(3) Clemson (2-0) at NC State (2-0)
Thursday, September 19, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Coming off a bye, the third-ranked Clemson Tigers invade Raleigh this week for their ACC-opener against the NC State Wolfpack.
Dabo Swinney's squad has looked every bit the part of a conference favorite thus far. Behind the play of its All-American quarterback, Clemson stands at 2-0 on the young season, opening the 2013 campaign with a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC power Georgia, followed by a much easier blasting of FCS foe South Carolina State (52-13).
Dave Doeren was lured away from Northern Illinois after a couple of successful seasons with the Huskies. His first season with NC State has started off on the right foot, with two wins in as many games. They have come in vastly different ways, as the season-opener was a lopsided 40-14 victory over Louisiana Tech, followed by a 23-21 close call against FCS foe Richmond.
In a series that dates all the way back to 1899, Clemson holds a 52-28-1 advantage all-time, including an 18-16 mark in Raleigh. The Tigers had won a series-best seven straight games prior to NC State's 37-13 upset in 2011. Last season, Clemson clinched its first double-digit win campaign since 1981, with a 62-48 shootout victory over NC State in Death Valley.
After years of offensive proficiency, it is safe to call Clemson's attack a juggernaut. Over the last few seasons, a lot of that has to do with the play of quarterback Tajh Boyd. The senior gun slinger is off to another strong start, completing just over 60 percent of his throws over the first two games, for 439 yards and three touchdowns, adding another three scores on the ground.
Boyd does not do it alone, and will look early and often to former All- American wideout Sammy Watkins. The junior receiver had a down year in 2012, but has started the 2013 season strong, with nine receptions, for 146 yards and one TD. The play of Watkins on the outside will be even more vital going forward as second-leading receiver Charone Peake (eight catches, 84 yards, one TD) suffered a torn ACL in practice last week and is lost for the season.
"This is a big loss, Charone was having a great year and was going to have a great year," said Swinney. "We are thin at receiver with just six scholarship players now. We like to carry 10 at that position. We have good players, but we don't have a lot of bodies."
Picking up the slack for the lack of depth in the passing game is a rushing attack that has generated 190.0 yards per game thus far. Leading the charge in that regard is tailback Roderick McDowell, who is netting 5.8 yards per carry and 87.5 yards per game.
Clemson's defense has played second fiddle to the offense for some time now and early indications are that that will continue in 2013. The Tigers are yielding just under 400 yards per game, although the numbers are skewed a bit considering Georgia's success in the opener.
Linebacker play is the real catalyst for the Clemson defense and both Spencer Shuey and Anthony Stephone have been all over the field in the early going. Shuey leads the team with 23 total tackles, while Stephone is a close second with 21 stops.
Overall, Clemson has recorded 17 TFL, seven sacks and three interceptions in the first two games.
The injury bug has already hit the NC State offense, as starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell went down in the season-opener. Doeren has a backup plan in Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas, who will now lead NC State's balanced attack for the foreseeable future. The Wolfpack are averaging 212.5 ypg on the ground and 280.5 ypg through the air.
Thomas has completed a solid 67.2 percent of his throws for 449 yards, but he has yet to throw a touchdown pass and has three interceptions to his credit. The receiving duo of Marquez Valdes-Scant (12 catches, 174 yards) and Rashard Smith (12 catches, 145 yards) will certainly pay dividends along the way.
After two games, it is NC State's defense that has shown the most consistency. The Wolfpack are allowing 17.5 ppg and have a particular penchant for stopping the run (79.5 ypg). NC State has yet to record an interception, but has posted six fumble recoveries thus far.
Senior linebacker Robert Caldwell has led the way on the defensive side of the ball with his team-high 18 tackles. Safety Hakim Jones is second on the squad with 12 stops, followed closely by fellow defensive backs Jarvis Byrd and Juston Burriss, who have 10 tackles each.
After the team's win over Richmond, Doeren talked about the gameplan to get ready for Clemson.
"We need to practice. We need to work. We have a little more time, but we are going to get to work for Clemson. We'll get a lot of our work done early and then pull it back some closer to the game to get our legs back."
Despite the extra time to prepare, NC State will need more than fresh legs to keep pace with the explosive Tigers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Clemson 37, NC State 20
09/18 10:37:44 ET