NC State football: 5 keys to beating Clemson
It’s the biggest game week of the season for NC State, as the No. 10 Wolfpack will head to No. 5 Clemson for the first top-10 matchup in program history Saturday.
The Pack is living up to expectations so far, coming off a perfect 4-0 nonconference slate. The Tigers are dangerous, as always, undefeated and coming off an impressive double-overtime win at Wake Forest.
This one has been circled on the calendar of every NC State and Clemson fan since the schedule came out. If the Pack wants to win the Atlantic Division, it will start at Death Valley. On the flipside, the Tigers are looking to continue their re-establishment as the team to beat in the ACC.
Here’s what NC State has to do well to have a chance to win at Clemson:
Make DJ Uiagalelei uncomfortable
It’s not rocket science, but NC State is going to have more success in limiting Clemson offensively if it can get to quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.
Uiagalelei played arguably the best game of his collegiate career this past weekend against Wake Forest, and for the 1st time in his career it looks like he has some momentum heading into this matchup. He had a handful of exceptional plays against the Demon Deacons when he had ages in the pocket, as he showed he has the vision and patience to make things happen through the air when he has time.
But when Wake Forest got some pressure to Uiagalelei, he didn’t perform well. While Wake Forest had just 1 sack, the Demon Deacons hurried Uiagalelei on 7 plays. On those attempts when hurried, Uiagalelei was 0-for-7 passing. When he wasn’t hurried, he was 26-for-34. On the season, Uiagalelei is 0-for-9 when hurried.
For NC State, the Wolfpack has done a decent job of pressuring the quarterback so far. While the Pack isn’t racking up the sacks, it’s consistently getting pressure. Against Texas Tech, NC State had 10 quarterback hurries. Against UConn it had 3 hurries and 2 sacks, despite the Huskies only dropping to pass 17 times.
It’s no secret that getting pressure to the quarterback usually will lead to defensive success, but it feels like a particular area of emphasis this week against a guy in Uiagalelei who appears to be gaining some confidence.
Keep Devin Carter involved
When NC State finally beat Clemson last year, wide receiver Devin Carter had the biggest game of his career.
Carter hauled in 2 touchdown passes that day, a 12-yard scoring reception during the 3rd quarter that gave NC State a lead and the game-winner in double-overtime from 22 yards.
And with Emeka Emezie no longer with the Wolfpack, Carter seemed primed to take over as NC State’s top receiver this season. But through 3 games in 2022, Carter had just 4 catches for 54 yards before this past weekend.
But in a much-needed overall performance for the offense against UConn, Carter had a big day to hopefully get himself back on track. He had 5 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown, which came on a powerful grab on a jump ball the play after nearly scoring on a deep pass from Devin Leary.
Heading into Death Valley to face a Clemson team that got gashed through the air by Wake Forest, the Wolfpack needs Carter to be a factor like he was against UConn and last year against the Tigers.
Try to establish the run
Saturday’s game will be a top-10 matchup in more than just poll ranking, as both Clemson and NC State boast top-10 rushing defenses in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Tigers are No. 8 and allowing just 79 yards per game. The Wolfpack is No. 10 and allowing 82 yards per game. With some bad weather expected, both teams will be looking to establish the run.
The good news for NC State is it seems like the Pack will be healthy again at the running back spot. Jordan Houston went down during the Texas Tech game Sept. 17 and didn’t play against UConn, while breakout star Demie Sumo-Karngbaye took a knock during the opening half against UConn and didn’t return. Coach Dave Doeren said after the game that both are fine and will play against Clemson.
So with the pieces likely to be on the field, NC State has to try and establish the running game. Sumo-Karngbaye has been excellent to start the season, a yards-after-contact specialist who has proven hard to bring down. Houston struggled to establish himself against East Carolina but looked great before getting hurt against Texas Tech.
The Wolfpack’s offense line has been performing well, but the running game as a whole still can be improved. The Pack has to establish the run, at least somewhat, against Clemson if it wants to have a shot at winning, especially if Hurricane Ian brings some wet weather to Memorial Stadium.
Make field goals
During Doeren’s tenure at NC State, close games against Clemson and field goals have not been a good mixture for the Wolfpack.
The Pack has played 3 1-possession games against the Tigers since Doeren took over. In those 3 games, NC State is 2-for-9 on field-goal attempts.
The most famous misses came during a 24-17 overtime loss for NC State in 2016. Kyle Bambard went 1-for-4 in the game, including a miss from 33 yards that would have won the game for the Wolfpack at the end of regulation.
Then in 2017 the Pack lost 38-31, and NC State went 1-for-2. This time Bambard had a make during the 2nd half, but Carson Wise missed a 34-yard attempt during the 2nd quarter that would have pulled NC State within a point heading into halftime.
NC State finally got its elusive win against the Tigers last year, but it certainly wasn’t because the Pack converted its field goals. A normally reliable Chris Dunn went 0-for-3, missing a 39-yard attempt that would have ended the game after the 1st of 2 overtimes.
So as the Wolfpack heads to Clemson this weekend, it’s going to want to exorcise the field-goal demons against the Tigers. Dunn actually hurt himself on a fake field-goal try against UConn, but Doeren said he’s fine.
If Dunn isn’t making his field goals this Saturday, the already-hard challenge will get even harder for the Wolfpack.
Don’t let the moment get too big
NC State is in unfamiliar territory.
The Wolfpack is ranked No. 10 in both polls, the first time NC State has made an appearance in the top-10 of the Associated Press poll since 2002. Facing off with No. 5 Clemson, this will be the first top-10 matchup in the history of NC State’s program.
On the other side of the field, the Tigers have been there and done that. They have lived among the top 10 for the past 10 years, and they’ve won some massive games along the way. During their nation-leading 36-game home winning streak, Clemson has defeated 5 ranked teams.
It’s rarified air for NC State this week. For Clemson, it’s a bit familiar. The Wolfpack cannot let the moment get too big.