Keys Against Clemson

C. J. Wilson and the Pack secondary have to keep Clemson receivers in front of them. - Grant Halverson

Only about 19 things have to go right.

Clemson (9-1, 6-1), which ranks 6th in the FBS in scoring offense at 42.9 points per game, will be the 3rd top 10 scoring offense N. C. State (6-4, 3-3) has faced in 2012. Against Florida State, which ranks 4th with a 43.1 average, the Pack shutout the Noles for a half and held them to a fraction of their normal scoring output. The formula is simple though easier said than done: get pressure on the quarterback and limit big plays. State sacked E. J. Manuel 4 times, picked him off, and only allowed one play of 30+ yards. Boom. Upset!

Against North Carolina, which ranks 9th in scoring at 40.2 points per game, State failed to follow the formula. Bryn Renner was sacked a couple of times but did not get the kind of consistent pressure that leads to numerous hurried incompletions and potentially picked passes. Erik Highsmith had a 45-yard touchdown run and a 41-yard reception; Italian Stallion Giovani Bernard had a 38-yard run and later broke a lot of red-bleeding hearts with the game-winning 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. Boom. Face palm!

State, with its one dimensional offense and poor pass protection, simply cannot survive a shootout. For further evidence, see the debacle in Coral Gables. And, once again, the way to avoid a shootout is to pimp slap the opposing QB in the face a lot (figuratively speaking, of course). To wit: in their 6 wins the Pack are averaging 4.17 sacks compared to just 1.25 in losses. Overall, State ranks 10th in the nation and first in the ACC with 3 sacks per game.

It would also be super to limit big plays. Yielding the big play has been State's bugaboo for a couple of seasons under Mike Archer's Jon Tenuta's gambling, aggressive defense. The Pack have yielded 28 plays of 30+ yards this season, 111th worst of 124 FBS programs. Fun stat: Clemson has surrendered 28 plays of 30+ yards this season as well, tying the Pack for this dubious distinction. Only Duke from the ACC is worse; actually, Duke is dead last in all the land.

Given that Clemson has more weapons at its disposal than Eric Holder, and given that Clemson's defense is as porous as poor us, all signs point to a shootout.

Or, maybe not. It might be a stretch to say that TOB has had Dabo's number since Tenuta rode into town, but the Pack have held the Tigers in check in their last two meetings. State lost the infamous punt game 14-13 in 2010 but held Clemson 10 points below its scoring average. Last year, the Tigers were humbled 37-13 in Raleigh, managing 20 points less in that game than their season average. If State can hold Clemson to 15-20 points below its average this time, we will have ourselves a ballgame. Game in the forties=loss. Game in thirties=90% chance of a loss. Game in the twenties=I'm saying that there's a chance!

Keep an eye on Tajh Superfluous H Boyd's jersey. The more green on it, the more likely the score is kept low enough for State to stay in the game. Last year the Pack got to Tiger QBs 6 times, including Boyd on 5 occasions, and Superfluous H started chucking and ducking, seemingly not caring who caught it so long as he was spared more pain. Not surprisingly, he was picked twice.

Let's squeeze in an unexpected point that was not accounted for in the opening: DeAndre Hopkins has gone for 5 catches, 80 yards and 5 catches, 124 yards over the last two meetings, yet Clemson has struggled to put up points. Why? No one else has had a big game. If Hopkins OR Watkins OR Ellington goes off, it's OK. But change the OR to AND and we have a problem.

To recap: Sacks. Limit explosive plays. Only one weapon fires. Game in upper 20s. Win!

Unfortunately, that's a whole lot more that needs to go right compared to last week, when all State needed was for Tanner Price to keep sucking.

*************************************************************************************

Oh, and below is the weekly 4 factors installment that I totally didn't even really reference in the article. Note that the Pack has improved markedly on special teams. Tobais Palmer's return helped in that regard. Note also that State will be playing a team that has gone from very good on offense and special teams to elite on offense and special teams, but that defense is essentially the same defense we hung 37 on last year. There really could be reason to watch this one all the way to sundown and beyond on Saturday.

2011

N. C. State

Football Outsiders Metric

Clemson

50

Overall FEI

32

58

Offensive FEI

22

25

Defensive FEI

50

92

Special Teams Efficiency

37

2012

N. C. State

Football Outsiders Metric

Clemson

49

Overall FEI

19

66

Offensive FEI

12

32

Defensive FEI

58

69

Special Teams Efficiency

8

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