It’s been feeling a lot like the ‘90s in the ACC recently, except this time Clemson has stabbed FSU to death, buried the body behind the shed out back, and assumed the Seminoles’ identity. Also everyone has much cooler phones now.
The Tigers haven’t dropped a game since their 2017 season ended in a playoff defeat to Alabama, and a second straight 15-0 season is very much doable, since it’s still the case that only the Tide can match Clemson talent-for-talent.
This is a peak for Dabo Swinney’s program, but also a peak built to last into the foreseeable future. Clemson is so flush with talent, it’s able to play a preposterous number of guys to help cultivate the next wave of standouts. And the Tigers currently have the best recruiting class in the country, with more than twice as many five-star commits as anybody else.
I read where NC State has played the second-most freshmen of any team in the country with 31 (17 true and 14 RS frosh). Which team has played the most freshmen this season?— David Hood (@MDavidHood) November 7, 2019
That would be Clemson with a whopping 48, including 35 true freshmen and 13 redshirts. @ClemsonFB pic.twitter.com/B2nhWU31c2
The Tigers also will be in the capable hands of Trevor Lawrence for at least one more season, which sure does help. Lawrence went from getting knocked for his play early to putting himself in position to improve on his freshman-season passer rating. His completion percentage is up as a sophomore, as is his average per pass attempt.
Lawrence is a future first round NFL Draft pick who has future NFL receivers to work with, which is nice. He also has plenty of support from the running game, especially now that Travis Etienne is hitting his stride—he’s gone for 100+ rushing yards in four straight games and hit 200 yards on just nine carries against Boston College.
Only Alabama and Oklahoma average more yards per play than Clemson, and even if you remove non-conference games from the Tigers’ numbers, they’re still really good. Good like 7.4 yards per play and nearly 44 points per game against ACC foes. I have no clue about what you’re supposed to do with the matchup problems that the Tigers present, and neither does anyone else, apparently.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers are yielding a shade under four yards per play, and they have allowed only one opponent to score 20 points or more this season. Clemson lost a headlining group of defensive line talent to the NFL after last year and has been no worse for wear. Brent Venables might be the best defensive coordinator in the business, but also it sure helps a lot when your program recruits at an elite level.
So what does NC State do about all of this? How do we get ourselves out of this death trap? Is there no hope at all? I’d like to sit here and defiantly explain the various ways NC State is being misinterpreted or overlooked and that winning is more likely than it otherwise looks, but I’ve seen all the games leading up to now, same as you. So I dunno, man.
Playing under the lights at Carter-Finley always helps, and I expect the crowd will be good early on (good seats still available!), but every team that’s trying to pull off a big upset has to figure out how to compete when the initial burst of big game energy expires some time in the first half.
And where does NC State find enough offense to make an upset even the vaguest of possibilities? That is only one large problem among many. Clemson will be happy to provide a dozen more. The Tigers are miles ahead right now—better coaches, better players.
We’ll need a string of strange-and-also-positive things to happen Saturday night. I mean some real weird shit. Trevor Lawrence gets turned into a newt. (He gets better.) All of Clemson’s players hypnotized into having to run backwards. A surprise Guinness Book of World Records attempt in the Most Safeties Surrendered category.
Short of all that, State’s probably got another hefty dose of pain on the way.