After a brief respite from the ACC schedule, the Clemson Tigers will pick things back up in earnest this weekend - hitting the road to Raleigh for a Textile Bowl match-up with the NC State Wolfpack.
Of course, everything that happens this weekend will be placed firmly underneath the cloud of Clemson being ranked 5th in the first College Football Playoff rankings released earlier this week… despite the fact that they haven’t lost a regular season game since their ill-fated trip to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse back in 2017. To be fair, I myself had them 5th in my own power rankings list a few weeks ago - but talking about power rankings is one thing. Leaving open the possibility that the defending champs won’t get back to the College Football Playoff is a whole other.
Now that said… folks… it’s gonna be fine.
With LSU and Alabama (ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively) facing off this weekend, one of them will take a loss - not to mention Penn State and Ohio State will be in the exact same position in just two weeks. Clemson will climb right back up and into a playoff spot sooner than later.
Of course, Clemson will still need to get past the Wolfpack this weekend - so let’s dig into it…
(4)Clemson at NC State
Saturday, November 9 | 7:30PM EST
ESPN Spread: -32.5
ABOUT THE NC STATE WOLFPACK
- 4-4 (1-3 in the ACC), 65th in the SP+
- They’re a team in full rebuild mode, having lost a significant portion of their production after the 2018 season
- Offense is a complete mess following the loss of star QB Ryan Finley
- Defensive line has been solid, but it’s masked a largely questionable secondary
Life ain’t all that lovely in Raleigh right now.
Just a few years after being considered one of the conference’s most formidable opponents, NC State lost nearly half of its production after the 2018 season - including 68% of their offensive production (129th) - and, as you can imagine, they’re now in full rebuild mode.
And thus far… it hasn’t really been going well. They’ve been ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball this season, and have won only a single conference game thus far against a disappointing Syracuse squad. At 4-4, Dave Doeren’s group is at risk of missing their first bowl game since Doeren’s first season in 2013.
And while there’s plenty of opportunity for the Pack to earn two more wins and get back to six victories on the year… my guess is that tomorrow’s match-up with Clemson won’t be one of them.
After a fantastic string of QBs in Raleigh, the Wolfpack have finally run cold in the passing game following Ryan Finley’s departure at the end of 2018. They’ve gone from 8th in passing yards per game to 53rd, and 24th in team QB rating to 116th.
I say “team” QB rating because they’ve waffled around a bit in 2019 trying to find Finley’s replacement, but, alas, to no avail. Freshman Devin Leary has been getting the most action over the last few games, but he’s thrown just 43% completions in four games, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Matt McKay and Bailey Hockman have both also seen time this season, but not one of three have a QB rating above 113 - so it’s unclear whether any of them will be the answer moving forward.
In the short term, the lack of a consistent passing game has put added pressure on a so-so running attack, made worse by their inexperienced offensive line that’s faced numerous injuries. The results are, again, not promising. They’re getting just 149.3 yards per game on the ground (84th), with an opportunity rate that ranks 77th and a stuff rate allowed that lands 90th.
All told, NC State is 95th in the offensive SP+, 75th in total offense, and 91st in points per game. That spells trouble with Clemson’s all-world defense coming to town tomorrow…
Defensively, NC State has actually held their own if you look at them from a bird’s eye view - 46th in SP+, 47th in total defense, and 50th in points allowed per game.
In particular, their defensive line has looked solid thus far in 2019, allowing just 119 rushing yards per game behind just a 41.5% opportunity rate allowed (21st). They’ve also been solid at generating pressure, with a 7.5% sack rate that ranks 36th in the country, and 59 tackles for a loss - which ranks 31st. DL Larrell Murchison is the name to know, as the senior DT has recorded 10 tackles for a loss and seven sacks this season - both of which lead the team.
But Clemson’s offensive line - which ranks in the top 10 of nearly every statistical category (including 3rd in opportunity rate and 2nd in sack rate allowed) - is unlike anything the Pack will have faced this season… and if they’re unable to generate pressure, it will leave their vulnerable secondary wide open.
NC State ranks 115th with just three interceptions on the season, and while their 37 passes broken up is solid compared to the rest of the country - that number is a bit deceiving, as 21 of those came in the non-conference season against less-than-stellar opponents. And while they got eight more just last week Wake Forest, that number is deceiving, too: the Wolfpack gave up nearly 300 yards to go with three touchdowns through the air to the Demon Deacons that day, as well.
Which brings us to…
Key for the Tigers
Let the lads up front bully NC State’s defensive line
Nothing fancy about this - just let Clemson’s phenomenal offensive line push around the Wolfpack for 60 straight minutes.
Do that, and NC State will lose essentially the only foundation that may be able to hold its own against the Tigers tomorrow. With time in the pocket, Trevor Lawrence will be able to easily find Clemson’s talented playmakers in the passing game - while Travis Etienne just needs to break into the second level of the defense to be off and running.
“Football is won and lost in the trenches,” the old saying goes. Tomorrow, Clemson can ride that cliche all the way to their 10th victory of the year.
What Will Happen
Another blowout, folks.
Even if NC State comes out jazzed on defense and shuts down Clemson through the first few possessions, the Wolfpack have absolutely no one on offense that can hang with the Tigers’ defense.
This one will be over quickly, folks. Enjoy the game!
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