RALEIGH (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t forgotten what happened the last time his Tigers carried a top-10 ranking into North Carolina State. He’s focused on ensuring it doesn’t happen again Thursday night.
The third-ranked Tigers (2-0) enter Raleigh with their highest ranking in 25 years and the Atlantic Coast Conference favorite is squarely in the national championship chase. That means they can’t afford a repeat of their inexplicably bad performance two years ago against the Wolfpack (2-0).
Clemson, ranked No. 7 during that last visit, played without injured star receiver Sammy Watkins, gave up 27 second-quarter points and lost 37-13. Swinney called it “one of the most miserable games I’ve ever been a part of,” while Watkins said the Tigers “didn’t deal well with the success we had as a team.”
“My job was to have the team ready, and when they’re not ready, that’s on me,” Swinney said. “We went up there and executed a plan to lose — four turnovers, three of them inside our own 20, against a good football team at their place? You can’t win that way.
“Hopefully these guys on our team have grown through their whole team experience, and will put their best foot forward.”
While that experience is one the Tigers would like to forget, it offers confidence for the Wolfpack and first-year coach Dave Doeren. He inherited a team that followed its upset of Clemson with a come-from-behind win against No. 3 Florida State last year with a last-minute touchdown.
Doeren is hoping that his team, a two-touchdown underdog, can upset a top-10 team for the third straight season. It also marks the Wolfpack’s first ACC game under Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach.
“Those games aren’t going to win this game for us,” Doeren said. “But at least there’s guys in the room that remember. Our young guys are just out there playing. They don’t know any better. For the older guys, I think it’s a source of pride and our fans obviously are a big part of those wins with the noise we can generate on third down and on key moments defensively.”
Here are five things to watch in Thursday’s Clemson-N.C. State matchup:
TEMPO: Both teams like to get plenty of snaps in no-huddle schemes. Quarterback Tajh Boyd directs Clemson’s attack, which averaged nearly 86 plays in wins against highly ranked Georgia and South Carolina State. N.C. State averaged about 82 plays in its wins against Louisiana Tech and Richmond. That could lead to some worn-out defenses Thursday night.
WOLFPACK’S SECONDARY: N.C. State struggled to slow Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 300 yards and two scores on Sept. 7. In addition, four Spiders grabbed at least five passes in the 23-21 win by the Wolfpack. N.C. State’s secondary, which lost three of its four starters from 2012, will face even more pressure from Boyd and Watkins.
DAYES & CREECY: N.C. State running backs Tony Creecy and freshman Matt Dayes could play a big role in keeping the Wolfpack in this one. N.C. State must move the chains to sustain drives while keeping Boyd and the Tigers’ offense on the sidelines. Dayes has already scored four touchdowns in his first two games.
THOMAS’ GROWTH: N.C. State lost starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell to a broken foot on the third series of the season opener. That meant Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas had to take over leading an offense that’s better suited to Mitchell’s skillset. Doeren said Thomas has benefited from his increased practice work with the starters. “He hasn’t seen a defense like this one yet so this will be a tough test,” Doeren said.
PEAKE’S ABSENCE: This will be Clemson’s first game since losing second-leading receiver Charone Peake to a season-ending knee injury in practice. That means reserve Adam Humphries is expected to move into the starting lineup. Humphries has started five of 29 games in his career with 63 catches and one touchdown. “Where this really hurts us is our depth,” Swinney said.