Sept. 19, 2013
Wednesday Football Notebook
Game 3: NC State Wolfpack vs. Clemson Tigers
September 19, 2013 • 7:30 p.m. • ESPN
Raleigh, N.C. • Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
TV: ESPN | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
RALEIGH, N.C. - NC State head football coach Dave Doeren and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz have very little in common other than the fact that they both agree with one particular assertion: “There’s no place like home.”
In 14 home games as a head coach over a three-year period, Doeren has never experienced a loss on home turf. A perfect 12-0 home record in two seasons at Northern Illinois is currently being supplemented by the two wins he’s picked up in his first season at NC State.
But at the very moment he sends his Wolfpack (2-0) through the south tunnel prior to Thursday night’s nationally televised 7:30 p.m. game against No. 3 Clemson (2-0), it may occur to Doeren why his unlikely journey from being an assistant coach at Shawnee Mission High School 19 years ago to his current position was worth the ride.
Assisted by the jet-engine-like roars generated by the Carter-Finley Stadium faithful, NC State has established itself as a college football giant-killer at home over the last few seasons. Two years ago in 2011, the Wolfpack thrashed a Clemson team ranked 7th at the time, 37-13. The Pack did it again last season by knocking off then 3rd-ranked Florida State, 17-16. Overall, NC State has won three straight games against top-10 opponents, a streak that started with a 20-15 victory over 9th ranked Florida State in 2005.
“I think anytime you get to this level of football, you want to play on the big stage on national television against ranked teams,” Doeren said. “This is our first chance to do it together. They’re all excited about the opportunity and know it’s going to be a great challenge.”
A great challenge indeed. While NC State is one of the youngest teams in the ACC, Clemson is one of the most experienced squads in all of college football. Led by fifth-year senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Tigers start a total of 11 players that are either in their fourth or fifth years on offense and defense. By contrast, 14 players for the Wolfpack made their first career starts over the first two weeks of the season, while 11 true freshmen also saw action.
“For us being as young as we are, I think it’s going to be a great gauge on where we need to go,” said Doeren. “With the crowd behind us, you never know. Our guys are really excited. One thing about State is they have a history of upsetting football teams. Being in the underdog role against a great football team on national television is something we’re really excited about. Now we just need to go do it.”
Playing behind an offensive line comprised of two fifth-year seniors, two redshirt juniors, and a third-year sophomore, Boyd is making an assault on the ACC’s career record book in this his final season. He currently ranks 3rd in career touchdown passes (76), 2nd in touchdown responsibility (95), and 11th in total offense. The leader in all three of those categories is former NC State great Philip Rivers.
Boyd compiled a good chunk of those numbers in Clemson’s 62-48 win over the Wolfpack in Death Valley last season. Passing for 426 yards and rushing for 103 more, Boyd compiled a school record 529 yards of total offense against a beleaguered Pack defense.
“It was upsetting,” said NC State middle linebacker Zach Gentry, who spent most of his time on special teams that day. “Sitting there on the sidelines, you wanted to play more and stop that. We just had a bad game defensively. We weren’t too bad the rest of the year, but it was just that one game we had a bad game. This year we know what we’re getting into. We know who we’re playing and we know who their players are. Hopefully, we can try to stop them this year.”
At the very least, the Wolfpack would like to contain Boyd and a high-powered attack that is averaging 45 points and 489 yards of offense through two games. Perhaps the most reasonable goal would be to limit big plays, or as coaches call them ‘explosive plays’ that cover 20 yards or more. In last year’s offensive outburst, the Wolfpack defense yielded 10 such plays in the football game.
“One of the top things we have on the board is to limit explosive plays,” Gentry said. “All week our defensive backs have been watching tons of film, trying to recognize what happens before the play even happens. Hopefully we’ll be able to limit those explosive plays.”
Former ACC Rookie of the Year, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, now a junior, remains the biggest of the big-play threats for the Tigers. Watkins can run by corners and safeties with the best of them, but many of his explosive plays come on quick screens to the outside in Clemson’s quick-rhythm, no huddle offense.
“We’ve got to do a good job of understanding all the ‘fits’ and the play-actions that come off them,” Doeren said. “Reacting to the quick screen game and tackling in space are going to be the key for us defensively.”
The Wolfpack offense can also help out the defense by staying on the football field. In the first two games against Louisiana Tech and Richmond, NC State managed to convert 50 percent of its third down plays, a trend that would really enhance the Pack’s chances if it continues on Thursday night.
After going 24-of-31 passing for 237 yards with two interceptions in his first start in more than two years against Richmond back on September 7, Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas hopes to protect the football better against Clemson’s speedy, athletic defense.
“These last eight days have really been beneficial for Pete,” Doeren said. “He really studies a lot of film and I think anyone would agree that it’s better to study yourself on film than somebody else. Now he’s actually seen some plays of him doing good and doing bad, and it’s helped him quite a bit. He hasn’t seen a defense like this one yet, so it’s going to be a test for him.”
Freshman Matt Dayes is NC State’s leading rusher through two games with an average of 4.1 yards per carry, while another rookie, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 174 yards. Both youngsters have proven that they can make plays at the college level, but it remains to be seen how they’ll respond to the elite type of competition they’ll encounter on Thursday night.
Doeren is advising his young players and upperclassmen alike to go play, enjoy the atmosphere and take advantage of the opportunity to play one of college football’s best teams.
“I just say, ‘hey look guys, a lot of people will tell you that you don’t have a chance to win this game, but everyone who has played here knows that you do because of what you did last year with Florida State coming in and the year before that when they played Clemson. It doesn’t help you win this game, but at least there are guys in the room who played in those games and remember it.”
The Wolfpack Sports Network begins its pregame coverage from Carter-Finley Stadium with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff show from the Fan Zone in front of PNC Arena at 5:30. During the second hour of the pregame show, fans will have the opportunity to submit questions to former NC State All-American and Wolfpack Sports Network color analyst Johnny Evans on Farm Bureau’s Ask the Analyst. Questions can be sent via Twitter @packradio or by going here.