The 4th quarter starts with Clemson kicking off after an excellent TD run by Feaster. From there things get.... hairy as Clemson attempts to hang on and secure a victory in Raleigh. Here are a few of the highlights.
There are Mullen and Carter, the pair are all that’s left of the healthy regular cornerbacks. Mullen is also having the game of his life. The sophomore was pressed into service last year as a four star freshman and seems to have spent this season realizing he knows what he’s doing. He’s always been talented, he’s about to be terrifying.
Ryan Carter was not guaranteed to make the power five and wasn’t even the most celebrated Clemson prospect of his high school football team. The redshirt senior arrived to Clemson with seven other defensive backs, four of them went to the NFL. He was a starter for a national championship team last year. He has already gone from the fringes of the roster to an asset and has the defenses other interception to show for it.
Ray-Ray McCloud, who in no small part started practicing defensive back because a hand injury kept him off the field in summer camp, is on the field. He’s been on the field this entire drive. Ray-Ray McCloud was not nearly as nervous as you were because it may never have occurred to him he can’t do something on a football field. When actual defenders were falling around him McCloud stepped into the breach. He’s being attacked relentlessly, but he is there and he has earned his damn slash.
Amir Trapp has been on the field too, and was asked to do something similarly difficult. This is not the matchup Trapp, who would be at a height disadvantage in the student section, was built for. NC State’s receivers are massive. He’s giving up at least six inches or fifty pounds to almost every skill player on the field. Trapp is out there because there’s no one left, and Trapp hasn’t played many snaps because he hasn’t had to be ready yet. Now he’s being asked to be run over slowly while likely very aware smart men are trying to find a way to pick on him. He’s given up one completion already where they just threw it over his head.
Ferrell gets some penetration because of course he does. He’s having the game of his life while one of the best defensive lines in the country struggles around him. Christian Wilkins is collapsing the pocket as well. Wilkins, who at one point this game was so excited for a teammate he forgot he was supposed to be taking oxygen, is clearly exhausted. Dexter Lawrence is on the sideline with a foot injury, less experienced and smaller defensive tackles have been battling with the NC State line all game.
Ryan Finley had been working on a string of games without an interception stretching back into last year before ND snagged one last weekend. He drops back and lets what the entire stadium knows will be the last pass of the game go. He has been playing well and has been performing well on passing downs in general.
But for a procedural error coming out of their last timeout Finley would have been taking this snap at the Clemson four. Instead he’s posted on the forty and well out of his arm range. Finley maximized his potential in no small part by knowing his limits, and is being asked to break them. The typically accurate Finley lofts one and K’Von Wallace comes down with it surrounded by Tigers. Chad Smith, who has been putting in yeoman work on special teams all year, probably understands what is happening a split second before everyone but Wallace does.
The reasonable thing would have been to kneel. This would allow Kelly Bryant the opportunity to kneel again, and it would have been a merciful end to NC State’s homecoming. K’Von Wallace, either unaware or uncaring, does not make the reasonable decision. After facing a grueling, miserable game on the road, K’Von Wallace has elected to house this shit. You can call this a lot of things, but it almost demands to be called breathtaking. Even his teammates are surprised, and for the first few seconds a collective despair goes through the crowd. Fear doesn’t join the mix until a few seconds later. Fear arrives in the form of Austin Bryant, who has signed up for the plan enthusiastically. You will note that the play clock gives up well before Wallace does. After he and the defense have been pushed to their limit, after any reasonable chance at a loss is gone. K’Von Wallace is running because he can, and steps out of bounds of with the ball raised over his head.