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Textile Bowl Preview: Clemson heads to Raleigh to Battle NCSU

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North Carolina State v Clemson
Not exchanging Christmas lists
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

When the initial playoff rankings were revealed on Tuesday night, I began to think of a way to convey what effect putting Clemson at #5, despite being undefeated since 2017, would have. My thoughts went immediately to the climatic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when what seemingly appeared beautiful and harmless turned into a horrifying display of power, killing everything God deemed worthy of his wrath.

I imagine the two Nazis and Belloq to be Dave Doeren, Dave Clawson, and Will Muschamp, getting dispatched in colorful ways as the Tigers unleash their full power upon their teams. It’s one thing to “just win and you are in,” but when the committee, fueled by the media’s post-UNC game propaganda, presents the possibility that an undefeated Clemson might just be left out, it creates a situation of making sure the eye test gets passed with flying colors come December. The Tigers have already been playing at an elite level since the second quarter of the Louisville game. They have been in position to basically name the score they want. Wofford got a full half, plus a series in the third quarter, of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne despite the game being out of hand by the end of the first quarter. Some of that was to work on being sharp coming out of the half and staying engaged in the game, but I have a hard time believing some of it wasn’t to remind people what Clemson can really do to people when it feels like it.

Now the Tigers get ready to travel to Raleigh, and we all know how frosty the relationship between Clemson and NCSU has been since Dave Doeren took over. This game is just a few miles away from where this season’s trouble began, Chapel Hill, and the drive to exorcise the memories of that game should be evident on Saturday night. Honestly, it really is amazing how much that one close win has affected the narrative for this team. We didn’t hear much about Oklahoma escaping Army last year when November hit, nor did Southern California’s escape against a mediocre Notre Dame team back in 2005 dissuade people from believing they were still the best team in the land. Heck, Charlie Weiss got a contract extension out of losing that game as Notre Dame was showered with credit. Mack Brown didn’t get showered with credit a few weeks back, instead, Clemson was derided to the point a sideline reporter “mistakenly” said the game was a loss. That was a direct byproduct of the media storm of negativity.

Dabo said this week “I don’t know what else we can do,” but privately the solution is going to be to leave a smoldering crater behind anywhere the Tigers go.

Clemson offense vs. NCSU defense: I don’t comprehend how an offense can put up nearly 300 rushing yards a game and over 600 yards as often as this team is doing it and be considered “struggling,” but here we are. Those of us paying attention can note that the offense is hitting on all cylinders now, taking care of the football and eliminating most of the mistakes that slowed things earlier in the season. Travis Etienne is now averaging 9 yards a carry as a feature back...just let that sink in for a minute. Clemson hasn’t even really had to lean on its superior WR talent because the run game has been so devastating. That’s not good news for a Wolfpack defense who got shredded for over 400 yards rushing by Boston College. While Clemson doesn’t run out of the heavy sets that BC does often, you also can’t expect to load the box and ignore the pass to try to stop it like you can against the Eagles. The Wolfpack did a better job against Wake Forest’s run game, but the tradeoff was getting lit up by Jamie Newman for 3 TD’s and 44 points.

The Pack will try to use their 3-3-5 stack defense’s unique looks to create an advantage, but as the season has worn on, teams have adjusted to it and had their way with it. NCSU has some good pass rush numbers, but you have to account for the competition. They tore up the porous FSU and Syracuse offensive lines, and even then they still got beat by the Seminoles. The Tigers should have as little trouble moving the ball and scoring as they have had the last two games.

Clemson defense vs. NCSU offense: I have been amazed by the relative lack of attention the Clemson defense has been getting on the national scene. This defense has been dominant all year long and has yet to give up even 300 yards of offense in a game. The defense has faced five teams in the top 50 in total offense in the country during that stretch. Four of those are top 50 scoring offenses and no team has broken 20 points against the Tigers all year. It isn’t like the Tigers have faced a plodding, hapless offense week in and week out to put up these numbers. Instead, the “eye test” for the committee seems stuck on Alabama slant routes going for 60 yards.

NCSU is in serious trouble on this side of the ball. They can’t figure out a quarterback now that Ryan Finley is gone. Their best hope is Jordan Houston running the football, but he isn’t even in the league of Cam Akers or A.J. Dillon at the moment. This offense isn’t on the level of UNC, Louisville, BC, or Texas A@M, all of whom struggled to move the ball and score on the Tigers. Even a below average Wake Forest defense was able to largely shut down the Pack’s offense. The terrible Syracuse defense held the Pack to just 16 points and under 400 yards. The Tigers are due for a shutout and this night is a great candidate to get one.

Special Teams: There isn’t much to note here that hasn’t been on repeat for a while. B.T. Potter needs to get consistent kicking field goals and hopefully we don’t really have to rely on him or Spiers to make a clutch kick or flip the field with a big punt. The Tigers have avoided the disaster play so far this season, with a near miss at Louisville on Kendrick’s muff inside the 10, and that should be good enough for the time being.

Overall: Scorched earth Dabo debuted for the Florida State game. His relaxed, aw shucks demeanor often masks that chip on the shoulder he has always had. The media, and now the playoff committee, has provided all the ammunition he needs to get this team frothing at the mouth and ready to demolish people. Any concerns of losing an edge due to the relative weakness of the opposition are allayed when people act like Penn State or Alabama are just better and more deserving than the defending national champs, who laid waste to two undefeated teams in last year’s playoff. Clemson completely blew Boston College off the field and Dabo actually likes Steve Addazio. Dave Doeren? Not so much.

Clemson 60-NCSU 0