NC State is off to Clemson this weekend, where they are three-score dogs, according to Vegas. In preparation for what will no doubt be a thrill-a-minute contest, I spoke with SB Nation's Clemson blog, Shakin The Southland. My answers to their questions are right here.
1.) I have no clue what happened in the game between our schools last year. Do you have any idea what happened in that game?
Last year's game is kind of a blur. I remember getting really angry early and often. We played poorly against a lot of teams down the stretch, but that may have been as poor as we played in all facets of the game. So far this year we've avoided complete meltdowns like that. If the game were at NC State, I'd be very concerned about the players looking ahead to South Carolina next week. But I think playing at home will help keep the team focused this week.
2.) I've heard a fair bit of criticism of Clemson's defense this season, and in September it looked like that unit might be a major liability. Over the last month, though, no team has scored more than 20 points on the Tigers--is that a product of the schedule, or has the defense matured?
It's definitely a combination of those factors. Wake and Duke have average offenses, and we did a very good job against both on a yards/play basis. Maryland has one of the worst offenses in the country right now, so keeping them unde wraps isn't saying too much. But the DL is starting to grow up. Early in the season they were getting blown off the line, opening gaping holes in the run game. They've done much better job recently of holding their own. Clemson's 2-deep along the front 4 consists of 6 freshmen and sophomores. Game experience has been huge for those guys.
In addition, Spencer Shuey has taken over the MLB spot, replacing 5-star recruit Stephone Anthony. The change coincides directly with the improvement of the defense. It's easy to see why, as Shuey seems to always be involved in the play. He's far from quick, but he's a very smart and physical player who does a very good job of reading his keys.
3.) What is the defense's biggest weakness?
Defending the pass. It's not even close. At the beginning of the year our weakness would've been everything, but we've shored up our run defense. Breeland is a pretty good CB, not lockdown, but solid. But the other CB spot is lacking talent. Gary Peters will get the start, but he hasn't shown anything to this point to suggest he's worthy of being a starting CB in the ACC. And since he's replacing injured starter Darius Robinson, there isn't depth behind him to take his spot if he struggles.
Safety play has also been subpar. Rashard Hall used to be a top notch safety, but he suffered a microfracture in his knee last year that has left him a couple steps too slow ever since. Communication between safeties and CBs have been poor as well, as blown assignments have been common place. I think it's fair to say that Mike Glennon is licking his chops this week when he watches film of Clemson's secondary.
4.) While Sammy Watkins received the bulk of the attention heading into the season--with good reason--it's been DeAndre Hopkins who has produced the big numbers for Clemson this season. The fact that Watkins has missed several games has no doubt been a factor in that, but should we expect Hopkins to be Tajh Boyd's primary option?
I think you'll see Hopkins and Watkins get a similar number of targets this week. Coming into the season I thought Sammy Watkins was not just our best WR, but one of the top 2 or 3 guys at the position in the country. I thought Hopkins was very good, and great second banana to Watkins. After watching the first 10 games of this season, I'm not so sure that Hopkins isn't the better receiver right now. Either way, both guys are incredible. They are the two best WRs in the conference and one of the best duos in the country. With Watkins fully healthy and back in game shape, this offense been more aggressive by taking more deep shots down the field. With the way Clemson spreads defenses out and makes them defend the entire field, it's impossible for DC's to take both guys out of the game. Your best bet is to get pressure on Tajh Boyd so that he doesn't have time to find open receivers. If he's given time, they will get open.
5.) NC State has no ground game. How will you prepare for Mike Glennon's numerous and pointless play-fakes, which result in checkdowns to running backs who are slow?
Did you watch the Clemson/FSU game? Checkdowns to running backs killed us. Granted, FSU had a very quick and elusive tailback in Chris Thompson. But our LBs did a terrible job of covering the flats. Manuel was able to get 10 yards a pop by dumping it off to him.
Plus, I'd be be surprised if he has to dump it down to tailbacks very often, because NC State will have receivers running open through our secondary. Perhaps the pointless play-fakes will give our DL more time to get after the QB. That's Clemson's best shot at slowing down NC State's passing attack. I don't think you'll see many "coverage" sacks.