Clemson is preparing to host NC State on Saturday, and Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney knows how difficult a test the Wolfpack pose.
No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) and NC State (4-1, 1-0) square off on Saturday in a key ACC Atlantic division matchup.
While a home game for the Tigers, it’s an early start (Noon ET) on Homecoming Saturday. Sometimes being fully alert for an early game can be a challenge.
But the biggest challenge facing head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad is the balanced NC State outfit itself.
As Swinney noted during Wednesday’s weekly ACC coaches teleconference, the Wolfpack pose a serious threat to the Tigers as they look to make a second consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff.
“NC State is a big challenge for us,” Swinney said. “A veteran team with I think 17 starters back. Definitely the most experienced and complete team that I think Coach [Dave] Doeren has had, and they’re undefeated in the league just like we are.
“Both of us are tied for first place in the division, and both teams want to stay in control of their destiny. So this is a huge game, a big challenge for both teams, and we’re looking forward to playing these guys.”
The Wolfpack are strong in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams, which is rare in college football these days.
Boise State transfer quarterback Ryan Finley, who works behind a very good O-Line and spreads the ball evenly around to his receiving corps, is completing nearly 70 percent of his throws and has yet to record an interception while leading an offense that is averaging 34 points per game. Backfield mate Matt Dayes is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and may be one of the more underappreciated backs in the country.
Defensively, the ‘Pack rank No. 8 in total defense, allowing just 279.8 yards per game with a unit that is strong up front and littered with juniors and seniors.
And Swinney knows all too well about Nyheim Hines, who has world-class speed and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown as a true freshman last year against the Tigers. Special teams is that oft-overlooked phase that can be the difference between a Win and a Loss.
Last year’s meeting took place on Halloween in Raleigh, and it was a nightmare for the NC State defense. Deshaun Watson passed for 383 yards and ran for 54 more, accounting for six touchdowns in a 56-41 Tigers win. Clemson finished with 623 yards of total offense.
The scary thing for NC State is that its unit came into last year’s meeting ranked No. 3 in the country in total defense, allowing a mere 251 yards per outing. Watson still torched Doeren’s squad. However, NC State played the second half of that game without Dayes, who had a toe injury. The ‘Pack actually held a 20-19 lead before the wheels came off.
As is the case whenever a team faces a star dual-threat quarterback like Watson, everything starts up front.
“I think this is an excellent defensive front,” Swinney said of the NC State line. “I think this group and Auburn are the two best defensive lines that we’ve probably played.
“They’re active. They do a good job getting after the quarterback.”
If the ‘Pack can rough up Watson, limit the aerial attack and minimize his effectiveness on the ground, we could see one of the better ACC games of the season.
“Just a dangerous team all the way around,” Swinney noted.
We’ll see if there is a new leader of the ‘Pack in the Atlantic following Saturday’s showdown.