To quote Anthony Michael Hall’s Farmer Ted character in Sixteen Candles, “This is getting good!” Clemson absolutely destroyed Boston College in a soul crushing fashion not unlike the historic Miami massacre of last season. This was particularly impressive considering the Tigers were coming off a huge emotional victory over Louisville that went down to the very last play just six days before. It would have been very easy to relax considering Florida State’s loss to UNC provided the team more cushion than anticipated and Boston College’s winless streak in the ACC, but instead the team came out and stomped on the Eagles after one weak moment early on a fumbled punt. Once again it was the defense setting the tone by forcing BC into a field goal after the sudden change. Deshaun Watson then looked every bit the assassin Clemson fans have grown to expect from the all time great, even throwing a key block on a huge Wayne Gallman touchdown run. Things are rounding into shape just in time for two critical ACC Atlantic tilts in the next three weeks. Next up are the NCST Wolfpack, fresh off a big win against Notre Dame while Hurricane Matthew pounded Raleigh. Of course, Duke has shown beating the Irish is not what it was last year, but it should be noted nonetheless. I guess Notre Dame just can’t win in the rain...
Clemson offense vs. NCST defense: It seems like deja vu, but Clemson is once again facing a defense that looks pretty stout on paper. However, like last week, closer investigation shows that NCST has padded its statistics against a very weak schedule. Notre Dame would have been a good litmus test but the conditions made passing the ball nearly impossible so that game came down to who could run it best. East Carolina’s spread attack was able to put up 445 yards, 33 points, and 23 first downs on the Pack in their only loss. While I believe the Pack can be successful against teams trying to bully them up front, it remains to be seen if they can match up on the outside against skill like Clemson’s. They have failed miserably in that regard the last two seasons against a full strength Deshaun Watson. The Pack are playing with confidence, but that can be shaken very quickly in Death Valley. All the questions about how to defend this offense I posed at the beginning of the season are back in full play now that it has shaken free from the early season issues. Deon Cain and Jordan Leggett have come to life to join Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and Wayne Gallman in the Clemson attack. Simply put, NCST must pin its hopes on its front four being able to disrupt the Tiger offense without extra help from the second and third levels. They have some good talent up front to work with in Street, Chubb, and Roseboro, but nothing the offensive line from Clemson hasn’t already seen. They also need Clemson to misfire when the inevitable open shots downfield materialize the way the Tigers did earlier in the year. All of this is possible but I would say unlikely.
Clemson defense vs. NCST offense: Coach Dabo Swinney pointed out earlier this week just how bad it was for the defense in Raleigh last year. NCST was really the first team to expose some cracks in the Tigers’ defensive armor that would ultimately cost the team a national title. This year’s Pack offense is better than last year’s, except in one key area: quarterback. Now, Ryan Finley has been doing a very good job this year and was particularly good against a decent Wake Forest defense, but he isn’t physically capable of making the type of hero plays we saw out of Jacoby Brissett last year. I can recall five plays easily where Brissett shrugged off a sack to make a throw and Finley just isn’t going to be able to do that. What Finley is very good at is the type of thing Troy tries to do which is featuring quick throws (equivalent to a 3 step drop if under center). Clemson will need to do a great job taking away those quick reads and make Finley hold the ball for the DL to do its thing. Getting those hands up to deflect balls will also be very important because they won’t be able to get there as much as we might be used to with this system. This is all predicated on stopping the run game with Matt Dayes. Clemson struggled with Dayes before he went out with an injury in last year’s game and he is a top flight back to be sure. State scares you a little because their style fits well to attack what little weaknesses have been shown in the Clemson defense so far. They are great at attacking the flats with guys like Jaylen Samuels and they have solid tight end play as well. They have a shifty, speed guy on the outside in Nyheim Hines who can also cause some problems if matched up on a linebacker or even Van Smith in man to man.
Clemson will look to stuff the run and force Finley to throw the ball to win the game. State would love to stay under 30 pass attempts, so if that number goes higher, the chances are very good that Clemson is in control. Tackling will be at a premium with the likely bevy of plays into the flats Clemson will see Saturday. NCST will have to be efficient to protect its defense, so ball control will be at the top of its list. Much like the Georgia Tech game, how Clemson defends first down will be a huge indicator of how much of a threat the Pack can be. Clemson stuffed GT on first down and the feared upset was never in question. The similarities to Troy are there on offense. Troy is better at WR and NCST has the better running backs.
Special Teams: Well, the second big screw up of the year happened in Boston when Ray-Ray muffed the first punt of the game. Of course, I’d rather that happen in a game like that than a much tighter affair, so hopefully we got that out of the way. NCST needs help in a game like this and got it last year on special teams. Clemson’s vastly improved kick and punt coverage will need to once again be on point to eliminate easy scores or field position necessary for pulling an upset. A blocked punt was the key play last week for NCST’s win over Notre Dame.
Overall/Prediction: NCST has come into this game in great shape the last two years, largely because its non-conference slate has been a complete joke. Even when they get Notre Dame on there with the ACC 5 game deal, they luck out with a down Irish squad playing in conditions where they can’t use their passing game like they would. Dave Doeren is in need of a signature win and the door is open for a third place Atlantic finish if the Pack can knock off one of the big three. Unfortunately for the Pack, Clemson is playing in Death Valley where it has been unbeatable over the last three years AND the offense has hit its stride. Their offense will cause some problems but not enough to matter in the end. Clemson 48 NCST 21