Clemson took to the road this week to take on the NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh. The Tigers were about a 10-point favorite but there was chatter here and there about an upset. The Wolfpack has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Tigers in the past, and Clemson’s offense has been firing on only half its cylinders at best this year, so such chatter was not unwarranted. The Tiger defense, however, has so far been playing at a championship level. Would the Tiger offense finally wake up and get the Tigers back into the playoff conversation?
Clemson started at the 25 after a touchback. D.J. Uiagalelei completed a 7-yard pass to Joseph Ngata and Will Shipley had a 5-yard run, but that was about it for the Tiger drive. They punted and State took over at their 31. Their drive started with a 12-yard completion but they couldn’t convert on 3rd down after a nice tackle by Andrew Booth. The punt sailed into the end zone.
Clemson started with another 5-yard run and then D.J. broke free from a potential sack and delivered a beautiful 29-yard strike to Ngata on the sideline. A couple of plays later, D.J. scrambled right and bought some time to deliver another strike end the back of the end zone to a toe-tapping Justyn Ross for the 32-yard score. The offensive line was still having issues but D.J.’s improved pocket presence was bailing them out and his accuracy issues from previous weeks were nowhere to be found. Clemson led 7-0 at the 9:11 mark of the 1st quarter. The NC State drive began as a flag-fest with multiple Wolfpack penalties and a questionable roughing the passer penalty on Clemson. State couldn’t convert a 3rd & 19 and punted. The punt sailed into the end zone.
The next Tiger drive was a thoroughly unimpressive 3 & out. The Wolfpack started at their 46. Another good tackle by Booth on a bubble screen and more penalties set up 3rd & 6. State completed a crossing route for the 1st down when Tiger pressure couldn’t get to the QB. State executed a methodical drive and moved inside the Tiger 10. On 3rd & 4, the Tiger defense’s streak of not allowing a touch ended when State WR Emeka Emezie made a nice catch on a fade route. With 5 seconds left in the quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
Another unimpressive 3 & out from the Tiger offense followed by a good Will Spiers punt and gave State the ball at their 20. The Tiger defense had their way with the Wolfpack offense and the drive ended with a sack by Xavier Thomas. The punt went 57 yards and the Tigers took over at their 20.
D.J.’s pocket presence issues returned and the offense had another 3 & out, giving up two sacks. Spiers’ punt went for 39 yards and State returned it 9 yards, but a personal foul penalty pushed the Wolfpack back 15 yards to their 45. Booth almost gave up a long TD pass but the Pack WR’s arms were about 3 inches too short for the throw. The Tigers almost stopped the drive, but State had clearly been working on hard counts and drew the defense offside. On the next play, Thomas stripped the ball from State QB Devin Leary and the Tigers recovered at their 42.
A 1-yard run by Shipley and a short completion to Ross set up 3rd & 5. Even after a timeout, the Tigers couldn’t come up with a play that would net 5 yards. The punt was fair caught at the Wolfpack 12. State couldn’t get a 1st down an punted. Clemson took over at their 35.
The Tigers started by trying to go deep to Ngata and drew a pass interference call. Ross picked up 7 on a bubble screen but then a State defender tipped an attempted hot pass to TE Davis Allen and it was intercepted. It was a good call but the defense just made a play.
State had a little success moving the ball on their drive, but the Tiger defense forced them to settle for a 53-yard FG attempt. It was not successful and we went to halftime with the score tied at 7.
State got the ball to start the 2nd half. Tiger LB James Skalksi notably did not play in the 2nd half. The Pack moved out near midfield, but on 3rd & 7 Nolan Turner got a sack. The punt went into the end zone. Guess what? 3 & out for the Tiger offense. Spiers got a good bounce on the punt and State took over at their 23.
Bryan Bresee went out with a knee injury and Baylon Spector was called for targeting, but review reversed it. There was a call for a late hit though. State moved down to the Tiger 23 on a good mix of running and passing. A couple of plays later, the Wolfpack scored on an obviously wounded and tired Tiger defense. When the offense keeps leaving the field with 3 & out series, it eventually takes its toll on a defense no matter how good they are. At the 5:10 mark of the 3rd quarter, Clemson trailed 14-7.
The Tiger offense strapped on their helmets and mustered the strength to, um, pull off another 3 & out. The Tiger defense bailed them out again by forcing a Wolfpack punt. The hapless offense got the ball at their 20.
After an uneventful 1st and 2nd down, D.J. hit Ross for a 1st down. Shipley then got some decent blocking and picked up 16. Ross picked up 9 and then DJ scrambled for 37 down to the 5. Shipley went in untouched as Taisun Phommachanh had to come in for D.J. because the latter’s helmet had come off on the previous play. Finally, the Tiger offense had shown the first sign of life since the 1st quarter. With 10:52 left, the game was tied at 14. The Wolfpack moved into Tiger territory with another balanced drive. Their running game was working because they were getting some blocking from their offensive line. The Tiger defense stiffened and forced State to try another FG and they missed it. Could the Tiger offense keep that spark from the last drive going?
They could not. They answered with another 3 & out. State drove down the field by actually calling plays that weren’t predictable and trying to catch the defense out of position. You know, the exact opposite of what Clemson was doing. They pushed down to the 22 and attempted another FG. And missed it. The football gods were doing their best to help the Tigers salvage an ugly game.
Clemson lost the OT coin toss and State elected to go on defense first. D.J. ran twice and picked up a 1st down to the 12. Shipley picked up 2. Two short runs gained 3 yards. Shipley went down with a left knee injury. On 3rd & 7 from the 9, D.J. hit Ross over the middle to score. B.J. Potter put the critical extra point kick through the uprights. State picked up a 1st down on two runs. Blocking is useful in a running game and they were doing it. Clemson was called for holding, giving State 1st & 4 from inside the 4. A few plays later, State scored with a rollout and pass in the flat to a wide open receiver. State got the extra point, sending the game into a 2nd overtime. Kobe Pace picked up 5 up the middle on 2nd down.
On the 2nd play of their possession, State struck with a pass in the corner of the end zone. It was a great catch by Wolfpack WR Devin Carter. They didn’t make the 2-point conversion. Ross almost made a great catch on an underthrown ball at the goal line. D.J. Looked like he was going to run up the middle but then threw to Ngata but it was out of bounds. It was down to 4th & 5. D.J. tried to hit a double-covered Ross but couldn’t make the catch. State came away with the 27-21 win.
The Tiger offense is in a funk like I don’t recall ever seeing, and I have been following the Tigers since Red Parker was the head coach. That’s the mid 1970s for those of you who have no idea who I’m talking about. Ten drives netted 24 yards. 24!!! The Tigers’ 36-game winning streak against unranked teams is over. I had hoped that the Tiger offense would have started figuring some things out by this time, but they have not, and it is time for some changes. Let’s discuss them in the comments section. The Tiger defense is very good, but you can’t expect to hang them out to dry like the offense has been doing this year and have them bail you out week in and week out. We also saw some injuries to key players like Skalski, Bresee and Shipley. Let’s hope things turn out ok for those young men. We’ll review the game over the next few days, so check back with us for that and previews of next week’s game against BC in Death Valley. Thanks for stopping by!