I caught up with Steven Muma over that Backing the Pack to learn a bit more about NC State.
1. For most of my life as a Clemson fan, NC State has felt sort of like a more friendly rivalry. They’re similar type schools, the Textile Bowl tradition, and we both don’t care for Tar Heel blue. But obviously over the past few seasons this has become a pretty heated game. With the added intensity, NC State being more consistently ranked, and the fact that our traditionally more hated rivals of FSU, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech haven’t done much over the past few seasons, this is probably now the game most Tiger fans had circled. What’s the needle like over on the Pack side? Has Clemson moved up the rivalry scale?
I think whenever a series gets more competitive, the temperature is bound to rise. It also helps that there have been some shenanigans of late: Bradley Chubb stealing towels, the laptop incident. It’s definitely more of a rivalry from our side these days—for us it’s been the close misses that have helped drive it, and of course the fact that Clemson is always in the way of winning the division.
2. Who are the key players NC State is going to need to have big games for the Pack to win?
NC State needs Devin Leary to look like last year’s Devin Leary. He hasn’t played especially well (which is not entirely on him) in the two games State has had against decent opponents, and with the way Clemson can stop the run, that’s got to change this week. He needs some of his receivers to step up and help him make plays, too.
Devin Carter finally had a noteworthy performance this past weekend, and if he can do that again, it would help a whole lot. He’s such a difference-maker when he’s locked in (not that I have to explain that to y’all) but remains frustratingly inconsistent.
3. The State defense was great last year, and some are saying this year is better. Is that true?
It certainly didn’t start that way, as they missed a bunch of tackles in the opener against ECU, but they’ve tightened things up over the last few weeks—the performance against Texas Tech was impressive—and the group is in a good place heading into the weekend. I don’t know that I’d pronounce the defense better than last year’s just yet, but if they continue to have good luck with injuries then I think that’ll definitely be the conclusion by season’s end.
There are a lot of veteran playmakers on that side of the ball, and they already have nine takeaways after forcing just 16 last season. (On a side note: State somehow recovered only one opponent fumble in 2021, which is kind of amazing.) If those game-changing plays keep coming, that’ll be a key distinction for this year’s defense as well.
4. Last week, Wake Forest terrorized Clemson with their passing game. What should Clemson fans expect from the NC State passing game? Also, do you think NC State will be reluctant to lean on the passing game if the we see hurricane weather?
The weather is the big question, isn’t it? I’m sure NC State will want to lean on its passing game plenty on Saturday night—and, honestly, will likely have to in order to move the ball with any sort of consistency. But if the wind’s blowing 30 MPH sideways, that’s going to be a bit difficult.
If conditions are really gross then I’d for sure expect NC State to commit more to running the ball early on, though State’s ground game against Clemson’s run defense is not a matchup that’s in the Pack’s favor in any conditions.
5. What are some things that make you optimistic for this game as a NC State fan? What are some things that make you pessimistic?
NC State’s defense can give the team a shot to win any game in the fourth quarter, even if the offense is struggling. That’s the biggest thing for me. I don’t like what I’ve seen from the offense, in general, and I’m not optimistic about seeing them suddenly flip a switch against Clemson. There have been some real red-flag problems there, and the weather this week isn’t going to help.
Then again, Clemson’s got to play in the weather, too. So on the one hand, the weather. But also, on the other hand, the weather.
6. And finally, give me a score prediction.
I don’t think NC State has enough offense to win this game. Give me Clemson 27, NC State 20.