Thursday Football Notebook
Wolfpack Defense Must Contain Tigers
Game 11: NC State Wolfpack (6-4, 3-3) vs. Clemson Tigers (9-1, 6-1)
November 17, 2012 3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN2
Clemson, S.C. Memorial Stadium (81,500)
TV: ABC/ESPN2 | Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network | Gametracker
Game Notes | #GoPack Twitter Talk | NC State Twitter | Ask the Analyst
The temperatures are dropping and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, meaning a number of college football teams around the country have their sights set on posting late-season wins that can catch the attention of the bowl scouts in the bright colored jackets.
Two such teams are NC State (6-4, 3-3) and Clemson (9-1, 6-1). In a matchup of two bowl eligible squads on Saturday, the Wolfpack and Tigers will tangle Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Airtime on the Wolfpack Sports Network is 1:30 p.m.
Barring a Maryland upset over Florida State on Saturday, Clemson will have no chance to defend its Atlantic Division and ACC titles from last year. If both teams win on Saturday, the Seminoles capture the tiebreaker and a spot in the ACC Championship Game by virtue of their victory over the Tigers earlier in the season. Still, a sweep of NC State and South Carolina the last two weekends of the regular season would possibly keep Clemson, ranked 11th in the current computer rankings, in the mix for a possible BCS Bowl.
On the flip side, the Wolfpack can also improve its bowl options by winning out as well. Following its visit to Clemson this weekend, State finishes with a home game against struggling Boston College on Saturday, November 24.
"Since Clemson is ranked and we're playing them at their house, a win could definitely bump us up the bowl projections," surmised NC State defensive back Dontae Johnson.
While NC State victories at Clemson have often been tough to come by over the years, a couple of those wins make the list of all-time Wolfpack triumphs. State's last ACC Championship team got over the hump with a memorable 16-13 victory in Death Valley back in 1979. Not only did the 2002 Wolfpack become the first and only team in school history to start the season 9-0 by knocking off the Tigers 38-6, it was also the last State team to post a victory at Memorial Stadium.
Of course, the Wolfpack has plenty of company. Very few, if any, ACC teams have enjoyed a great deal of success when visiting Clemson's noisy, 81,500 seat venue. The Tigers are currently riding a 12-game winning streak in Death Valley, the longest such streak in school history. In those 12 games, Clemson has averaged 41.6 points per game.
It doesn't hurt to have a bevy of All-ACC candidates at all of the skill positions. In quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington, and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, the Tigers feature big-play weapons that can score from any spot on the field.
"It's going to be a big challenge," Johnson said. "We're going to try to keep the receivers in front of us and not give up the big plays over our heads. They have great athletes, but we're ready for the challenge."
State was certainly ready for the challenge last year when it smothered then 7th ranked Clemson's high-powered offense in a surprisingly easy 37-13 victory at Carter-Finley Stadium. On that day one year ago, the Wolfpack shutdown the Clemson running game and kept constant pressure on Boyd, who committed three turnovers with two interceptions and a fumble. With Watkins watching in street clothes because of a shoulder injury, the multitude of big plays the Tigers normally rely on were non-existent.
"Last year we played with energy and passion through the entire game," Johnson said. "We've just got to bring that this week."
If ever there was a blueprint to beat Clemson and slow down that prolific offense, NC State actually unveiled it last week against Wake Forest. In a lopsided 37-6 win over the Deacons, the Wolfpack offense ran a whopping total of 94 plays and was on the field for more than 36 minutes.
And while it would be unrealistic to post similar numbers against a more formidable foe this weekend, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien would like to see his offense stay on the field as much as possible.
"They're so explosive on offense and try to knock you out of the box in the first half and try to play in front the rest of the day," O'Brien said. "It's going to be tough to stop them. We have to try to slow them down and not let things get out of hand early. I'm sure everyone goes in with the same philosophy of holding the ball and keeping their offense on the bench. But there's some talent on defense as well. A lot of the guys that played against us last year are back this season."
Under first-year defensive coordinator Brett Venables, the Clemson defense has gotten progressively better throughout the season. The Tigers are currently the ACC's third-ranked team in scoring defense (22.4), while ranking fifth in total defense (389 ypg.). Aiding the Clemson cause at home is deafening crowd noise that can make it difficult for offensive players to hear the snap count.
"It's one of the toughest places to play in the country, let alone the ACC," said Wolfpack guard R.J. Mattes. "You can't hear the snap count at all. Mike will be back there in the shotgun screaming at the top of his lungs and you can't hear anything. When I was being recruited down there, I went to a Thursday night game and it was one of the loudest games I've ever been to. The crowd is definitely a factor. We'll have to prepare using a silent count this week."
With linemen like Mattes paving the way, NC State got back to balancing out its offense a little more last week against Wake Forest. For only the second time all year, the Wolfpack had more rushing attempts (51) than passes (43) as freshman tailback Shadrach Thornton accounted for 110 of NC State's 170 yards on the ground.
Those numbers aside, quarterback Mike Glennon is still the Wolfpack's marquee attraction on offense. The ACC's second-leading passer, Glennon has been adept at spreading the ball around to all of his available targets in the Pack offense. A total of eight players have caught 14 or more balls this season, led by Quintin Payton's 42 receptions for 669 yards.
"They want to put the ball in this quarterback's hands and I don't blame them," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's a really good player. He's the distributor. They're going to throw the ball to the tight ends and backs. They like to get five out and put pressure on you, and he knows where his outlets are. They're as good as it gets when it comes to spreading the wealth."
A shootout on Saturday isn't out of the question. Boyd and Glennon are 1-2 in the league in passing yardage and touchdown passes. Boyd, who is 12-0 as a starter at Memorial Stadium, owns a passer efficiency rating of 171.99, a figure that ranks second in the nation.
No team in the ACC has done a better job of defending third down plays than NC State, while no team in the league has done a more efficient job of converting third downs than Clemson. The Wolfpack is third in the nation in third down defense, holding opponents to just 25.3 percent (38-of-150). The Clemson offense, however, is moving the chains at a 53 percent rate (83-of-156) this season.
In last year's Wolfpack win, Clemson was just 2-of-14 on third down.
Since the Tigers are ranked 9th in this week's coaches poll, NC State has a chance to accomplish something no other Wolfpack team has ever done: take down two teams ranked in the top-10 in the same season. Earlier this year, the Wolfpack defeated a Florida State squad that was ranked 3rd at the time.
"I don't think this team will be intimidated or afraid to let everything hang out in this football game," O'Brien said. "In our situation, we've got a lot to play for. You always want to be challenged by the best, so let's go see what we can do."
The Wolfpack Sports Network will begin its radio coverage with the Mathews Motors Countdown to Kickoff at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Our broadcast crew will be available to take questions before, during and after the game on Twitter/pack radio. Former Wolfpack All-American and color analyst Johnny Evans will also be fielding questions from fans during the second hour of the pregame show on `Ask the Analyst.' To submit a question to Johnny, go here.
The broadcast day begins Saturday with the "Inside Wolfpack Sports TV Show," which airs at 8:30 a.m. on MASN and Fox Sports South. This week's show will include a preview of the Clemson game and a feature on men's basketball freshman Rodney Purvis.
The Last Meeting
November 19, 2011
Wolfpack Rolls Over No. 7 Clemson, 37-13, With 2nd-Quarter Blitz
NC State scores 27 unanswered points in the second period en route to its first win over a top 10 since 2005 and its first win over Clemson since 2003. The defense leads the way with four turnovers and six sacks, while T.J. Graham breaks the ACC's all-time record for kickoff return yardage and David Amerson ties the ACC mark with his 11th interception of the season.