CLEMSON - Off the field, it has all the makings of a classic. On the field? That remains to be seen.
The week-long talk about Reggie Herring's return to Death Valley today has made for good fodder on sports talk radio and on Internet discussion boards. As defensive coordinator at North Carolina State (4-3, 3-2 ACC), Herring has the Wolfpack defense ranked No. 2 overall in the country. His aggressive, blitzing style of defense seems to be a perfect fit for head coach Chuck Amato's wide-open personality.
Herring's return to the place where he served eight seasons - five as defensive coordinator - has had Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden answering questions all week.
Mostly, does Herring know enough about Clemson (3-4, 2-3) to have the upper hand? Or is it vice-versa?
"He's played enough teams with similar formations, protections, and runs (similar to what) we have that I don't think his familiarity with our offense creates any type of advantage," Bowden said. "He is doing some of the same things defensively there that he did here."
And the constant blitzing he's expected to bring?
"Blitzing doesn't effect the pace of your offense as much as it does schemes," said Bowden. "Blitzing is usually pretty tough on the running game. It forces you to make decisions according to your schemes more so than it does your pace."
Herring, for his part, has been quiet most of the week.
He turned down requests for interviews from Clemson media early in the week, and it was only Friday that an interview appeared in a Raleigh, N.C. newspaper in which Herring addressed coming back to Clemson. Speaking for Herring earlier in the week, Amato said his defensive coordinator will be the same person this week that he is every week.
Intense to the point of exhaustion.
"Let me tell you something about Reggie - every game his intensity level is immeasurable," Amato said. "He doesn't care who it is, he just wants to win. I've worked with him now for seven games and I'm not sure he even knows who were playing, because he's so focused on getting our defense ready. There's no way that it will be any different going back to a place that he worked at for seven years.
"Knowing him, his answer to that question would be 'It's not about Reggie, it's about what Reggie can teach.'"
The question looming over today's game, though, is whether or not the game lives up to the pregame hype?
All the attention given to the "Herring Returns" storyline doesn't mean a thing if Clemson's offense continues to play poorly. The aggressive, blitzing style of defense Herring employs leaves itself open for big plays - if the quarterback is protected and his receivers make catches.
The lack of execution which continues to plague his team prompted Bowden to say it was time for his offense to "grow up" earlier this week. And with wide receiver Chansi Stuckey out with a sprained ankle, quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will be minus one potential weapon.
On the flip side, Clemson's defense has been much better in the past two weeks.
But the caliber of competition must be taken into consideration. Utah State was, simply put, a bad football team. And Maryland's offense has been in nearly a month-long funk.
Stopping State tailback T.A. McClendon and, by extension, the Wolfpack offense will be more difficult.
But Bowden has been encouraged by what he's seen lately, competition or not.
"It seems that we've picked up our pass rush and it seems that our coverage on the perimeter is a lot tighter," he said. "We're stopping the run right now. If you can stop the run and get them behind the chains it makes it easier on you. The last two games we have been able to stop the run.
"The defense wants to see that kind of performance carry on for the remainder of the season. Everyone wants a third performance like that and then a fourth. It will be a challenge because it is hard to perform like that every week."
Clemson vs. NC State Pre-game Notes
Kickoff: 12:02 PM
Site: Frank Howard Field, Clemson Memorial
Stadium, Clemson, SC
Expected Attendance: 80,000 (Some $32 tickets are still available)
3,500 NC State fans expected
High School Gate: Tickets for students high school age and
under will be available for $8 at Gate 11 beginning at 10:30 PM.
Stadium Gates Fans may enter the stadium at 10:30 AM
Television: (ESPN -2)
The Clemson Athletic Department urges all fans to come to Death Valley area early due to the Noon Start and a large expect crowd.
Hurricane Relief Effort:
Fans will have a chance to donate money to the Hurricane Relief Fund at every entrance gate at Clemson Memorial Stadium on Saturday beginning at 10:30 AM.
Clemson Personnel Update:
Roy Walker (FS)-Torn ACL, out for the season
Roshaad Jackson (DT)-broken foot, out for he season
Eric Sampson (WHIP)-Broken Jaw at Virginia, out
Chansi Stuckey (WR)-Doubtful, hamstring suffered against Maryland
Anthony Waters (LB)-Probable, knee and ankle injury suffered against Maryland
Clemson teams of 1954, 1979 and 1994 will be recognized at Saturday's game.
Dan's Keys to the Game
1. Get The Offense In Gear
Earlier this week Tommy Bowden said it was time for his offense to "grow up," quit making stupid mistakes and start making plays. He's right. With seven games and a litany of mistakes under its belt, this unit is primed to break out against somebody. An ultra-aggressive North Carolina State defense, led by coordinator Reggie Herring, will come at the Tigers with everything - kitchen sink included. While that will breed significant pressure on quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, it also will present opportunities for big plays. All Clemson has to do is hit them.
2. Keep T.A. on the Q.T.
Clemson's defense has been much better vs. the run in the last two weeks. Of course, Utah State hardly ran it, and Maryland's offense has been in a month-long funk. The Wolfpack present a much larger problem in the person of tailback T.A. McClendon. Though injury-plagued for much of his career, when healthy McClendon combines power and speed out of the backfield. He's also a threat as a receiver. State's offensive line could be a patchwork group this week. Reports say at least one, and perhaps as many as three starters will be out. But regardless of who's blocking, the Tigers must tackle well. None of the hit-and-bounce-off business. Otherwise, this could be another Virginia brewing.
3. Get The Ball, Keep The Ball
Translated, win the battle of turnovers. Clemson is minus 11 in turnover ratio through seven games. But the Wolfpack, surprisingly, is right there with them at minus 10. McClendon is prone to fumble, just as Whitehurst has been plagued by interceptions. Win this battle and you just might win the game.