Clemson vs. NC State prediction: Can the Pack finally beat the Tigers?


by - Senior Writer -
Clemson vs. NC State prediction: Can the Pack finally beat the Tigers?

This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Clemson started the season 6-0 and has a No. 3 national ranking, but the first half of the season has been marked by overmatched opponents and too much heat. During the off week, it’s like the script flipped from summer to fall. Instead of too much sun, heat, and humidity, autumn temps will welcome Tiger fans back to Death Valley.

On deck first is NC State, a team that has played Clemson close the past few seasons.

No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 15 N.C. State

How to watch, listen

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium (81,500), Clemson

TV: ESPN: Spectrum (35, 808 HD), DirecTV (206), Dish (140)

Radio: 105.5 WCCP-FM, 97.7 ESPN Upstate, Sirius 113, XM 193, Internet 955

Records: Clemson 6-0, 3-0 ACC; N.C. State 5-0, 2-0 ACC

Spread: Clemson by 16 1/2

Tailgating/Parking: Parking lots open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday

NOTABLE

*Clemson enters the contest at 6-0. By opening the season with six consecutive victories for a fourth straight year, the Tigers became the only team in ACC history to start 6-0 in four consecutive seasons. NC State enters the game at 5-0, making the Wolfpack the fourth consecutive undefeated opponent to enter Memorial Stadium to face Clemson this season (Furman 0-0, Georgia Southern 2-0, Syracuse 4-0, NC State 5-0).

*The game against 5-0 NC State will represent the fifth all-time matchup of undefeated teams at Death Valley four or more games into a season. It is the venue's second such matchup of the season (Syracuse). Clemson will attempt to improve to 4-1 all-time in such contests at Memorial Stadium. Previous matchups featured Florida St. in 2013 (5-0), Louisville in 2016 (4-0), and NC State back in 2000 (4-0).

*Since joining the ACC as a charter member in 1953, Clemson has played 56 regular season games following off weeks. The Tigers are 37-19 in those contests. Clemson is 10-2 under Head Coach Dabo Swinney when playing a regular season game following an off week, including two such occurences in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Clemson has won eight of its last nine regular season games after bye weeks, including each of its last four. Clemson is 4-0 against NC State following off weeks since 1953, including wins in 1991, 2001, 2005 and 2013.

*Saturday will be Clemson's Homecoming, which has historically been a celebration that has included a Clemson victory 77 percent of the time since the first celebration in 1922. Clemson has an overall record of 71-20-3 for its previous 94 Homecoming games, a .771 winning percentage. That includes a 41-4-2 record (.894) on Homecoming games since the 1971 season.

*Redshirt junior nickel Stephen Griffin of NC State has spent plenty of time in Clemson’s Death Valley, even though this will mark his first trip as a member of the Wolfpack. Griffin’s father, Steve, played for the Tigers from 1982-86 - at running back in 1982, ‘84 & ‘86 and at defensive back in 1985. He scored a touchdown on a 10-yard run in Clemson’s 35-34 win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Oct. 27, 1984. In 1986, he led the Tiger in kickoff returns.

THE MATCHUP

WHEN NC STATE HAS THE BALL

In the previous three meetings, N.C. State’s offense has averaged 425.6 yards and 29.6 points against Clemson’s defense. Considering that Brent Venables’ crew has allowed an average of 291.8 yards and 16.9 points per game to everyone else over that span.

The Pack offense starts with quarterback Ryan Finley, who struggled on the road against the Tigers in 2016, bounced back with a standout effort (338 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) in last year’s loss in Raleigh.

Finley has been good so far this season (130 of 187, 1,621 yards, 10 TDs, 3 INTs) and has the receivers to match up with Clemson’s thin secondary. Junior Kelvin Harmon torched Clemson’s secondary last year (eight catches, 155 yards) and junior receiver Jakobi Meyers (nine catches, 105 yards) also had an outstanding game.

One of the big reasons? Finley hasn’t been sacked twice in a game in forever and was only sacked once by Clemson last year even though he threw 50 passes. Finley doesn’t stand around in the pocket – the Pack offense is designed with three-step drops in mind, and he’s content to dink and dunk his way down the field.

However – Matt Dayes had success running the football against Clemson two years ago, but NC State isn’t having success running the football this season. In fact, NC State ranks 94th nationally, averaging just 3.85 yards per carry and 144 yards per game. That was against a few defenses that fail to register a pulse, and while the Pack will be able to throw five-yard outs for a while, they won’t consistently move the ball without a running game.

ADVANTAGE: SLIGHT TO CLEMSON

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

Co-offensive coordinator bristles at the suggestion that the Tigers have become a run-only team, and he’s right – Clemson is one of the few teams in the nation that has rushed for over 1600 yards and thrown for over 1500 yards. But the offense starts with the run game, and that starts with Travis Etienne. Etienne has rushed for 761 yards and 11 touchdowns and has posted four straight 100-yard games with a career-high 203 in the comeback win over Syracuse on Sept. 29.

That brings in the passing game, which has relied more on the deep ball since the departure of Kelly Bryant. Lawrence has two big targets in sophomore Tee Higgins (18 catches, 307 yards) and freshman Justyn Ross (14 catches, 286 yards). Add in Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers and the Tigers have no shortage of weapons through the air.

If the Pack force the issue at the line of scrimmage – taking away the Clemson run game – look for Lawrence and company to take shots down the field. I’ve also been asking for the middle of the field to come back into the offense, and it’s done with Lawrence – could more seam routes and quick slants be the order of the day? I wouldn’t be surprised.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams have killed NC State the last two seasons against Clemson. Kicker Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard field goal that would have won the game in regulation in 2016; he had two other misses in that game and Clemson converted on a fake punt

Last year in Raleigh, Ray-Ray McCloud’s 77-yard punt return fueled a Clemson win.

N.C. State has a better kicking game this season (Chris Dunn is 8-of-11), but there have been issues in the return game. NC State also sits behind Clemson in punting (ranking 114th) and there have been just nine touchbacks on 30 kickoffs this season. The Tigers might be able to make a big play on special teams, and for the first time this season have an edge.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

The Wolfpack have been close against Clemson the last two years and head coach Dave Doeren doesn’t mind letting everyone know that. From the outside, it appears all the pressure is on NC State. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told us earlier this week that the Tigers are used to big games and, for them, this is just another step in the process. Add in a raucous home crowd, a fired-up defense and offense starting to hits its stride and it has the makings of a double-digit win.

Doeren has his team believing, however, and like Syracuse, that makes them dangerous. This one will be tight early – I fully expect a few personal fouls to be called – and turnovers and special teams will begin to take a toll. The lack of a running game will also be felt by NC State while the Tigers continue to churn out yards. Tigers pull away in the second half.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 41, NC STATE 17


GUEST PREDICTIONS

Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 41-20 Clemson

Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 35-20 Clemson

Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 35-17 Clemson

Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 38-20 Clemson

Hannah Rogerson - TigerNet Intern - 31-28 Clemson

Pigskin Prophet - 38-14 Clemson

Game Actual David Hood Mickey Plyler Tony Crumpton Nikki Hood Brandon Rink Hannah Rogerson Pigskin Prophet
Furman 48-7 CU 54-9 CU 55-10 CU 52-7 CU 49-7 CU 55-3 CU 28-7 CU 52-3 CU
Texas A&M 28-26 CU 27-13 CU 34-17 CU 31-17 CU 28-13 CU 34-16 CU 31-20 CU 31-16 CU
GA Southern 38-7 CU 47-10 CU 42-10 CU 51-13 CU 38-7 CU 45-10 CU 32-10 CU 48-9 CU
GT 49-21 CU 31-14 CU 37-17 CU 31-14 CU 38-21 CU 38-14 CU 32-10 CU 38-13 CU
Syracuse 27-23 CU 45-17 CU 51-21 CU 48-21 CU 42-17 CU 48-20 CU 42-10 CU 45-20 CU
Wake 63-3 CU 38-17 CU 41-21 CU 31-16 CU 34-17 CU 45-17 CU 42-14 CU 38-16 CU
Points - 6 6 6 15 8 8 6

* Points: 3 pts for best prediction of the week (tiebreaker is Clemson score), 2 pts for picking score exactly, 1 pt for picking the correct winner

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