No. 4 Clemson at North Carolina State
When and Where: Saturday, Nov. 9, Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C., Noon EST.
Seemingly having regained its swagger, fourth-ranked Clemson has a chance to wrap up a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game Saturday with a victory over North Carolina State and some help.
The Tigers (9-0, 6-0 ACC Atlantic), who carry a 24-game winning streak into this contest, can clinch the Atlantic Division for the fifth straight year with a victory and a loss by Wake Forest at Virginia Tech. Everyone else in the Atlantic already has two or more losses, and Clemson hosts the Demon Deacons on Nov. 16.
Dabo Swinney's team stepped out of conference play Saturday and thrashed FCS foe Wofford 59-14. Travis Etienne had touchdown runs of 47 and 86 yards as he had 212 yards on just nine carries. Trevor Lawrence added three scoring tosses while completing 12 of 16 passes for 218 yards as Clemson rolled up 702 yards of offense.
Since escaping Chapel Hill with a 21-20 victory over North Carolina on Sept. 28, the Tigers won their last four games by a combined 208-45 score.
North Carolina State (4-4, 1-3 Atlantic) has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team this season, winning all four of its games at home and losing all four on the road. The Wolfpack are coming off a 44-10 loss at then-No. 23 Wake Forest last Saturday, committing a pair of first-quarter turnovers that led to touchdowns 4:09 apart and contributed to an insurmountable 21-0 deficit.
Freshman quarterback Devin Leary had a rough first collegiate start, completing 17 of 45 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. He is the third quarterback Dave Doeren has used this season, with Matt McKay starting the first five games and Bailey Hockman the previous two.
The defeat to the Demon Deacons was the Wolfpack's fifth straight to a ranked team since a 39-25 victory over then-No. 17 Louisville at home Oct. 25, 2017. This rivalry also has been lopsided in Clemson's favor of late, with the Tigers winning seven straight and 14 of the last 15 meetings.
N.C. State did well to contain Etienne, holding him to 39 yards on 15 carries, but he had three short touchdown runs to complement Lawrence's 308 passing yards as Clemson cruised to a 41-7 victory last season.
Swinney non-plussed about CFP rankingsAs defending College Football Playoff champion and a fixture in the CFP, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not worried about where the Tigers will be in the first set of rankings Tuesday night -- they were fifth -- with so much of the season still in front of them.
"It doesn’t matter," Swinney said at his Tuesday media availability. "If we lose to N.C. State are we going to celebrate, ‘Woooo’ we were third in the poll?' I don’t think so. All of that will go away. We’ll be in the conversation. I have no idea where they’ll rank us, but I know this, there’s only seven undefeated teams left and we’re one of them."
One of the perceived weaknesses for Clemson as it pertains to the CFP is the relative lack of strength in the schedule. Over the past few seasons, a clear gulf in talent -- and results -- have emerged between the Tigers and the other 14 teams in the ACC, but Swinney was quick to defend both his team and the conference.
"We’ve played the same schedule since I’ve been the head coach," said Swinney, who added if he "cared" he would have let Etienne carry the ball much more than nine times. "We play eight conference games. We play two SEC teams unless it’s a Notre Dame year. And we play one other Division I. We play an FCS from this state. That’s what we’ve done every year. And every year we don’t play anybody. That’s what we say.
"In the beginning of my career it was, ‘Well, there will never be an ACC great team in the playoff because they don’t play anybody.’ Well then we become a dominant team in the postseason and now we only win because we don’t play anybody. It used to be well we couldn’t match up in the postseason. Now it’s, well you only can win in the postseason. I just laugh. It’s just the same old spin."
With LSU-Alabama sucking most of the oxygen out of the room both in terms of Saturday's showdown and the Heisman race with Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, both Lawrence and Etienne can essentially fly under the radar.
We haven't heard a lot about him this year, so we wanted to update everyone:— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 5, 2019
Trevor Lawrence is still good. pic.twitter.com/zLepVBwIOF
Both have clearly found their grooves since the close call at North Carolina. Lawrence has completed 73 percent of his passes for 896 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 162 rushing yards and two scores in the last four games.
Etienne, meanwhile, has rushed for 109 or more yards in all four games, totaling 640 while averaging a jaw-dropping 11.4 yards per carry as he cleared 1,000 yards for the second straight year. His 1,102 yards rank fourth in the FBS while his 9.0 yards per carry is third.
Etienne is hoping the third time facing N.C. State is the charm for a breakout game. In Clemson's previous two wins, he was held to a combined 70 yards on 23 carries.
Injury-ravaged Wolfpack happy to be back homeN.C. State has been ravaged by injuries this season, and Doeren is sticking with Leary for at least this game. Quarterback is not the only position where the Wolfpack are thin as running backs Zonovan Knight and Trent Pennix along with linebacker Isaiah Moore could be question marks after leaving the loss to Wake at various points with injuries.
Here's Devin Leary's good shot to Thayer Thomas for 23 yards pic.twitter.com/mO8sXSAHLN— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) October 11, 2019
Doeren did see some things he liked from his freshman quarterback, who is going to be hard-pressed to deal with a Tigers defense ranked sixth in scoring (11.7 ppg), second in pass defense (134.0 ypg), and tied for ninth with 29 sacks.
"I think (Wake) did a good job sitting on some routes, which probably made him a little bit nervous on some throws. He's just got to learn how to get through that," Doeren told Wolfpack Maven during his media availability.
"I think that game is going to be a huge piece for him to grow from. But I just like how he comes to work every day. I like how when you're talking to him he gives you feedback, he's not ever in a panic. There's a lot of things to be excited about. ... He's going to grow a lot from that game. He's going to get another team that wants to blitz every snap this week, so another opportunity."
N.C. State's defense has struggled to stop most everyone in conference play and failed to record a takeaway in all four contests. The Wolfpack have also given up 415 yards per game in ACC play and struggled to get off the field as opponents have converted 29 of 65 (44.6 percent) on third down.
- 14-3 ATS in its last 17 games vs. ACC teams.
- 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games.
- 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games after scoring 40 or more points in its previous game.
North Carolina State is:
- 1-6 ATS in its last seven games.
- 1-4 ATS in its last five games vs. ACC teams.
- The home team is 6-13 ATS in the last 19 games between the teams.