RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina State cornerback Dontae Johnson knows what to expect when the Wolfpack faces No. 11 Clemson’s powerful passing attack.
“Honestly we’re probably just going to try to keep the receivers in front of us, don’t give up the big plays over our heads,” Johnson said Monday. “… There’s great athletes on Clemson’s side, but we’re just going to be ready for the challenge.”
This weekend’s trip to Death Valley will mark the toughest challenge the secondary has faced all season. N.C. State (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) surrendered big passing numbers in losses to Tennessee, Miami and North Carolina, though it regrouped with a dominating defensive performance against Wake Forest over the weekend to become bowl eligible.
While the Wolfpack overwhelmed the Demon Deacons from start to finish, it was the secondary’s lockdown of Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro that stood out most. Campanaro had tied the ACC single-game record with 16 catches in the previous game and had hauled in at least nine catches in three other games, but faced constant pressure from Johnson and finished with five catches for 14 yards.
Things will be tougher against the Tigers. While the Demon Deacons didn’t have a second receiver capable of easing the burden on Campanaro, the Tigers have a pair of game-changing receivers in DeAndre Hopkins (1,096 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Sammy Watkins (561 yards, two scores).
In addition, quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the league in passing yardage and passing efficiency while completing 68 percent of his passes.
The Tigers have rank 12th nationally by averaging nearly 323 yards passing and sixth nationally in scoring average at 42.9 points per game.
“The first thing is they do a good job putting them in situations where they can be successful,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. “They’re schematic in how they try to get guys (the ball), whether it’s double moves, whether it’s play-action fakes and getting the ball deep. … You’re looking at a similar receiving corps, maybe better than what we saw when we played Florida State.”
N.C. State entered the year expecting that its secondary would be a strength with the return of All-American cornerback David Amerson and several returning starters. But Amerson struggled and was beaten in coverage for touchdowns several times in losses to Tennessee and Miami, and the Wolfpack’s pass defense ranks 95th nationally by allowing more than 259 yards per game.
If the Wolfpack makes some of the same mistakes on Saturday, the Tigers will put on another high-scoring show.
“They’re great athletes,” Johnson said. “They’re putting up impressive numbers throughout the year. It’s another challenge my secondary is going to be ready to take on.”