BTP: There's a ton riding on this game for both teams - for Clemson, there are CFB playoff implications as well as the Atlantic Division. What is it about Dabo that makes him so good at his teams being ready for the moment?
BL: So far the biggest thing is his message isn't stale. Players want to play for him and he wants to be coaching. I think that gives him a unique opportunity to get his team prepared for the game. I also think we as football fans tend to characterize Dabo as that ,"Awww Shuccks," type of coach and that isn't the case. There is a lot more Nick Saban in him than a lot of people think. He's doing all the little things to get his team prepared and knows how to motivate them. That's why performances like Syracuse are so rare.
BTP: How has Kelly Bryant been health-wise since that awful hit in the Syracuse game?
BL: Concussion wise we haven't seen any side effects. His ankle also seems to be back to full strength. I was worried because if his ankle was sprained, and it appeared to be, you really need a few months of rest for it to heal. But against Georgia Tech, in pouring rain, his ankle was fine and the coaching staff was willing to run Bryant multiple times, arguably too much given the circumstances.
BTP: Do the Tigers have any major injuries to report for this week?
BL: The only short term injuries are to CBs Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond are out for NC State. But both were expected and both have struggled with injuries all year. It is a loss because of depth, but it isn't something that causes a real immediate concern for Clemson.
BTP: What players on the Wolfpack offense give you the most concern heading into the game Saturday? How about on the Pack's defense?
BL: On defense the entire DL worries me. Clemson has had some real problems in pass protection this year. And given that y'alls defense can actually do some damage I don't know if Bryant is going to have enough time to go through his progressions and find holes in the secondary. In a way I kind of liken this game to our game against Auburn. The difference on defense is if y'all have enough athletes in the secondary to make things work.
On offense my worry is the multiple looks you guys give. Last year we struggled against Matt Canada's offense in Pittsburgh, and ultimately lost. Our defense struggled with motion, different looks, and the general movement of the offense. If NC State can get Clemson's defense off balance then all the speed and talent in the world isn't going to save them this year. And I'm not sure Clemson has the offense for a shootout.
BTP: Who is one player for Clemson that isn't as well known but is critical to a Tigers' victory?
BL: He's gotten a bit of press, but Travis Etienne is the name to know. He's basically Clemson's backup RB and he has the speed and acceleration of an elite RB. For those that remember think CJ Spiller. He accelerates through the hole and can take a hit. Etienne is a bit inconsistent in pass protection, but he's a game changer and has ripped off several long runs for Clemson this year. If he gets going then Clemson's running game is in pretty good shape and it could be a very long afternoon for NC State.
BTP: How will Clemson look to stop Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels on Saturday?
BL: It all starts up front. The goal is to make NC State one dimensional and force y'all to throw the ball. I trust our secondary to do their jobs. But if our front 4 can't get pressure then Samuels is going to have a field day given the number of ways NC State likes to get him the ball. The good news this year for Clemson is that our LBs are much better in pass coverage than they have been in previous years. For Hines that same DL is key because the speed of our DL can really limit a RB, even someone with as much speed as Hines. Against Georgia Tech we saw our DEs getting outside on option play consistently. Things will be a bit different on Saturday because of Hines' ability, but if the DL is able to chase side to side and give our LBs time to get over then I like our chances of at least containing Hines on most plays.
BTP: Let's get a prediction. Who wins Saturday and why?
BL: This game has always worried me. Going into the season I thought it was our 3rd toughest game on par with Louisville. With how the season has played out this is our toughest remaining game and second toughest on the schedule. Despite the talent advantage NC State does enough things on both sides of the ball to expose some of Clemson's weaknesses. I think this one is close, but Clemson wins by a TD. Somewhere in the 24-17 range I think.
Many thanks to Brian for answering our questions. You can catch my answers to his questions over on Shakin The Southland.