Clemson at N.C. State
September 18, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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Week 4 of the college football regular season starts off with a big ACC opener between Clemson and North Carolina State. The opening weekend win over Georgia has Clemson highly ranked in the polls and a viable threat to make a run at joining the national title conversation. Clearing the hurdles in the ACC must come first and N.C. State ended those hopes for highly regarded Florida State last season. This matchup featured 110 points last season in a 62-48 win for the Tigers and more fireworks should be expected in primetime this week.
Matchup: Clemson Tigers at N.C. State Wolfpack
Venue: Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina (grass)
Date: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Clemson -14½, Over/Under 66½
Last Meeting: 2012 at Clemson, Clemson (-16½) 62-48
While Oregon and Stanford are getting more attention, the biggest threat to match up with the SEC champion in the final BCS championship game may come from the ACC. Oregon and Stanford will play in November but both teams will face several tough games in the conference season as well as a Pac-12 title game. The path in the ACC certainly looks a bit softer overall with Clemson holding its toughest ACC games against Florida State and Georgia Tech at home. The Tigers will have the rivalry game in Columbia to close the season but now sitting No. 3 in the AP poll Clemson is in a strong position. They can’t overlook an upset minded N.C. State squad with a great track record at home however.
The Wolfpack stunned then No. 3 Florida State at home last season with a 17-16 win as heavy underdogs in October last season and this should be the most prominent home game of the season for N.C. State, outside of possibly the homecoming date with nearby rival North Carolina. N.C. State is going through a coaching change with Dave Doeren taking over after two successful years at Northern Illinois and success as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin before that. Wisconsin’s 2012 offensive coordinator was hired to join Doeren at N.C. State as well when the Badgers changed coaches last winter.
Clemson has not played a meaningful game in nearly three weeks after surviving the big opener with Georgia. In that game Clemson allowed 545 yards as a defense that had issues in many games last season allowed over 11 yards per pass and over five yards per rush. Two turnovers helped the cause as Clemson came up with more big plays than Georgia to hold on for a huge win as Dabo Swinney looks to take the next step with the Tigers in his sixth season. Clemson made it to the Orange Bowl after winning the ACC two years ago but an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in that game took away from the successful season. After losing in both big games last year in the regular season Clemson came up with a redeeming win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and then opened this year with the big win over Georgia. Two weeks ago Clemson had little trouble pulling past South Carolina State in a blowout win that saw reserves moving into the game pretty early.
N.C. State is also 2-0 but the opening win over Louisiana Tech was not as impressive as it looked with a 40-14 win over a team that won nine games in 2012. Louisiana Tech went through major changes in the off-season and in subsequent games the Bulldogs have barely beat FCS Lamar and then lost to Tulane last week at home. Richmond may be one of the better FCS programs but N.C. State needed a late field goal to win 23-21 in the second game of the season for the Wolfpack and if the Richmond quarterback was able to pass for 300 yards against the N.C. State defense there should be serious concern heading into the matchup with Clemson.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd deserves to be on the Heisman Trophy short-list based on his numbers the past two seasons but so far this year his numbers have not warranted that attention yet. He has thrown just over 400 yards with only three touchdowns as he played sparingly in the FCS matchup with South Carolina State. He threw for nearly 4,000 yards last season with a nearly 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio however while also netting over 500 yards gained on the ground. This national TV game without the competition of the normal busy Saturday college football could provide Boyd a perfect opportunity to make his Heisman pitch.
Clemson lost a few key players to the NFL from last season, notably Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins who both made their mark in week 2 at the professional level. Senior running back Roderick McDowell has provided a solid presence on the ground and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is as dynamic of a playmaker as there is the ACC so there are plenty of weapons still available to the offense and the Tigers have a veteran offensive line. Just as important were losses on defense however with four of last year’s top six tacklers moving on, and this was not a great defensive team in 2012.
Mike Glennon never quite lived up to expectations as a college quarterback at N.C. State despite tremendous talent. He is now a back-up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, drafted in the third round. Glennon never had the arsenal of skill players that Boyd had however and he was asked to do a lot, ultimately providing some inconsistency. New starting quarterback Pete Thomas is a transfer from Colorado State who had mixed results in his playing time with the Rams but ultimately competed 63 percent of his passes after having great success as a freshman. In two games against marginal competition Thomas is yet to throw a touchdown pass and has three interceptions so it is unlikely that the Wolfpack will be able to keep up in a shootout.
N.C. State has rushed for over 212 yards per game so far this season with junior Tony Creecy and freshman Matt Dayes getting most of the carries so far. While last year’s leading receiver Quintin Payton is still on the team he has been overshadowed by tall freshman Marquez Valdes-Scantling and small speedster senior Rashard Smith, who each have 12 catches through two games. Five of the top six leading tacklers from last season departed for N.C. State and outside of a few veterans on the defensive line this is a very young and inexperienced defense with only three seniors on the field in most groupings. That is not a great sign in this matchup but a marginal defense that had average numbers overall last season had several strong games last season, allowing 18 or fewer points in seven of 13 games last season and Doeren is a defensive-minded coach.
Winning on the road can always be a challenge especially in a primetime Thursday night game so while Clemson does appear to have significant personnel edges, especially on offense, anything can happen in college football as we are reminded every week. Clemson’s only ACC road loss came at Florida State last season and the offense scored at least 37 points in every ACC contest but when Boyd and the Tigers visited Raleigh two years ago they lost 37-13 in one of the worst games of Boyd’s career. Last season the Clemson offense had over 750 yards in this matchup at home, but that is something could also fuel the N.C. State defense.
Last Meeting: Last season Clemson was ranked 11th in the nation when they hosted N.C. State in mid-November, a week after homecoming and a week before the big game with South Carolina. The tricky scheduling spot was evident early as Clemson trailed 24-13 into the second quarter. The Tigers got back on track quickly and with four minutes left in the third quarter Clemson led 55-24 with six consecutive touchdowns before N.C. State scored again. The Wolfpack added 10 points in the fourth quarter to steal the cover as Clemson won by 14 as a 16½-point favorite on the road. N.C. State had defeated Wake Forest in its previous game and still needed another win for bowl eligibility. They did not get it against Clemson but would in the finale but it was not enough to save Tom O’Brien’s job as he was removed before the bowl game. While this loss did not help the cause a 33-6 home loss to Virginia two weeks prior was the more damaging blow and the writing was likely on the wall in the N.C. State locker room despite the big win over Florida State early in the year. Boyd did have two interceptions in the game last season but both he and Glennon had five touchdown passes each in a game that featured 1,351 total yards.
Series History: Clemson is 22-11 S/U vs. N.C. State since 1980 but the Wolfpack have had a strong ATS edge, going 20-13 in that span including covering in the last three meetings and five of the last seven. N.C. State is 17-8 ATS as an underdog in this series including 10-2 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Clemson has won S/U in eight of the last nine meetings but they did lose badly two years ago in Raleigh as a 7-point favorite.
Line Movement: Not surprisingly the favorite and the ‘over’ have climbed with the line jumping from 14 quickly to 14½ and the total jumping to 67 before settling back to 66½ after opening at 66.
Clemson Historical Trends: Clemson is on a strong ATS run in road games going 22-15 ATS since 2005 including covering in eight of the last 11 going back to late 2010. The last three years Clemson is just 6-8 S/U on the road and they have lost S/U as a road favorite five times in the last four years. Clemson has covered in five of the last seven games as a road favorite but the Tigers are just 22-33-2 ATS as a road favorite since 1990. Clemson is 5-12-1 ATS as a double-digit road favorite since 1990 but they have covered in three of four instances under Swinney. This should be the biggest road favorite spread for Clemson since 2007 (-17½ at Duke) and regardless of location Clemson is 10-10 ATS under Swinney as a double-digit favorite, only losing S/U once (at Maryland in 2009).
N.C. State Historical Trends: If you are a believer in historical trends there is not a much better home underdog out there than N.C. State in the last three decades. Since 1980 N.C. State is 42-24-1 ATS as a home underdog, winning S/U in 26 instances. The recent numbers are even better with an 11-3-1 ATS record as a home underdog since 2008, winning S/U in nine of those 15 games. N.C. State is 13-8-1 ATS as a double-digit home underdog since 1981, going 5-2-1 since 1998 including last year’s big win over the Seminoles (+17). N.C. State is 11-7 ATS since 1997 in any venue when dogged by two touchdowns or more. Regardless of the spread N.C. State is 22-10-1 ATS at home since 2008 as Raleigh seems to provide an underrated home field edge. Coach Doeren is only in his third season as a head coach but his teams are 14-0 S/U in home games and he did win in the only instance at Northern Illinois playing as a home underdog.