CLEMSON – Motivation for the No. 3 Tigers’ trip to N.C. State Thursday night isn’t necessarily found in revenge, but the last time in Raleigh isn’t lost on this Clemson group.
Sluggish from the start, the then seventh-ranked Tigers led 3-0 after one quarter in 2011, but a pair of fumbles deep in Tiger territory set up a 27-point Wolfpack second quarter and a 37-13 blowout loss.
It’s a game that still clearly sticks with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
“They’ll be reminded,” he said. “Probably not going to have to remind a lot of them because they were a part of that team that got embarrassed – and that’s what it was, an embarrassment. We turned the ball over and it just started a boat-racin’. I was very disappointed in that.”
'11 NC State loss serves as reminder
Senior left tackle Brandon Thomas says they have the game’s importance – two years and several games in between – in perspective.
“We have to mention it,” said Thomas. “The last time we were up there we didn’t play all too well. It’s not something we’re focused on going into this game. We’re trying to play to our ability right now because we’re a different team and everybody will see that.”
Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and linebacker Quandon Christian – roommates on campus – had that conversation this week, where Christian offered on a ride around town unprompted, “I just feel different about this team.”
“He started to talk about the younger guys and their role,” Boyd said. “I think just this week of practice alone was very encouraging. The guys were dialed in. When we step on the field, there’s nothing else that matters except football.
“That’s something that was preached to us and I think the guys understand that truly.”
Going into the ESPN-televised 7:31 kickoff, Clemson is off to a 2-0 start for a fourth consecutive season, while N.C. State matches that mark after home wins over Louisiana Tech and Richmond.
The Wolfpack will don an all-red look and they are encouraging what should be a capacity crowd to do the same. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the charged Carter-Finley Stadium atmosphere, where a top-10 team has fallen each of the last two seasons, can certainly be a factor if they allow it to.
“We just don’t want to do anything to give a crowd like that energy,” Swinney said. “Their players will feed off that energy and I expect them to play at a very high level.”
It’s hard to say Clemson is in an offensive funk when scoring 45 points per game, but the stakes change after a couple years in Morris’ system.
In season three of the hurry-up no-huddle, Boyd is off to his worst completion percentage (60.4) and the Tigers running game is only hitting 4.2 yards per carry (a full yard behind the 2011 and 2012 two-game starts).
Morris is working with his senior QB on taking what the defense gives him, which isn’t always easy.
“You can’t go broke making a profit. Five yards is a profit,” Morris said. “That’s not the attractive throw. Everybody wants to make the attractive throw and the ‘Ooh’ and the ‘Aah’ and the ‘Wow’ – that’s an ugly throw but it moves the chains. That’s the hardest thing. You ask any quarterback and talking to coaches all over the country – that’s the biggest thing with those guys.”
Health-wise, senior running back Rod McDowell (concussion) will start after leaving the S.C. State game early. Also back are senior right guard Tyler Shatley (foot) and starting nickelback Korrin Wiggins (hamstring).
For the first time in ACC play, Clemson gets a look in the mirror offensively facing the Wolfpack tonight.
Borrowing concepts from Northern Illinois’ hurry-up and Wisconsin’s run-first philosophy, new N.C. State coach Dave Doeren brings another tempo-driven style to the conference, and through two games, they rank 13th nationally in plays per game (81.5).
They are averaging 493 yards per contest (31st in the nation), running the ball around 15 more times than passing a game. Last year, a pass-happy Wolfpack attack threw for 493 yards alone on Clemson, but the most they have amassed so far were 305 yards in the opener over Louisiana Tech.
State run game presents issues
Not a prototypical dual-threat, junior quarterback Pete Thomas, who holds a 67 completion percentage with three interceptions, commands the offense. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables says he’s savvy on the ground.
“(On tape) I saw a quarterback that played with precision and strong accuracy,” Venables said. “They say he’s not a runner, but I know this – he extended a number of drives last week in critical moments, on a lot of third downs when the coverage was tight. He continued to move the chains over and over again. I think he’s smart and has great pocket awareness.”
Venables, who’s come across his fair share of these type of offenses – including in practice, says communication is key in containment.
“You have to recruit more intelligent players that can do exactly what you’re saying if you’re trying to keep up with the offenses that are out there today,” he said. “Their ability to check from the coaching staff because they are in control of snapping the football and controlling the tempo of the game – their whole line of thinking is that they’re not going get into negative plays.”
In their last matchup, Clemson’s d-line was the MVP on a day lacking in ‘D,’ compiling four sacks – three by junior end Vic Beasley alone. After two games, the Tigers sit in 10th nationally in the stat, while N.C. State’s giant front-line (6-6 301 average) is only surrendering one sack per (18th in the nation).
While he might end up getting plenty of support, Venables is old school in his approach to away games – and he hopes his unit is right there with him.
“You have to have that road dog mentality where you’re winning defense and special teams,” he said. “If the offense gives us anything, that’s great. It’s harder on an offense and it should be a little easier on a defense because of your ability to communicate.
“I like the whole idea of having your back against the wall going on the road and hopefully our guys will have that mentality because that’s what it’s going to take win the game.”