WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW AND PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON AT NC STATE
- 2023-10-28 01:07:43
Welcome to the Textile Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers are coming off yet another gut-wrenching overtime loss on the road that they should have won. I’m getting tired of writing about the same things over and over, but that’s where we are right now. This team is talented enough to win a national title, but for a third time, self-inflicted mistakes resulted in a loss. I’ve honestly never seen or heard of anything like this. Great teams have had one or maybe even two games with fluke, catastrophic turnovers, but it’s happened repeatedly to the Tigers this season. In fact, even in wins like the Charleston Southern and Wake games, the Tigers had catastrophic turnovers like a pick-six and a fumble inside their 20, but they were able to overcome those. Against top-25 caliber teams—two of them on the road, and two of them in overtime—the mistakes have been just enough to culminate in 3 losses. I feel fairly confident in saying that this is the best unranked, 4-3 team in history. Still, though, we can’t ignore the fact that this has been a chronic problem with this team, and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I think it’s psychological at this point, and I don’t know what else Dabo and the coaches can do. It’s the best players on the team making the mistakes, and it’s not the same one each time. I asked Dabo if they’ve employed a sports psychologist, and he said that they’ve got ‘em, joking that he was probably on suicide watch right now. The coaches and players are doing the same ball security drills that they did when they made 6 straight playoffs, but for whatever reason, the turnovers—particularly the fumbles—keep cropping up and at the worst possible times, costing the Tigers anywhere from 3 to 14 points about every time. The Tigers are dead last nationally in fumbles lost and last in red zone efficiency. If they were even average in either category, they would be undefeated, or at least 6-1, and on their way to another ACC title and playoff. I have no doubt that if the Tigers break even or win the turnover margin in the rest of their games, they will not lose again and extend their historic 10-win season streak. They won their last 6 in 2021 after a 4-3 start, and that team was riddled with injuries and not even close to as experienced and talented as this one. Will Swinney started the last 3 games at receiver! The Tigers just have to get over this mental hurdle, and they can finish in the top 10 or 15 with a nice bowl win. There are plenty of so-called Clemson fans out there with no confidence or faith in Dabo right now. Many are saying they will only win 5 or 6 games. I laugh at those people who have such short memories. Dabo is one of the greatest coaches of all time, and I have complete confidence that he will turn things around and that the best is yet to come. As flukey as this season has been, I truly believe that God has something big on the horizon for Dabo and the Tigers on the other side of all this. After all, He always rewards those who don’t lose faith in Him!
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, if the Tigers are going to win out and win 10 games this season, it all starts in Raleigh on Saturday. We all remember the last time the Tigers played there in 2021! It was another game that the Tigers should have won but made too many mistakes and lost in double-overtime. Some key injuries to players like Shipley, Bresee and Skalski didn’t help either! I was nearly run over by State fans storming the field because it was the first time they had beaten Clemson in forever. In fact, the Tigers had won 15 of the previous 16 meetings! The Tigers took care of the Pack in Death Valley last season, but Raleigh is always a tough place to play, and State, which is also 4-3, is equally desperate for a win. The Pack is also coming off a bye week, so you can bet they have some new wrinkles in store for the Tigers that they haven’t seen on film. ACC divisions are no more, but the Textile Bowl rivalry will continue every year for the foreseeable future, and this one promises to be a grudge match! To add a little intrigue to this game, Dabo is going for his 166th win, a new Clemson record, and Dave Doeren is going for his 77th win to tie the NC State record. On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with NC State 60-29-1. That is the third-most wins against any opponent behind South Carolina and Wake Forest…The home team has won the last two meetings, but Clemson has won 16 of the last 18 dating back to 2004, Dabo’s second season on the Clemson staff, including 8 straight from 2012 to 2019. The teams did not play during the shortened 2020 season…Dabo is 36-4 against teams from the state of North Carolina. He is 18-5 in games played in that state…Clemson has won 35 road games since 2015 to lead the nation…Clemson is 33-8 following a loss under Dabo, winning 22 of the last 24. The Tigers have not lost consecutive games in the same season since road losses at NC State and South Carolina in 2011. The streak of 161 games is the longest in the nation and more than twice the length of the next-longest streak in program history. Alabama has the second-longest active streak (135), last losing consecutively in 2014, and Georgia is third at 61 games since 2019. Clemson has not lost to ACC opponents in consecutive weeks since October of 2010…Dabo is 8-1 against Dave Doeren, losing only in double-overtime in Raleigh in 2021. The only other head coach Dabo has beaten more times is Dave Clawson of Wake Forest…Clemson is 90-11 during the regular season since 2015. Of the 11 losses, 9 were decided by 10 points or less…Clemson is 105-7 against AP unranked teams since 2012…Clemson had no rushing touchdowns last week for just the third time in its last 76 games since 2018. That is still the highest percentage in the nation over that span. The Tigers have not gone consecutive games without a rushing touchdown since the first 3 games of 2009, Dabo’s first full season as head coach…Clemson is tied with Alabama for the most Power Five wins since 2013. Ohio State has 5 fewer, and Georgia has 12 fewer…Dabo won 161 of his first 200 games coached, ranking him tied for 5th all-time with Bob Stoops and Robert Neyland, one win shy of Penn State legend Joe Paterno and Nebraska legend Tom Osborne. Urban Meyer had the most at 170…Last week’s double-overtime loss at Miami dropped Dabo’s win percentage to .797, just behind Nick Saban’s .803…
NC STATE SYNOPSIS
State is having somewhat of a rebuilding year after losing several players to the pros and the transfer portal. Most notably, quarterback Devin Leary is now the starting QB at Kentucky. Doeren brought in Brennan Armstrong, who spent the last 5 seasons at Virginia, including an outstanding 2021 campaign when he passed for 4,500 yards and 31 touchdowns. With a new offensive coordinator last year, Armstrong had a miserable season, passing for less than half the yards and only 7 TD’s with 12 INT’s. He transferred to State for his 6th year and reunited with his offensive coordinator from that 2021 season at UVA, Robert Anae, who held the same position at Syracuse last season. Following a 13-10 home loss to Louisville about a month ago, Armstrong was replaced by MJ Morris. The 6’2, 205-pound sophomore led the Pack to a 48-41 win over Marshall, completing 17 of 32 passes for 265 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also threw 3 interceptions in the debut. He followed that up with a 24-3 loss at Duke, going 24-40 for 193 yards and no TD’s with one INT. He was also sacked 4 times in the game. Morris had a 16-yard run at Duke, but gained just 22 yards on his other 13 carries, and he had negative net rushing yards against Marshall.
It will be interesting to see if Doeren sticks with the sophomore or gives the veteran Armstrong another chance on Saturday, or some combination of both. Morris is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but it would not surprise me if Doeren makes a change if Morris struggles early.
Despite not playing the last two games, Armstrong is actually still the Pack’s leading rusher in carries and yards at 4 yards per carry for 3 scores. 5’9, 205-pound sophomore Michael Allen (#2) only has 230 yards and one score, but he averages 5.3 yards per carry. 5’11, 215-pound junior Delbert Mimms (#34) only averages 3.4 yards per carry, but he leads the team with 6 rushing touchdowns. 5’11, 195-pound freshman Kendrick Raphael only has 23 carries but averages 5 yards per.
In the passing game, State is led by 5’11, 187-pound freshman WR Kevin Concepcion (#10) from Charlotte. He has 37 catches for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns. 6’2, 195-pound sophomore Terrell Timmons (#82) is a big-play receiver who only has 9 catches but averages a whopping 19.1 yards per. On the outside, 6’4, 200-pound senior Bradley Rozner (#80) has 14 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. Former Clemson WR Dacari Collins (#86) has great size at 6’4 and 212, but he only has 3 catches this season. He caught a touchdown in their opener against Notre Dame, but he hasn’t caught a pass since the second game against VMI. State plays a lot of 10 personnel (one back, four receivers and no tight end), so their two tight ends have only combined for 15 catches this season, but 6’3 senior and Raleigh native Trent Pennix (#6) has 11 catches and 2 scores.
Defensively, State is led by linebacker Payton Wilson, who is having an All-American season. He might be the fastest player on the team, which is obviously unusual for a backer, and he is always around the football. He has 81 tackles already with 4 sacks, an interception and 2 fumble recoveries. Junior DE Red Hibbler (#47) leads the team with 4.5 sacks and also has a forced fumble. Junior DT Davin Vann (#1) has 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Big Brandon Cleveland (#44), a 6’4, 300-pound sophomore DT, has forced 2 fumbles this season. With Dave Doeren, beware of the safety blitz; sophomore Sean Brown (#0) from Charlotte has 2 sacks as well as an interception and a forced fumble. State has 8 INT’s this season by 6 different players. Junior Shyheim Battle (#7) and senior Robert Kennedy (#8) have 2 INT’s each. The Pack has forced 6 fumbles this season and recovered 4. Let’s hope that average doesn’t go up against the fumble-happy Tigers!
The Pack are solid in special teams. In the kicking game, they have a real weapon in senior Brayden Narveson, who has a big leg. He is 8-10 this season with a long of 57, and Doeren won’t hesitate to let him try one from 60. The Pack also has a good punter in Caden Noonkester. He has 6 punts over 50 yards this season, including a 67-yarder. Beware of Jalen Coit (#21) on punt returns and Julian Gray (#8) on kickoffs. Coit averages 13.73 yards per punt return, and Gray returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown against VMI.
State is ranked No.88 in scoring offense (25.4 points per game), No.82 in rushing offense (143.29 yards/game), No.97 in passing offense (204.1 yards/game) and No.99 in total offense (347.4 yards/game). The Pack is ranked No.56 in scoring defense (23.6 points/game), No.27 in rush defense (110.86 yards/game), No.63 in pass defense (222 yards/game) and No.35 in total defense (332.9 yards/game). They are ranked No.55 in turnover margin at plus 0.14 per game, but that is better than the Tigers, who are No.78 at negative 0.14 per game. State is No.66 in 3rd down offense, converting 40.78 percent of the time, but they are No.3 in 3rd down defense, allowing conversions just 27.47 percent of the time. Like the Tigers, State has struggled in the red zone, where they are ranked No.102 nationally, scoring 78.26% of the time. However, their red zone touchdown percentage is a respectable 65.22%. Clemson is one of the worst red zone teams in the nation, which is the only reason the Tigers aren’t undefeated, scoring TD’s on just 53.63% of red zone trips and scoring points on 68.42% of opportunities. State is No.14 nationally with 3.14 sacks per game, and they allow 1.86 sacks per game.
The Tigers were in great shape coming off the bye week, but the injury bug has hit them again. Starting WR Antonio Williams, who finally returned to action at Miami last week, injured his toe and will be out for at least a few weeks. Starting safety RJ Mickens had his appendix removed this week and will also be out. Starting DE Justin Mascoll, who was injured in the second half at Miami, will be a game time decision. The Tigers really missed him late in that game, when the Tigers’ defense couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter. The good news is that starting DE Xavier Thomas, who missed the Miami game for disciplinary reasons, will be back in action. CB Jeadyn Lukus has also been sidelined with an injury. Of course, the Tigers were already down two starters in WR Cole Turner and OG Walker Parks, who will be out for the rest of the season. With Mickens out, we’ll see more of Khalil Barnes, who has had an impressive freshman season. If Mascoll can’t play, let’s hope nothing happens to Thomas or Parker because the defense struggled with Denhoff in the game last week. That being said, Miami had a top 10 offense, and State is no comparison offensively.
TE Jake Briningstool had a career game last week at Miami with 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, setting a Clemson record for yards by a tight end. He is really coming into his own and is a matchup problem for defenses. Briningstool had a great game against State last season with 4 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. I thought that Cade became a little too reliant on him late in the Miami game, but they have developed a great chemistry. Speaking of Cade, he passed for over 300 yards last week but had another bad fumble and threw his first interception in 5 games last week after a reporter jinxed him at Dabo’s press conference days before. I learned years ago not to make that mistake! I mentioned after a Wednesday practice that the Tigers had been doing a great job avoiding turnovers for several games, and I think they had 3 in the first half that week. I thought Dabo was going to punch me after the game! Although the Tigers are down 2 starting receivers in Turner and Williams, they have enough weapons to get the job done in Briningstool, Brown, Collins, Randall, Stellato and Spector. It’s too bad freshman Tink Kelley had to have surgery because Dabo has raved about him, and he could have played in a couple more games while keeping his red shirt.
For the first time this season, Dabo has some confidence in his place kicker. Weitz has made 4 of his last 5 attempts, including a clutch field goal in overtime last week. His only miss was from 51 yards, and that was probably the best ball he has struck this season. It had plenty of leg but barely missed left with a strong wind working against him in that Wake game. If he had that game-winning field goal against FSU to kick today, he would make it with his eyes closed. Let’s hope he keeps it up. Knock on wood!
This is going to sound like a broken record, but once again, the outcome of this game will all boil down to the red zone and turnovers. If the Tigers break even or win the turnover margin, they win this game. If they lose the margin with they types of catastrophic turnovers they’ve had in their 3 losses, it will be another close game, and the Tigers could lose another one in overtime on the road. I don’t believe that’s oversimplifying, either. The Tigers are much more talented—especially at the quarterback and running back positions. State has a good defense, and that might keep them in it if the Tigers struggle on 3rd down or in the red zone. The worm has to turn eventually for the Tigers. I’ve been wrong before, but I have a feeling the curse will be lifted on Saturday. Make it 17 out of the last 19 for the Tigers over the Pack, and the Textile Bowl Trophy remains in Tiger Town for another year!
The Prowl toward a 13th straight 10-win season continues….
CLEMSON 27 NC State 16
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