We’re back from bye week with a bang as the last undefeated team on our schedule comes into our building starving for a program defining win in the Dave Doeren era. #16 N.C. State, led by the best QB in the conference so far this year, Ryan Finley, thinks they have a shot to unseat Clemson in the Atlantic Division. State lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, and yet, here they are undefeated in mid-October with all their goals in front of them. More on this game below.
The big games today feature a bunch of teams coming off of big wins that need to show they are truly for real by being consistent. First up, Michigan State. The Spartans upset Penn State last week and will try to ride the momentum as in-state rival Michigan comes into their house today at noon. Michigan is coming off of a comfortable win in the playoff eliminator game against Wisconsin. This is a very interesting game. Also interesting is Purdue. They started the year 0-3, and since then, have 3 blowout wins over BC, Neb, and Ill. They get Ohio State in their building today and they haven’t been tested since their 1 point win over Penn St. a few weeks ago.
In the SEC, 2 teams coming off of big wins are Tennessee and LSU. Tennessee beat Auburn last week and this week they get Alabama in front of the home crowd. LSU knocked off Georgia for us last week and this week they get a good Miss State team that will challenge them physically.
The primetime game in the Pac 12 features the conference’s remaining playoff hope, Oregon, traveling to Washington State. Oregon is a very good team that should be undefeated right now, but they have no margin for error anymore. I think Gameday actually did us a favor by going to Washington State for the first time and jacking up that environment for the storybook upset.
Oklahoma also travels to TCU in their first game since their loss to Texas. This will also be their first game without DC Mike Stoops, who was let go after allowing 48 to Texas in the game. Remember when Stoops was brought in to Oklahoma to help Brent Venables coach defense because Venables was the problem and needed to go? (Prepare for shameless ‘I told you so’) Remember when I wrote in 2011, “He (Venables) pretty consistently has the top (or 2nd) rated defense among the top ten “average plays run” teams. Maybe we should borrow some defensive ideas from him…or just get him (#$$$).” Special thanks to OU fans! We have appreciated your cast-off for the past 7 years, especially in 2015, when we rushed for 312 yards on you in the playoffs and held you to 67.
12:00, Fox, #6 Michigan at #24 Michigan State
12:00, ABC, #9 Oklahoma at TCU
12:20, ACC, UNC at Syracuse
3:30, CBS, #1 Alabama at Tennessee
3:30, ESPN, #16 N.C. State at #3 Clemson
3:30, ESPN2, Wake Forest at Florida State
7:00, ESPN, #22 Mississippi State vs. #5 LSU
7:30, ABC #2 Ohio State at Purdue
7:30, Fox, #12 Oregon at #25 Washington St.
N.C. State at Clemson
I’m a little concerned about the psyche of the team for this game if we don’t get out to a fast start. This has the potential to be Syracuse II if we tip-toe around on offense for a quarter. It behooves the offensive staff to give ETN touches early, sprinkle in some RPOs, and throw downfield (outside and middle). We don’t need to let NCS build confidence. We need to implement the kind of shock and awe we are capable of on both sides of the ball.
Clemson has won 13 of the past 14 games against N.C. State, but over the past 3 years, The Textile Bowl has been a close, entertaining game (for folks who want us to be knocked off). In 2015, we saw Clemson come out with some very uninspiring play on defense and special teams. Fortunately, Deshaun and the offense were ON and we were able to keep NCS at a distance late in the game and win 56-41. In 2016, we turned the ball over 4 times and needed a missed FG by NCS to force overtime. Marcus Edmond intercepted Finley in the EZ for the win. In 2017, Ryan Finley shredded our defense from the jump by completing his first 15 passes en route to 338 yards passing and 3 TDs. Kelvin Harmon had 155 yards receiving in the game. An 89 yard run by Feaster and some timely defense (and a timely illegal shift penalty) allowed us to escape with a 38-31 win.
N.C. State has lost a lot of firepower from last year’s team including 7 players to the NFL draft and all 4 DL. They’ll have 9 new starters on defense. Clemson is more talented and deeper at every position group except for QB and DB, and even those two are debatable. The cupboard is not bare for NCS though, they have performed better on both sides of the ball than a lot of experts thought.
Offensively, NCS returns All-ACC caliber players in Ryan Finley at QB and Kelvin Harmon at WR. Jakobi Meyers has emerged this year at WR, but really, they can go 6 deep at wideout. Passing is the strength of their team and they compliment that with a 235 pound RB to pound you when you get light in the box.
Ryan Finley leads the nation in avoiding pressure on dropbacks and Clemson leads the nation in pressuring the QB. Something has to give today. NCS has not played the best schedule and the possibility exists that this is a mirage. Then again, Finley can process information fast and get the ball out better than anyone we’ve faced. To me, this is the undisputed key to the game. Can we make life miserable for him in the backfield and help our DBs out?
Everybody’s talking about the weakness of the Clemson DBs, but I’m not buying that. I’m buying that Kellen Mond benefitted from non-calls on holding and our dropped INTs. We had assignment issues in that game, but Mond threw balls up for grabs and his receivers came down with them. Syracuse, the other oft-used example of the DBs getting worked, averaged 6.1 yards per attempt. Over a full season, that would rank 118th best in the nation. If that’s Syracuse dominating, I sure hope Finley dominates us like that again today.
The issue we have at DB is a talent level issue. Each of the 4 players at S, as well as the NB, has demonstrated some holes in their game. That’s why I hope we allow our CBs to play football against these WRs. Last year, we didn’t challenge them underneath and Finley picked us apart.
Defensively, NCS is tough, aggressive, and fast. However, I think they are going to have to stack the box to stop ETN. This is going to give Lawrence opportunities downfield over the middle. Will the staff take them? That’s been the question. We have allowed teams to stack the box 4 or 5 possessions in a row before we make them pay for doing that. Today, I would prefer us to send that message to the defense early and often in demoralizing fashion. We’re too talented at QB and WR to not attack teams over the middle downfield.
I expect NCS to blitz heavily to test our OL’s ability to run block ‘mano y mano’ and test Lawrence’s poise in the pocket. This will allow for big plays in the run game if we can block them. RPOs, RB screens, checkdowns, and the TE seam should be good today.
I’m a little nervous about this one based on the slow starts offensively we have been having all year, but I have a hunch that today, they came out and put their best foot forward. NCS has done some talking prior to the game and I think Clemson is starting to peak. I think we could see an appearance of the “Genius-Kid” today and turn this one into a laugher.