CLEMSON — A year ago, N.C. State and Mike Glennon, in Dabo Swinney’s words, “embarrassed” Clemson.
Aided by Clemson’s three second-quarter turnovers inside its own 20, the Wolfpack’s standout quarterback completed 19 of 29 passes for 259 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 37-13 win.
Even though the Tigers’ defense has made significant progress over the last month, it has a healthy respect for Glennon and N.C. State’s passing attack.
The senior enters Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at No.11 Clemson averaging 291 passing yards per game, second in the ACC behind Tiger junior Tajh Boyd. While Glennon has thrown 13 interceptions, his 22 touchdowns are second behind Boyd among ACC quarterbacks, and he ranks fourth in the ACC in total offense.
“I think he ranks right up there with (the elite ACC passers),” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “He’s got a big arm, great poise, he stands tall in the pocket. And really delivers the ball, puts a great spin on it, can make all the throws. All of the throws with great accuracy. Sometimes a guy can throw it a country mile and put it on the money. And you ask him to throw a five-yard checkdown and it’s ricocheting off people’s facemasks. (Glennon) can do it all.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took it a step further, comparing Glennon to another Tom O’Brien protégé – former Boston College and current Atlanta Falcons star Matt Ryan.
“They’ve got a guy kind of like when they had Matt Ryan up there at Boston College,” Swinney said. “They put the ball in Matt’s hands, and that’s kind of what they’re doing with Glennon. He’s the playmaker. He’s the distributor. He’s done a great job because it’s not just one guy. One of his strengths is not focusing on (a single) guy. They’re going to throw the ball to the tight ends, the backs.”
O’Brien disputes such talk.
“You can't compare him,” O’Brien said. “Is he at a similar stage in college? Yeah. But I'm not going to compare him to an NFL guy or NFL MVP. He has a lot of similar qualities that Matt has as far as talent, studying the game, as far as preparation goes, as far as competing, as far as things being important to him - yeah - there's a lot of similar traits that he has with Matt.”
As Glennon goes, so does the ‘Pack.
Two of the Wolfpack’s worst losses of the season came when the senior had an off day. In the season opener against Tennessee, Glennon threw for 288 yards, but had four interceptions against one touchdown; State lost 35-21. Two weeks ago, he threw for only 197 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions against Virginia; State lost 33-6.
However, one of his biggest season highlights came against then-No.3 Florida State. Glennon rallied State from a 16-3 fourth-quarter deficit, finding Bryan Underwood in the back of the end zone for a two-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left to seal the upset.
Venables said Glennon is “one of the best couple of (quarterbacks) in our conference, without question… it’s warranted.”
“He’s probably the biggest reason why they were able to win (the Florida State) game,” Venables said. “His leadership, his poise, his ability to execute, and not just execute but really make throw after throw after throw. Again it takes guys to block and takes guys to catch. But he put balls in tight places.”
A year ago, Glennon delivered the ball quickly and efficiently against the Tigers. O’Brien praised his senior for working through a series of frustrating drops by Wolfpack receivers, but said he must stay focused against an improving Clemson pass rush.
“Schematically, we’ve got to really be sound and do a good job,” Swinney said. “Everybody has to have great eyes, great alignments. When we do bring pressure, we’ve got to win some of those coverage matchups because he’s smart. It’s not like you’re going to fool him a lot. He knows where the pressure is coming from and he’ll get rid of it if he can.”