Watkins, Clemson defense hope to put pressure on the Pack


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Finley hasn't been pressured into many mistakes this season. <span style=Photo by Rob Kinnan / USATODAY">
Finley hasn't been pressured into many mistakes this season. Photo by Rob Kinnan / USATODAY

In his first season with the N.C. State football team, quarterback Ryan Finley hasn’t been perfect.

But he has been close.

The sophomore has completed 69.5 percent of his passes (89-of-128) for 1,041 yards as N.C. State has jumped out to a 4-1 record, including winning its conference opener against Wake Forest on Oct. 1.

Most importantly, Finley hasn’t thrown an interception while he has thrown nine touchdown passes, and the Wolfpack have allowed just five sacks.

Applying some pressure is the focus for the Clemson defense for Saturday’s game at Death Valley.

“I feel like that’s my job, our job as a defensive line, to put pressure on him and cause those mistakes,” Clemson senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins said. “Our secondary has been playing well, very disciplined, and I feel like if we put pressure on him, that’s when mistakes happen.”

The Clemson defense has gotten plenty of pressure on its opponents this season while forcing many mistakes.

The Tigers have nine interceptions, which is tied for eighth in the nation, with 21 sacks (tied for sixth) and 56 tackles for loss (tied for third).

Watkins is tied for 92nd nationally with three sacks, while Christian Wilkins is tied for 15th with 8.5 tackles for loss. Jadar Johnson is tied for seventh with three interceptions, while Ben Boulware is tied for 17th with two forced fumbles.

“It looks like we’re getting in a rhythm, offensively and defensively,” Watkins said. “I feel like if we do our job on defense, the offense goes out there and does their job. I feel like we’re definitely getting in a rhythm in this part of the season.”

That included a bounce-back defensive performance against Boston College. After giving up 568 yards (including 457 to quarterback Lamar Jackson) and 36 points to Louisville, the Clemson defense was strong against Boston College.

The Eagles managed just 10 points and 251 total yards against Brent Venables’ defense.

“That was big for us,” Watkins said. “Lamar Jackson, he’s a great player. (The Boston College) quarterback wasn’t quite like him, so it kind of made it easier for us. It felt good. Guys really showed what kind of defense we are and offense, as well.

“Coach V pushes us every week. We want to get better every week. That’s our mentality, so hopefully, it stays that way.”

The Tigers will need to keep that mentality going this week against the Wolfpack, who have won three straight games since losing to East Carolina. Matthew Dayes leads the rushing attack with 563 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Jaylen Samuels leads N.C. State with 21 catches and four touchdowns receiving, while Stephen Louis leads the Wolfpack with 328 receiving yards.

Last year, N.C. State scored 41 points and had 389 total yards against Clemson.

“N.C. State has always been a good team,” Watkins said. “Last year, we struggled with them a lot. Defense, we gave up a good bit of points, so we don’t take anybody lightly. But they’re a very tough team, a great quarterback, good running back, as well, couple of threats at wideout. So I really think they’re a pretty good team this year.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.


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