NC State had a momentum problem on Saturday. Clemson, which hadn’t scored on its opening drive all season, got excellent field position after Derion Kendrick’s 40-yard kickoff return to open the game and marched 57 yards on nine plays to take a 7-0 lead, making for a raucous atmosphere in Memorial Stadium. State went three and out in its first possession, and the crowd noise grew. Still trailing 7-0, the Pack ran right into the teeth of the Tiger run blitz on third and one on their next possession, resulting in a loss of yardage and another punt. The Clemson momentum marched on. At 14-0, Kelvin Harmon got behind the defense but his normally sure hands failed him, resulting in a drop on a pass that could’ve cut the lead in half. There were opportunities to cut off Clemson’s momentum, but State didn’t execute, and ultimately a cacophony of turnovers buried the Pack as the game got out of hand in a hurry.
Throw in a bevy of injuries, and things simply couldn’t have gone worse for a Pack team that was punched in the mouth and never responded in a 41-7 setback that showed them to be pretenders rather than contenders.
I try to give a nod to the craft brew scene in our opponents’ neck of the woods in each mixed six, but apparently the denizens of Clemson, SC are stuck in the 20th century and are content to sully their livers with such libations as Bud Light and Busch Ice, so I had to get creative on this one. Enter Clemson Bros. Brewing Company, a Middletown, NY-based brewery that has absolutely nothing to do with Clemson, SC. (And I’ll throw in some aptly-named brews from Columbia too, just to annoy any trolls that show up on the boards to gloat.)
First beer—Clemson Bros. Brewing Company’s Ryes Above pale ale: In the last two seasons, NC State has had three chances—twice against Clemson and last year at Notre Dame—to rise above being a borderline top 25 program and become nationally relevant. A win Saturday would’ve propelled the Pack into the top 10 and had them in the conversation for an ACC championship and the college playoff. State didn’t rise to the challenge chiefly because it failed to do one thing well that had been the catalyst for its 5-0 start: converting on third down. As the Tigers marched to a 24-0 halftime advantage, State moved the sticks just once on third down in the entire first half. The Pack, which led the nation in third down conversion percentage coming into the game, finished just 2-for-12 on the penultimate down. They had just 16 total first downs on offense, and four of those were thanks to penalties. State came in averaging over 26 first downs a game, good for top five in the nation, but simply couldn’t stay on the field and get any rhythm going offensively on Saturday.
Second beer—Clemson Bros. Brewing Company’s Manhattan Project double IPA: Trevor Lawrence manufactured the game’s lone bomb, a 46-yard strike to Tee Higgins that put the Tigers up 14-0. Harmon dropped the retaliatory strike in the next possession and the full Pack implosion was on. Higgins burned Nick McCloud badly on his long touchdown grab, perhaps showing why McCloud and his cornerback counterpart Chris Ingram played soft coverage for most of the game. It’s a bad sign when a corner is your top tackler—McCloud had 10 stops and Ingram had five—but State played soft and Lawrence took advantage with uncontested out route after out route. The true freshman connected on 26 of 39 attempts for 308 yards and backup Chase Brice added on 72 more yards through the air. Clemson’s 380 yards passing were 110 more than the Pack had allowed in any prior game this season.
Third beer—Columbia Craft Brewing Company’s Kick in the Glass tangerine sour ale: It’s a “kick in the glass” when your veteran leaders don’t show up. We are into our third beer and I haven’t even mentioned Ryan Finley. That’s because he was terrible. With neither team establishing much of a running game, the game ultimately came down to a sixth-year senior QB vs. a true freshman, and the young buck was way better. Finley fumbled a snap, threw an inexplicably bad decision INT before the half that gifted Clemson three points, and underthrew an open Emeka Emezie for a pick that should’ve been a Pack TD. In all, Finley managed just 156 yards on 34 attempts (4.6 per attempt). Your stars must shine in the big moments. Finley—and Harmon, a junior three-year starter who came in averaging 100 yards per game but caught just two balls for 13 yards—did not.
Fourth beer—Columbia Craft Brewing Company’s Jean Claude Van Dayumm Belgian golden strong ale: It might sound like I’ve had too many if I praise a defense that gave up 41 points, but considering all the short fields from turnovers, the onside kick, and the fake punt (lol, wut?), the defense’s performance wasn’t the same “kick in the glass” as the insufferably inept offense. When I saw that Clemson managed just 2.8 yards per rush, I was like dayumm, good job D. Sure, the end zone got in his way a few times, but Travis Etienne was held to almost 90 yards under his average coming in. Etienne was only the game’s third leading rusher (behind both State backs, Reggie Gallaspy and Ricky Person). A week after posting an obscene 11.8 yards a carry en route to 471 yards rushing at Wake Forest, they failed to even eclipse the century mark against State. It was the first time this season that the Tigers were caged in for under 100 yards on the ground. Clemson had averaged at least seven yards per snap in every game this year (save Syracuse, when Lawrence had a “neck injury”), but was held to 5.9 yards per play against the Pack. Lawrence was even sacked twice.
Fifth beer—Columbia Craft Brewing Company’s Lives Remaining: 0 (New England style dry hopped double IPA): It hasn’t been a storybook final season for graduate receiver Stephen Louis, who has been banged up for a good portion of his final season in Raleigh. He’s managed just 12 catches all year and was apparently taken for X-rays after suffering a leg injury against Clemson. Obviously, a serious injury would spell the end for the team captain and locker-room leader. Fellow receiver CJ Riley actually led State with 66 yards through the air, 37 coming on State’s longest play from scrimmage (which also happened to be Matt McKay’s first career completion), but he hurt is shoulder on the play. Two offensive linemen, Terronne Prescod and Justin Witt, came off the field and Witt did not return. Person grabbed at his tender hamstring, immediately motioning to the sideline after a rush. He did not return. Gallaspy bruised his way to a game-high 59 yards rushing and notched the Pack’s lone TD, but he also hobbled off at one point (though later returned). This was a costly loss in many ways (perhaps including Finley’s wallet, as his draft stock surely tumbled).
Sixth beer—Columbia Craft Brewing Company’s Brunch Village sour ale with boysenberries and brown sugar: Want another sour note from this game? Brunch beers are probably back in our future after we came up just a wee bit short in the spotlight. Nooner kickoffs forever!
Parting shot—Lock 1 Distilling Company’s Cuse Juice orange liqueur: USC-East might be terrible at sports, but it dominates its rival in the beer scene (since Clemson’s beer scene is the frat boy beer section at Piggly Wiggly). Thankfully, the folks in upstate NY have a little something for us next week, including actually naming a liqueur after a university. Lock 1 is located in Phoenix, NY, about 20 minutes from Syracuse. To rise from the ashes, a Phoenix must first burn. NC State had that part covered yesterday, combusting in a dumpster fire of horrors, largely of its own making. Hopefully it will rise from the ashes next Saturday. No matter what happens, Omega will be here with your mixed six (if his liver holds out).