As I go back and forth and then around and over and through the scenarios that lead to an NC State win over Clemson this week, I mostly have tried to avoid thinking about how little confidence I have in State’s ground game. Because thinking about that is no good for pre-game hype at all.
The Wolfpack’s problems running the ball effectively last season were pronounced at times generally that was a handicap the offense had to overcome every week. After running for 270 yards on 5.5 per carry against Wake in Week 1, NC State would crack 150 yards rushing just two more times all season. Those were also the only other times it cracked 4.0 yards per carry. The Pack was held under 100 yards rushing in each of its last three games, including an unfortunate 50-yard effort in the Gator Bowl.
I want to believe that NC State will be better in 2021, but its performance against Mississippi State was just more of the same, and that Mississippi State defense isn’t nearly as good as Clemson’s. While I expect the Pack to raise its play at home in front of an energetic crowd, that goes only so far, and there is no recent evidence at all to suggest that it can have a useful day on the ground.
NC State did win a lot of games last year in spite of its running game, so it’s not like a good day on the ground is an essential victory condition. Clemson’s a whole different ball o’ wax, though, and State may need some fortunate field position to get much done on the scoreboard and put an upset in play.
It’s advantage Clemson defense in the rushing game, that much is certain, and just how much of an advantage that proves to be should be telling. State’s going to have to try to keep the Tigers honest and hope to hit on enough decent gainers to do so, even if the per-carry average ends up low. That at least the Pack can work with. Can they manage that, rather than another abysmal, say, 34-yard effort, like the one against MSU? Maybe that could be the difference.