers, he knows he and the rest of the defensive staff must keep the Wolfpack focused on just what they can control.
"They're a really good football team, with a lot of really good football players, who've been together playing for a long time, and understand the system really well. From the quarterback to the running back, to the tight end to the receivers, they're a bunch of good players.
"They've got a lot of bullets. A lot of weapons. We just have to take care of what we're supposed to do and do it to the best of our God-given ability."