Saturday's Keys

As this weekend's NC State-Clemson game draws near, Pack Pride looks at several keys to the contest.

NC State Offense vs. Clemson Defense

Against UCF and Boston College, Andre Brown totaled 26 carries (averaging 13 carries per game). In roughly three quarters against Wofford, Brown totaled 21 carries and he proceeded to rush for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

A player as talented as Andre Brown needs plenty of carries because he has the ability, like C.J. Spiller and James Davis of Clemson, to score everytime he touches the football. NC State did a great job of getting him involved early and often against Wofford, and Brown proceeded to have his best game since last year's home matchup versus Florida State when he also rushed for 100+ yards. What else do those two games have in common? The Wolfpack won both of them.

The Wolfpack did a better job of blocking up front in Saturday's win, but even coach O'Brien admitted that had as much to do with the competition as anything else. However, the line looked to be playing more inspired than they did in the previous two games and appeared to execute better.

For NC State to have a chance against Clemson, the offensive line has to come up big and that all starts with blocking quick defensive ends Philip Merling and Ricky Sapp. Both are very good playmakers and the Wolfpack's tackles have to keep them from applying pressure on quarterback Harrison Beck.

In three games against one solid team and two questionable opponents, Clemson's rush defense is 81st in the country. With some injury concerns at middle linebacker, look for the Pack to try and attack the Tigers between the tackles. The Pack's most experienced linemen, center Luke Lathan and guards Kalani Heppe and Curtis Crouch, make up the interior of the offensive line. Those three upperclassmen must have stellar games.

Harrison Beck is going to have to make some plays for NC State to win this game. Eventually the Tigers (and maybe from the beginning) are going to load the box and try to stop the Pack's rushing attack. What Beck needs is his three senior playmakers, starting tight end Marcus Stone and starting wide receivers John Dunlap and Darrell Blackman, to come up big.

Blackman is leading the ACC in all-purpose yards, as he continues to pile up yardage in the return game. In the first quarter against Boston College, he totaled six catches for 128 yards. In the other 11 quarters of the season, the senior wideout recorded five catches for 65 yards. Stone has just seven receptions this year, but he is averaging 14.9 yards per catch, second-best behind Blackman. Dunlap has been the most consistent receiver for the Pack, as he leads the team in catches (16) and tied for 1st in touchdown receptions, but he is averaging just 9.9 yards per catch, a low number for a player who has built his reputation on catching the deep ball.

All three seniors are talented enough to be difference makers, and for the Pack to be successful they will need to bring their 'A' games every weekend from here on out.

NC State Defense vs. Clemson Offense

Paramount to NC State's success on defense will be their ability to slow down the Clemson rushing attack. The Wolfpack has surrendered better than 200 yards on the ground in each of it's first three contests. The Tigers will look to run the ball inside the tackles with James Davis and then take it outside by utilizing the blazing speed of C.J. Spiller. The Pack has been particularly vulnerable on the perimeter this year and it will be extremely important for the linebackers to get out and make plays. Clemson also likes to use wide receiver screens and short passes to Jacoby Ford and Spiller which are basically extensions of the run game and State must be ready for that as well. Furman held Clemson to just 60 yards on the ground by frequently putting eight men in the box. State will likely need to do the same to force QB Cullen Harper to beat them down the field.

The Pack has been vulnerable to the big play and that is something Clemson will look to exploit on Saturday. With speedsters James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, all three have the potential to take it to the house on any play. The Pack must limit their explosive plays and force the Tigers into a grind it out offense. If they can do that and put Clemson into third and long situations, then the pressure falls on Cullen Harper to make plays in the passing game. While he has been fairly effective in his first three games, the Clemson offensive line has been vulnerable to the pass rush. The line has given up nine sacks this year, including five to Furman last week. This will be Harper's first start in hostile territory and the Pack will need to use the home crowd and steady pressure from it's front four to rattle Harper and force him into bad throws.

If State is able to slow down Clemson's run attack and force Cullen Harper to throw the ball then the Pack secondary must account for Tiger WR Aaron Kelly. He is Harper's favorite target and has the ability to go deep. However, Clemson likes to use him to sustain drives and he can be a killer on third and longs. If State can find a way to take him out of the passing game or at least limit his touches then that will go a long ways in slowing down the Clemson passing game.

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