Trying to predict Clemson games this season has been about as useful as a knife in a gun fight, but why not give it another go. Clemson is coming off one of its most embarrassing losses in recent memory, and NC State is rolling into town with a division title in their sights. How motivated Clemson is in this game could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Clemson offense vs. NC State defense
Clemson's offense was nothing short of a disgrace last week. Kyle Parker had possibly his worst game at Clemson, barely completing half his passes and throwing two drive-killing interceptions. But who can blame him? Apparently Boston College knew what was coming. The onus is on offensive coordinator Billy Napier to mix it up a little better this week, lest the Tigers have another week of offensive ineptitude. As if the Tigers performance last week wasn't bad enough, they learned after the game that they would be without running back Andre Ellington for at least two weeks. Jamie Harper will finally get his chance to prove that he can be a legitimate rushing threat, and his play will greatly affect Clemson's. Dwayne Allen had perhaps his best game last week, and Parker needs to continue to use him. The receivers had a couple of costly drops last week, including a third down drop by DeAndre Hopkins that could have gotten the Tigers deep into the red zone. They will have to step it up this week. The Wolfpack defense hasn't been great, but it's probably good enough to hold what Clemson calls an offense in check. State's linebackers are its best unit, led by fifth-year senior Nate Irving, one of the ACC's best defensive players. Audie Cole and Terrell Manning are solid as well. The defensive line is nothing to write home about, but junior tackle J.R. Sweezy has been impressive. The secondary is young, but sophomore safety Earl wolff is a budding superstar.
Key matchup: Harper vs. NC State linebackers
With Ellington out, Harper undoubtedly becomes the key player in this entire game. If he can run downhill and pick up consistent yardage, maybe he can bring these guys close enough to the line for the Tigers to stumble into some passing success.
Advantage: North Carolina State
NC State offense vs. Clemson defense
The Wolfpack have the No. 15 passing offense in the country, and it all starts with dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson (19 touchdown passes). If Clemson's history against running quarterbacks is any indication, it may appear that the Pack also have the No. 15 rushing offense. Wilson's top targets are seniors Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams. At 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 respectively, these two will provide the Clemson secondary with its toughest test since Miami. The Wolfpack also boast an all-conference caliber tight end in George Bryan (22 catches, three touchdowns). True freshman Mustafa Greene (495 yards, four touchdowns) has stabilized State's running game. Clemson's defense shut Boston College out in the second half, and hopefully they can carry that momentum into this game, because stopping NC State will be a tough task. Da'Quan Bowers wasn't up to his usual standard last game, but he will need to make his presence felt in this one. The front four has to keep contain and pressure Wilson simultaneously because he can beat you on the ground or through the air. Clemson's linebackers need to keep the running game in check because DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall will need to be able to focus on slowing State's receivers down. Clemson will need an all-around defensive effort in this game.
Key Matchup: Wilson vs. Clemson's front seven
Wilson is just as great a threat on the ground as he is in the passing game. Clemson has to keep his feet in check and force him into some mistakes through the air. The last thing you want is for the secondary to have to make plays in the run game.
After being great all year, Clemson finally had its special teams meltdown. Chandler Catanzaro missed two field goals, and Harper fumbled away a kickoff return. Richard Jackson is taking over place-kicking duties this week, and Dawson Zimmerman will continue to punt. Clemson may need some big plays in the return game to swing the momentum on Saturday. Andy Leffler has been a solid punter for the Wolfpack, and kicker Josh Czajkowski has made 12 of his 15 field goal attempts. The Wolfpack are yet to make any big plays in the return game.
Clemson's division title hopes suffered a crushing blow last week, and motivation may be at a minimum for the Tigers. Clemson is the more talented team, but that is yet to matter this season (or any other season). Russell Wilson is a stud, and Clemson is missing its only playmaker. I don't expect the Tigers to go quietly, but I think NC State will be on a mission.
North Carolina State 24 Clemson 17