STS: NC State had an epic *(and muddy) win over Notre Dame. Notre Dame isn’t very good this year, but anytime you beat a big name program it is a big deal. They also beat Wake Forest soundly just the week before giving them a duo of nice wins. Conversely, they also lost to ECU and the F/+ advanced stat rankings have NC State below Air Force and Toledo (at #52). So I ask, will the real NC State please stand up? Who is NC State?
BTP: I think what you've seen from the Pack the last two weeks against Wake Forest and Notre Dame is more indicative of what this team is than what you saw in the East Carolina loss. Based on ECU's performance since, I'm really chalking it up to more of an aberration than anything. They have a lot of talent on this team particularly on offense, but they haven't quite been able to take the next step under Doeren. Going into this season, all of us looked at this portion of the schedule starting with Notre Dame and wondered how we'd be able to survive. Despite Notre Dame not living up to their preseason hype, this portion of the schedule still has NC State playing on the road against two top ten teams in back to back weeks in Clemson and Louisville. That's as brutal of a stretch that any team is going to have this season, but it certainly presents a golden opportunity for NC State to better define who they are in the eyes of the rest of the ACC.
STS: In playful comment threads over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed hypothetical divisional re-alignments - some of which would end the annual Clemson/NC State game. How important is the Textile Bowl to Wolfpack fans?
BTP: From a personal standpoint, I always enjoy playing Clemson. I feel like the two schools have a lot in common, and there have been some tremendous matchups between the two schools over the years. From a competitive balance standpoint, I think it's only a matter of time before divisions get realigned, particularly if Notre Dame decides to ever fully commit to being a full member of the ACC, but we'll see. Who knows what the Swoff has up his sleeve these days, but I'd like to stay in the same division as Clemson.
STS: Jacoby Brissett already won an NFL game for the New England Patriots, but Ryan Finley seems to have done fairly well replacing him with 9 TDs and 0 INTs. How has he been and how has the offense looked overall?
BTP: Simply put, he's been the steady hand this offense has needed. He's not going to wow you with any sort of flashy plays, but he keeps the chains moving, especially on third down, where he has a 60 percent completion rate. The offense has been pretty solid so far this season with Finley at the helm, and we've had some tremendous contributions from Matt Dayes (who I'll talk more about below), Jaylen Samuels and others. Finley has a lot of options available to him on this offense, and he's helped make the most of it, with the team averaging over six yards per play.
STS: Matthew Dayes is one of the most underrated backs in the country. While great backs like Derrick Henry plow through holes opened by elite O-lines, Matthew Dayes has 563 rushing yards through five games without one. What does Dayes bring to this contest?
BTP: Dayes is one of the hardest running backs in all of college football. In the worst conditions maybe any team has seen last week against Notre Dame, he still ran the ball for 126 yards. He's tremendous out of traditional I-formations, but he can also catch passes in the flat to set up screens and turn up field. I know this game in particular will be important to him, because he suffered what ultimately was a season ending injury against the Tigers last season. He will be a major focal point of the Tigers' defense.
STS: What positional or one-on-one matchup gives you hope the Wolfpack can pull an upset?
BTP: Jaylen Samuels is the X-factor to me. Simply put, he's the jack of all trades for NC State. Listed as a fullback on the depth chart, he also lines up at TE and split out at WR. He can do it all for NC State, and if he gets a head of steam on a wheel route, he is incredibly difficult to bring down. He's going to need to have a big day against Clemson's defense, which is only giving up roughly 15 points a game. State is going to need at least a couple of touchdowns from Samuels in this game.
STS: What positional or one-or-one matchup worries you most?
BTP: Can it be all of them when Clemson is on offense? Whether it's Deshaun Watson, or Wayne Gallman, or any of Clemson's fantastic receivers, Clemson's offense is outrageously talented. NC State's biggest weakness is the secondary by a country mile. If Clemson's receivers can get one on one matchups with the secondary, this game will be over before Clemson players finish running down the hill. NC State's key to success has to be putting pressure on Watson and force him into difficult throws, but that's much easier said than done, particularly when he can beat you with his feet too. And then of course there's Gallman, who is one of the best backs in the country. Simply put, Clemson has so much offensive firepower that even if NC State can score points on Clemson's great defense, it's going to be hard to keep pace for the Pack.
STS: Lastly, do you have a prediction for this game?
BTP: I think this one might be close early, but ultimately Clemson wins pretty comfortably, 41-24.