Clemson Seeks Revenge Against NC State
By Brandon Rink
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Clemson has rattled off a six-game winning streak since losing to Florida State.
If anything, NC State’s Tom O’Brien is honest.
Saturday, his Wolfpack (6-4) head down I-85 to No. 9 Clemson (9-1), facing an offense that is absolutely en fuego – averaging 45 points and 527 yards per game on its current six-game winning streak.
“I don't know if you can stop them,” O’Brien said. “I think you have to try to contain them and slow them down. That's the best thing we can do.”
The Tigers could be eliminated from the Atlantic race by kickoff, with the Seminoles, playing at noon at Maryland, only needing a win or Clemson loss to clinch a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
But with Alabama’s loss last week, their BCS at-large New Orleans rendezvous is all but assured by winning out, and though Dabo Swinney denied it Tuesday, revenge is also a factor after losing by 24 in Raleigh last season at 9-1.
Time / Place / TV: 3:30 p.m. ET / Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC / ABC-ESPN2 (Reverse Mirror)
NC State players to watch (2012 stats): QB Mike Glennon (2,910 passing yards, 22 TD, 13 INT); RBs Shadrach Thornton (436 rushing yards); Tony Creecy (434 rushing yards); WRs Quintin Payton (669 rec. yards); Bryan Underwood (588 rec. yards, 10 TD); Tobias Palmer (396 rec. yards, 674 return yards); DE Darryl Cato-Bishop (5.5 sacks); DT Ty McGill (four sacks); S Brandon Bishop (83 tackles); S Earl Wolff (82 tackles); LB Rickey Dowdy (70 tackles, 11.5 TFL); CB David Amerson (four INT).
Stats to watch:
1) First Half Points, Second Half Defense – In its last three games, Clemson has averaged 37.3 points, 380 yards and 17 first downs in the first half alone. On the season, Clemson has been up an average of 16 points per game after two quarters. Since the FSU loss, Brent Venables’ Tiger defense has allowed 6.5 points and 148 yards per second half, surrendering only four touchdowns. State is a notorious slow-starter, but scored 17 first-quarter points against Wake Forest last week, while shutting out the Deacs in the second session.
2) Third Downs – Clemson is third nationally in third down conversions (53.2 percent), on pace to break a 34-year old school-record (51.6). The Wolfpack counter with the third-best third-down defense in the nation, cutting the Tigers’ number by more than half (25.3 percent). Clemson’s defense is also in the top-15 in the category, making Swinney’s crew one of three teams in that tier in the nation (Texas A&M and Oregon are the others).
3) Sammy Watkins’ touches – “Sophomore slump” looked to be an apt description for Watkins’ season, but he’s averaged 17.1 yards per catch with two touchdowns in his last four, and 6.4 catches per game in his last five games since returning from an illness and injury after the FSU loss. Since returning with a vengeance, the production, and specifically the touchdown catches, have been on the upswing across the board.
NC State offense vs. Clemson defense: Quick, who is higher ranked in total yards: NC State’s offense or Clemson’s defense? In scoring, if you answered Clemson, you’d be correct. The Tigers are 57th in total defense (389.1 YPG) and 33rd in scoring defense (22.4 PPG), while the Wolfpack are 59th (407.8 YPG) and 71st (26.6 PPG) respectively. State quarterback Mike Glennon is second in the ACC only to Tajh Boyd in passing yards (2,910) and touchdowns (22), but is also second in the conference in interceptions (13) with an ACC-leading 417 pass attempts (sixth in pass efficiency). Glennon’s Wolfpack dominated Clemson in Raleigh last season, but turnovers helped, starting three scoring drives inside the Tigers’ 20 and averaging 5.4 yards per play. Clemson held Maryland to 3.3 yards per play last week, but that was against a team that did not have a legitimate threat at quarterback. State should put up some points.
Edge: NC State
Tigers offense vs. Wolfpack defense: The 2011 season shattered records, both team and individual, in TigerTown, and this year’s squad is averaging a touchdown more per game (42.9-35.9), in line to break all of those marks and more. They are good – really, really good. But State isn’t bad defensively, ranking third nationally in third down defense as mentioned above. The Wolfpack are also ranked in the top-20 in red zone defense and 32nd in the Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings.
Misc. (Coaching, Intangibles, Trends, etc.): Last year’s win was O’Brien’s first over Clemson in five seasons in Raleigh. His Wolfpack have lost four of their last five November road games, and hadn’t won a divisional road game since 2005 until edging Maryland 20-18 last month. The Tigers are riding a school-record 12-game home winning streak, and are 7-1 in home November games under Swinney.
Pick: Clemson 44-24