Once again, we've divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the 2-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the 2-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating regardless of scheme.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over-perform their original star rating (e.g., Hunter Renfrow, Lamar Jackson) and as well as those who underperform their star ratings. As such, this is only one portion of the analysis we will publish on the upcoming game, but we hope this is an informative one.
In each of the past two games we’ve found and highlighted major mismatches favoring Clemson. Against Louisville it was Clemson’s D-line going up against Louisville’s O-line which included two 2-star players and three 3-star players. Against Boston College it was the Tigers skill players (WR/RB/TE) going up against a less talented Eagles secondary. We predicted that the Tigers would beat them over-the-top. In both cases, the Tigers capitalized on mismatches and got tremendous wins.
To start our analysis for NC State, let’s look at the offenses:
Interestingly, the Tigers average exactly one star better than the Wolfpack at each of the three units on offense. Despite the clear advantages, NC State has two dangerous players the Tigers will have to account for. One player who has exceeded their initial star rankings is former 3-star RB Matt Dayes. He is among the nation’s best running backs. He’s on the same level as Dalvin Cook and will be a great test with a trip to FSU only two weeks away. He’s also a solid pass catcher and will challenge the Tigers in the flats.
The other offensive player to highlight is former 3-star Jaylen Samuels. He is listed at FB, but will play TE and WR. He has the talent to burn the Tigers over the middle against guys like Ben Boulware in coverage. If the Tigers neutralize Samuels, I’d be surprised if NC State can keep it close. He is key for the Wolfpack.
Now on to the defense:
The NC State defense ranks 20th in the S&P+, but as will be the case against most opponents, the Tigers D-line is on another level. This is in part because Wake Forest, NC native Dexter Lawrence chose Clemson over NC State. The 340lbs freshman would be the Wolfpack’s best player, but instead he gives the Tigers D-line a huge boost.
As was the case with our Blue Chip Analysis of the Louisville matchup, the Tigers big advantage will be in the trenches. NC State is tied for 14th in the country with only one sack allowed per game (five total). Louisville came in with similarly strong numbers but gave up a handful of sacks that played a major role in the Tigers controlling the first half.
Due to Clemson’s great raw talent and proven performance from the D-line, I expect the NC State O-line to face their toughest test. Dexter Lawrence, Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant (who is set to return) give reason to believe the Tigers will give the NC State O-line trouble despite their strong play all season.
If the Tiger D-line is unable to win this matchup, things get scary. NC State presents the best RB Clemson has faced all year and maybe the best they will face. Ryan Finley has been a flawless game manager with 9 TDs and 0 INTs, and the ‘Pack are a confident bunch after beating Notre Dame.
That said, the Tigers have the firepower on offense to win a shootout and the muscle on defense so they won’t have to. Austin Bryant, Hunter Renfrow, and Jalen Williams will return. Getting them some game action before the bye to prepare them for Florida State is a nice luxury. Winning this game is a must, but the talent, game performance, and home field advantage make picking the Tigers a safe bet.