CLEMSON, SC -- The Clemson Tigers take their 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference record into Raleigh to face the slumping N.C. State Wolfpack in a matchup of two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions.
The Tigers, fresh off a 31-20 drubbing of North Carolina last Saturday, are off to their best conference start since 1989 and are threatening for a post-season berth.
Meanwhile, after starting the season with wins over Texas, South Carolina, and William and Mary, the Wolfpack has stumbled as of late in blowout losses to Florida State and Wake Forest.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the game will be the play of Woodrow Dantzler in only his second career start for the Tigers. Dantzler showed flashes of brilliance last week against North Carolina in relief of the injured Brandon Streeter, running for a 56-yard touchdown and passing 49-yards to Rod Gardner for another. Wolfpack head coach Mike O’Cain says Dantzler’s athleticism presents problems for the N.C. State defense.
“What Dantzler brings to the table is that he’s a better athlete, not necessarily a better quarterback, but a better athlete. We have to be able to contain him in the pocket, because if he gets out and breaks a tackle, he could go down the sideline for a touchdown. He just brings a whole different element to the game,” says O’Cain.
Even after his performance against the Tarheels, questions remain regarding Dantzler’s accuracy throwing the ball. The Wolfpack secondary will undoubtedly put the young quarterback to the test. Led by senior cornerbacks Lloyd Harrison and Tony Scott, N.C. State enters today’s game with the #2-rated pass defense in the ACC.
“With the combination of all four defensive backs, I think it will the best secondary we’ve played to date,” says Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden of the Wolfpack pass defenders.
“They’re real good hitters. A lot of the time guys out there don’t like contact that much but they’re good cover guys. These guys will take a crack at you.”
If Dantzler falters, look for true freshman Willie Simmons to make his first appearance as Tiger quarterback. Until Streeter went down with a broken collarbone, the Tiger coaches planned to red-shirt Simmons. Under the current circumstances, Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez have made it clear that they will not hesitate to play the much-heralded rookie, negating his red-shirt status.
“I want to win right now. I don’t want to red-shirt to save him for another coach,” Bowden said Thursday night on his weekly radio show.
N.C. State’s problems have chiefly been a result of their anemic offense. The Wolfpack ranks last in the ACC in total offense, averaging only 222-yards per game. Senior quarterback Jamie Barnette, touted in the preseason as a potential All-ACC performer after passing for over 3,000-yards in ‘98, has struggled without Torry Holt, the Wolfpack’s All-American receiver last season who has since moved on to the NFL.
“When you lose somebody who might be NFC Rookie of the Year, that’s a big chunk of your offense,” says Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden in reference to Holt.
The Wolfpack made up for poor offensive performances in wins against Texas and South Carolina with their special teams play. N.C. State blocked a total of four punts in the two games for three touchdowns and a safety. Bowden says the Tigers will be ready for the Wolfpack punt rush.
“If we get one blocked it will not be because we were not prepared for it. We’re not going to be able to increase the time we spend on kick protection in practice, but knowing what they’ve done in the past forces us to make our preparation time more efficient.”