Clemson currently stands as the ACC’s best and probably only chance at securing a bid for this year’s College Football Playoff. With FSU’s loss last week to Georgia Tech, Clemson is the last unbeaten in the conference, and have made it thus far in convincing fashion. The Tigers have shown their strength in blowout wins (see last week’s obliteration in Miami) but also have proven themselves capable of pulling out close wins over quality teams, including a two point victory over Notre Dame and a three point win at Louisville. Led by dynamic quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson has paved the way for an appearance in the four team playoff at the end of the season, and has even opened the door for a National Championship. They have allowed merely over 14 points per game to opposing teams, and feature a defense in every sense. They feature the second-highest defensive efficiency rating in the country, and should come out strong today against North Carolina State. The Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, can certainly not be taken lightly. Deshaun Watson has grown into one of the best in the country at his position, and is held up by a strong supporting cast. The dual-threat QB is aided by a strong ground game featuring Wayne Gallman, who has over 700 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns so far this season. Clemson also has a wide range of receivers, among which is Watson’s primary target, Artavis Scott, who just reached 40 receptions on the season. Not turning the ball over will be key for Watson and the Tigers today, as any momentum in NC State’s favor could turn this game on its heels. This is especially true against a young, hungry, and aggressive North Carolina State defense.
Clemson’s defense may be one of the nation’s best, but the Wolfpack hold a force not to be reckoned with as well. The Pack rank 3rd in total defense and passing yards allowed, have allowed the 4th fewest first downs in the FBS, rank 15th in rushing defense, and is the country’s number one unit when it comes to fourth down conversions. On top of that, this group ranks third in scoring defense. Some of this comes from having a fairly easy nonconference schedule, but even in tougher matchups, State’s defense has excelled in almost every aspect of the game. It is the offense that has to be worried about in this one. The defense should be able to keep the game where NC State has a solid chance throughout, as long as the other half of the team does its job. In NC State’s two losses this season, this has simply not been the case. Very conservative play calling kept Jacoby Brissett from reaching his full potential, and as a result, the Wolfpack struggled immensely to get anything going. The failure of the passing attack impacted the ground game, as Matt Dayes, one of the premiere threats in college football, was unable to get much going either. Dayes is number two in the ACC in rushing yards (793), behind only FSU’s Dalvin Cook, leads the ACC and ranks seventh in the FBS with 12 rushing TDs, and is coming off a 200 yard, 2 TD performance one week ago against the Demon Deacons. Getting him into space is of utmost importance in today’s game, as he is always a threat to break a long run with his extreme agility, quickness, and speed. However, the offensive attack is not entirely on Dayes today. Fifth-year senior QB Jacoby Brissett will also look to impress in what could be the biggest game of his career. NC State holds one of the most balanced offenses in the country, but if the Wolfpack want a win, it will come down to the kind of game that Brissett has. With a plethora of great receivers, the main target being big TE Jaylen Samuels, and a weapon like Dayes out of the backfield, Brissett is completing two-thirds of his passes this year for 1332 yards and 10 TDs, versus just one interception. He is a smart QB whose athleticism and innate ability to escape defenders bring multiple elements to his game that challenge the defense. Just as in last year’s near-upset of Florida State, Brissett will need to step up, make some plays, and fire the ball down the field, getting away from the ultra-conservative approach that plagued the offense in its two losses.
Look for today’s game to be a physical battle, with the defenses leading the way for both teams. However, do not be surprised if both offenses come out firing to gain the upper hand early and often. Clemson opens as a 10.5 point favorite over NC State, and has a winning streak of well over 30 games against unranked teams, dating back to a 2011 loss to the Wolfpack. This is a game that NC State could pull off an upset in, as Clemson may be caught looking ahead to its big game with FSU. It will be a close one throughout, and I am picking the Wolfpack to upset the unbeaten Tigers by a score of 21-20.