WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.5 CLEMSON vs. NO.10 NC STATE
- 2022-09-30 20:50:48
Welcome to the Textile Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, Hurricane Ian is headed our straight for Clemson, but it won’t dampen the excitement on Saturday, as ESPN College GameDay will be in town for a top-10 ACC Atlantic showdown between the Tigers and Wolfpack! This will be the 8th time Clemson has hosted GameDay but the first time since the Miami game in 2020, and it will be the first time the show will broadcast from Bowman Field since the Louisville classic in 2016. The show was broadcast from inside Death Valley for the 2019 opener against Georgia Tech as well as the 2020 Miami game. This will be the 22nd time the Tigers have been featured on GameDay since 2015. They are 6-1 all-time when hosting. This weekend has the feel of that epic 2015 hurricane game against Notre Dame when Dabo famously coined the phrase, “BYOG: Bring Your Own Guts!” GameDay was on Bowman Field in the pouring rain that morning as well, and I can say I’ve never been as wet in my life as I was that day for about 16 hours from covering GameDay and the game that night. Incidentally, Dabo is 10-1 in rain games as a head coach! His only loss—which I saw from the drenched stands in Death Valley—was in his first full season in 2009 against TCU. The Tigers led in the 4th quarter but lost 14-10 thanks to a tipped pass from Andy Dalton for a 25-yard touchdown. It rained for every home game that season, and I attended every one of them with my poncho. I remember the aisles were like waterfalls during the Georgia Tech game, and the Boston College game started at noon and ended at about 8:00 with 2 or 3 weather delays. The Tigers won that game with 6 field goals by Richard Jackson! I’m sure the rain on Saturday will bring back all of those memories for many of you too. Christian Wilkins will be the guest picker on GameDay, and fans may arrive as early as 6:30 am to reserve a spot on Bowman Field. I will be backstage to bring you some photos and video from the show, so be sure to click HERE for all of that content. You will also find my Friday Zoom interview with Rece Davis there!
Last season, it was Wake Forest and NC State that shook up the ACC Atlantic and took the division from Clemson for the first time in 7 years. NC State deprived the Tigers of a 7th straight division title by winning in double-overtime in Raleigh, thanks in large part to injuries for the Tigers, including Will Shipley, Bryan Bresee and James Skalski. The Tigers defeated No.10 Wake comfortably, but the Deacs still won the division because it was their only conference loss, and the Tigers lost another close game at eventual ACC Champion Pittsburgh, which Wake and NC State did not have to play in the regular season. So as fate would have it, the schedule interestingly set up for a mini revenge tour for the Tigers with back-to-back games against Wake and NC State this season. The Tigers exacted their revenge on the Deacons with an epic, instant classic up at Winston-Salem last week. It was one of the best combined performances by two quarterbacks that you will ever see, as DJ and fifth-year starter Sam Hartman amassed 708 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Hartman had one more TD than his counterpart, but DJ came out on top with 2 TD passes in overtime and the 51-45 win. The Tigers were missing 5 starters on the defensive side, including Jones, Greene and Mukuba from the secondary, and that proved to be trouble against one of the best, most experienced quarterbacks in the country. Freshmen Toriano Pride and Jeadyn Lukus—mostly Pride—had a baptism by fire, and Hartman took advantage. Co-starters Nate Wiggins and Fred Davis also had a miserable game with several pass interference and defensive holding calls, and even when they had decent coverage, they couldn’t stop Hartman’s pinpoint accuracy and the talented Wake receivers. The 120 yards in penalties given up by the Tigers were the most in a win since the 2013 Orange Bowl against Ohio State. With Wake loading the box to stop the run after Will Shipley’s 50-yard run on the first play of the game, the only way the Tigers were going to win is if DJ played the game of his career, and that’s exactly what he did with the pressure on! It was a better performance, in my opinion, than his record-setting game at Notre Dame Stadium as a freshman in 2020, which was a double-overtime loss. Amazingly, this was the Tigers’ first overtime win on the road since 2009 at No.10 Miami. They lost in overtime at eventual National Champion Auburn in 2010 after leading by 17, thanks to Auburn breaking QB Kyle Parker’s ribs after the play was over. Chandler Catanzaro missed the game-tying field goal in overtime after his make was negated on a penalty. The Tigers lost at No.1 FSU, the defending champs, in overtime in 2014 thanks to a last-minute fumble by CJ Davidson in the red zone to prevent a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. So the Tigers had lost 3 straight overtime games on the road in painful fashion to 3 highly ranked teams, including a couple national champions, and thanks to some big-time injuries. This was another overtime game on the road against a highly ranked team with several critical injuries, but this time, the Tigers found a way to win!
Dabo said after the game that he hoped those in the media who doubted and criticized DJ would take ownership and tear up those articles. Well, I didn’t have to do that since I might be the only one in the media who went on record with a preseason prediction that DJ would have a big bounce-back season and retain his starting job. Many Clemson fans wanted to see Cade take over, and most of the media catered to their clamors, but from what I saw from DJ at practice in August, I just had a gut feeling that he would silence the critics. He showed significant improvement in the first 3 game this season, throwing just one interception (a deflection) and making several great plays with his arm and legs, but this past game was a signature one for him. He performed like a Heisman winner—like many expected him to play before the 2020 season when he was the third-favorite to win the Heisman.
The Tigers are ranked No.5 in both polls this week after starting the season No.4. The voters ridiculously moved Michigan ahead of the Tigers even though Michigan’s first 3 games were at home against 3 of the bottom 6 teams in the nation, including 2 of the worst 3, according to ESPN. Heck, Vandy beat Hawaii worse on the road than Michigan did at home. The Tigers didn’t play any juggernauts in the first 3 weeks either, but Clemson, which has the most Power Five wins since 2013—more than Alabama—should have much more benefit of the doubt than Michigan. I guess the pollsters have short memories and have already forgotten that Michigan was humiliated in the playoff 9 months ago by the same Georgia team that Clemson held to 10 points (3 not counting the pick-six). And it’s not like Clemson has shown the same offensive struggles it had in the first 7 games last season. The Tigers currently have the No.13 scoring offense in the nation! Last week, Michigan finally played a team that wasn’t one of the 10 worst in the country, but its 7-point home win over Maryland wasn’t as impressive as the Tigers’ road win against No.16 Wake. Perhaps Michigan will finally be exposed at Iowa this week, but I doubt it because Iowa has the worst offense in the nation. Be that as it may, the Tigers will eventually jump back into the top 4 by the time it matters. NC State, on the other hand, has breached the top 10 for the first time in 20 years, since Philip Rivers was the Pack’s quarterback, and this is the first top-10 matchup in NC State history. How far the old Textile Bowl has come!
On to the matchup….
Clemson leads the all-time series with NC State 59-29-1. The Tigers won the first-ever meeting in 1899 by a score of 24-0 in Rock Hill, SC. Dabo is 7-1 against NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren. The double-overtime loss in Raleigh last season broke the Tigers’ 8-game win streak against the Pack. The Tigers had won 15 of the previous 16 meetings. The Tigers have not hosted NC State since 2018 because the two teams did not play in 2020 due to Covid. It was the first time the teams did not play since 1970…This is the 27th matchup of AP top-10 teams in Clemson history. The Tigers are 14-12 in such games. It is the 22nd under Dabo Swinney, and he is 12-9 in top-10 matchups…Clemson has won its last 7 games against opponents that beat the Tigers in their previous meeting…Clemson has won 10 straight games, the longest active win streak in the nation. It is the Tigers’ 11th win streak of 10 or more games in program history…The Tigers have won 36 straight games in Death Valley, the longest active home win streak in the nation. No member of this Clemson team has lost a home game. The streak is the 14th longest of all time. A win over NC State on Saturday will tie Clemson with FSU for the longest home win streak in ACC history…Clemson is 55-1 at home in the CFP era, also the best such record in the nation….The Tigers have won 26 straight home games against non-conference opponents. The last such loss was to South Carolina in 2012…The Tigers have won 63 straight games when leading at halftime…Clemson has won 36 consecutive games as an AP top-5 team against unranked opponents, the longest active streak in the nation…Clemson is 97-3 against unranked teams since the start of the 2012 season…Dabo won his 154th game last week. He took the sixth-fewest games (186) to reach 150 wins. Urban Meyer holds the record at 176 games, followed by Barry Switzer, Gil Dobie, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Switzer and Paterno are the only ones who, like Dabo, won all 150 games at one school…. Clemson has the second-most wins and second-best win percentage since 2015 behind Alabama. The Tigers are 93-10 over that period while Alabama is 96-8. Ohio State is 3rd with a record of 83-10 since 2015. Clemson is also 2nd in wins since 2011 with a record of 135-21. Alabama is 144-14 and Ohio State is 127-20….Clemson has the most Power Five wins (95) since 2013. Alabama is 2nd with 93 and Ohio State is 3rd with 87….Clemson holds the all-time record for most wins over a 5-year span with 69 from 2015-2019….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation (minimum 10 years) at .811. Nick Saban is second at .802 and Jimbo Fisher is third at .759….Dabo is currently 12th on the all-time win percentage list but climbing quickly. He could move into 11th with a win this week, just one spot below legendary Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilkinson….Dabo’s 154 wins are already the third-most of any coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 14th full season. By the end of the 2023 season, Dabo should topple Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo has the most active wins (154) that are all with one school. Mike Gundy is 2nd with 152 at Oklahoma State. Dabo is 9th on the active win list, one win ahead of Mike Leach….With a win in the Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State last season, Dabo tied Bobby Bowden for most bowl wins (11) by any ACC coach in history….
NC STATE SYNOPSIS
For all the August hype around preseason ACC Player of the Year Devin Leary and NC State, the Wolfpack got off to a bumpy start to the season, barely escaping a loss at ECU in the opener thanks to a missed field goal. They regained their mojo the next week with a 55-3 home win over Charleston Southern and then won another home game against a decent Texas Tech team 27-14. They blew out UConn, one of the worst teams in the country, at home last week, so this will be the Pack’s first road game since the opening-week scare at ECU. And let’s face it: a noon game at ECU is not Death Valley at night!
QB Devin Leary was named preseason ACC Player of the Year for good reason. He is one of the best returning quarterbacks in the nation and a potential first-round draft pick. He averaged 286 pass yards per game last season and was 10th nationally in TD passes (35) with just 5 interceptions. He probably would have had 2 or 3 more TD’s last season, but their bowl game against UCLA was canceled. Leary has 9 touchdowns against 2 interceptions so far this season. The good news for the Tigers is that Leary is one of the least athletic quarterbacks they will face, although he is good at manipulating the pocket and avoiding sacks. He’s been sacked just once per game this season. Leary is about as savvy as they get and similar in a lot of ways to Sam Hartman, who the Tigers faced last week at Wake.
The Pack’s rushing attack is led by 6’0, 210-pound sophomore Demie Sumo-Karngbaye (#0). He’s a Jersey boy like Leary and is off to a great start to the season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns. He’s scored in 3 of their 4 games but has yet to break 100 yards in a game. He’ll split the carries with Jordan Houston (#3), a 5’10, 192-pound junior, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The only player with a rush TD besides Sumo-Karngbaye is QB Devin Leary with two. Leary has also thrown the ball to the running back effectively. He has 6 catches for 102 yards and a TD.
In the passing game, State lost its leading receiver from last season, Emeka Emezie, who had 14 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers in that double-overtime win. This season, the straw that stirs the drink is 6’0, 195-pound slot receiver Thayer Thomas. The senior has 15 catches for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns this season, and he’s also thrown a 38-yard TD this season on a trick play. He does not have any run plays yet this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on a reverse, jet-sweep or end-around on Saturday. Thomas only had 5 catches for 18 yards in last year’s meeting but scored a big touchdown in the first overtime. Devin Carter (#88) caught the game-winning TD pass in double-overtime, and he is back as well. He actually scored 2 TD’s in that game among his 5 catches for 54 yards. The 6’3, 215-pound junior has 9 catches for 117 yards in 3 games this season, scoring his first touchdown last week. They have not utilized the tight end in the passing game much so far—just 4 completions and no scores. Interestingly, they have a couple identical twin freshman tight ends in Ced (#47) and Fred (#48) Seabrough.
State has one of the most experienced teams in the country with 10 returning starters on defense. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson plays a lot of dime coverage with 6 defensive backs, so that will be a different challenge for DJ. State already has 7 interceptions this season, which is tied for 6th nationally. Sophomore CB Aydan White (#3) and senior DB Tyler Baker-Williams (#13) have 2 apiece. Up front, 6’3, 300-pound sophomore DT C.J. Clark (#5) leads the team with 2 sacks. They have 5 players with one sack each, including the aforementioned duo from the secondary, White and Baker-Williams. Junior LB Drake Thomas (#32) leads the team with 24 tackles. This will easily be the best defense that the Tigers have faced so far this season.
On special teams, this game will feature a couple of top Groza Award candidates. Fifth-year starter Christopher Dunn has a career percentage of 81.3% and is 5-5 this season with a long of 48. His career long is 53, but he’s only 2-8 from 50 plus in his career. He is a perfect 187-187 on PAT’s. State has a dangerous punt returner in the aforementioned Thayer Thomas. He only has 4 returns this season but broke one for 38 yards. He averaged about 10 yards per return last season, which was among the best in the nation. The Tigers didn’t give up any punt returns last week, but they gave up a couple long ones to LA Tech the week before, so hopefully they’ve shored things up within the coverage unit.
Through 4 games, the Pack ranks No.8 in scoring defense (11.8 points per game), No.10 in rush defense (81.75 yards/game), No.25 in pass defense (179.8 yards/game) and No.13 in total defense (261.5 yards/game). They are No.7 on 3rd down conversions (25%) but only No.81 in sacks at 1.75 per game. They’ve only allowed opponents in the red zone 5 times in 4 games. State is No.18 in turnover margin at plus 1 per game.
Conversely, the Pack’s offense is No.43 in scoring offense (36 points per game). Their rush offense is No.70 (157.5 yards/game), pass offense is No.62 (253.5 yards/game) and total offense is No.69 (411 yards/game). This is somewhat ironic because not many expected the Tigers’ offense to be ranked so much higher than State’s with Devin Leary. The Pack’s defense was expected to be ranked as highly as it is, but the Tigers’ defense is surprisingly ranked much lower than State right now. That, of course, is due to the anomalous game at Wake last week in which the Tigers gave up 45 points and 447 total yards.
I tried to get some injury updates from Dabo over the last few days, but he was playing it close to the vest. We do know for sure that DT Tre Williams will play for the first time since the opener, in which he was a force inside, but we will have to wait for our availability report a couple hours before kickoff to know whether DE Xavier Thomas, CB Sheridan Jones, CB Malcolm Greene and S Andrew Mukuba will play. If at least 2 of those 3 guys from the secondary can play, it will be a big shot in the arm for the defense! The pass rushing ability of Xavier Thomas would also help the secondary immensely. He looked practically unblockable in August before he was injured.
I spoke with Will Shipley on Tuesday, and he was raring to go! He said it was going to be hard waiting all day Saturday for the primetime kickoff. Remember, Shipley scored a touchdown at State last season before leaving the game with a knee injury. He also dropped a screen pass from DJ on the opening possession that probably would have gone for a touchdown or at least a huge gain to give the Tigers an early lead. Shipley, a native of just outside Charlotte, has about 25 relatives with NC State ties, so this a hugely personal game for him. He is the first Tiger since 1950 to score 2 TD’s in each of the first 3 games, and he added another crucial one last week to tie the game in the 4th quarter on 3rd down. Interestingly, I asked Shipley about that amazing effort play in which he broke 3 tackles and laid horizontal to extend the ball across the goal line. He told me that he actually considered that a mistake because it wasn’t 4th down, and he put the ball in jeopardy. How many times have we seen players lose the ball in the same situation, just before the ball crosses the goal line? It happened to work out for the Tigers, but Dabo confirmed to me on Wednesday that they teach their players to avoid putting the ball in jeopardy like that. With a wet ball on Saturday, let’s hope none of the Tigers have to take any similar chances with protecting the football!
The national media all questioned how much better the Tigers’ offense could possibly be this season with DJ at quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. Well, it has to be the most improved unit in the country! The Tigers have the No.13 scoring offense and have scored the second-most points in program history over the first 4 games. More than any team led by Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson or Tajh Boyd, in fact. Only the 2000 team with Woody Dantzler and Rich Rodriguez scored more in the first 4 games. The Tigers are also No.6 nationally in 3rd down conversions at 54.69%. They are tied with Michigan for No.1 on 4th down at 3-3. Georgia and Ohio State are the only other teams that are perfect on 4th down at 2-2 each. A big part of the Tigers’ offensive improvement, aside from DJ obviously, has been the tight ends in the passing game. Davis Allen had a great season last year, but sophomore Jake Briningstool has really come into his own, and the two of them are playing at an extremely high level right now. They are a big threat in the red zone particularly. Davis Allen had 2 big touchdown catches last week, including the game winner, and Jake scored the first TD of the game on a scramble drill in the back of the end zone. The Tigers have had several scramble drill touchdowns this season, and that’s a testament to DJ’s patience in the pocket, the offensive line providing him lots of time and the receivers doing an excellent job working to get open.
The biggest question is whether the corners will be able to bounce back from the game they had last week—especially if Jones and/or Greene are unable to play again. On Monday, we spoke with Nate Wiggins, who had a miserable game but redeemed himself with the game-winning PBU in the end zone. He was as confident as ever in his abilities, and that short memory is what you like to see from a corner. Wiggins, Fred Davis and freshmen Toriano Pride and Jeadyn Lukus will have to do a much better job at the top of their routes and not letting receivers get behind them. That resulted in big completions and penalty after penalty last week, which cannot happen again. CB Coach Mike Reed, who incidentally came to Clemson from NC State, is one of the best in the business, and I have to believe he’ll have them playing better this week. Also, if it’s a wet ball, that might affect Leary’s accuracy in the passing game.
Finally, Groza Award candidate BT Potter has been outstanding so far. I knew it was a big deal when he announced that he would be returning this season because kickers of his experience and reliability are invaluable, and he could have easily signed with an NFL team this year. Potter is a perfect 7-7, including 3-3 at Wake last week with a 52-yard game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. That’s as clutch as you get! Remarkably, he is 8-10 in his career from 50 yards or more. New long snapper Philip Florenzo and new holder Drew Swinney have also done an excellent job. However, the weather could very well affect Dabo’s decision-making during the course of the game, as he acknowledged to me on Wednesday after practice. He made the right call on 4th and 4 at Wake to kick the 52-yarder, but given the same situation this week, he might decide to go for it or punt based on the wind, rain and field conditions, so keep that in mind!
My prediction was only 3 points off for the Tigers’ point total last week, but I was way off on Wake’s. If I had known that Jones, Greene, Mukuba, Thomas and Williams would all be out, I probably would have predicted Wake would score in the 30’s. Even with those players out, I wouldn’t have expected 120 penalty yards against the Tigers. The weather makes this game a little tougher to predict—especially since we have no idea how bad the weather will be. If it turns into a monsoon and an absolute slop fest, all bets are off because it will drastically affect both passing offenses, and we could see several turnovers. That being said, I like the Tigers’ chances if it comes to that because I think they have a decided advantage on the line of scrimmage and the ability to both stop the Pack’s running game and run the ball with Shipley. Defensively, we might see Goodwin go to more zone coverage than we’ve seen in the past—particularly if Jones and/or Greene are still out. I’m going to assume that, while it is sure to be a wet field and wet ball, the weather won’t be so bad as to eliminate the passing game entirely. In either case, I think the Tigers will win with the help of an electric Death Valley crowd, extending the nation’s longest home win streak to 37 and tying FSU for the all-time ACC record. The Tigers avenge last season’s heartbreaking double-overtime loss, extend the nation’s longest win streak to 11 and take the driver’s seat in the ACC Atlantic!
The Prowl toward a 7th College Football Playoff and 4th National Title continues….
CLEMSON 34 NC State 20
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