Tonight’s game between Clemson and NC State might not seem like a big game to the rest of the nation, but the ACC knows what Thursday night games in Raleigh can mean. Florida State and Clemson, in particular, know this can be a dangerous situation for top 10 teams. NC State has beaten the last three top ten teams to visit Raleigh (which happen to be both the Seminoles and the Tigers).
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Clemson comes in as the heavy favorite, being ranked third in the country. NC State is 2-0, but barely eked out a win over FCS team Richmond two weeks ago. The Tigers have a Heisman contender at quarterback in Tajh Boyd. The Wolfpack are without their starting quarterback and have tried three different options at the position at times. At first glance, it may seem easy to dismiss this game and find something better to do with your Thursday night, but there are plenty of reasons to watch.
Why Will Clemson Win
1. They have one of the best offenses in the country. The Tigers have averaged 489.5 yards through two games, with one of those including South Carolina State, where the second string took half of the snaps. Chad Morris’ offense put up 467 yards against a tough Georgia defense in the opening week.
2. The Clemson defense appears to have improved over past seasons. Currently sitting at 61st in the nation in points allowed is not an impressive statistic, but that includes the potent Georgia offense. The defensive front has led the way through the first two games. In particular, sophomore defensive end Vic Beasley has been terrorizing quarterbacks so far. With NC State’s starting left tackle Rob Crisp questionable for tonight, the defense could have a field day when bringing pressure.
3. After coming to Raleigh two years ago and losing a in a big upset, the Tigers will be prepared for this environment. Tajh Boyd is a senior and is determined to take his squad to the national championship. With an extra week to prepare and rest up, the Tigers will come in with a fresh gameplan and exploit the difference in athleticism between the two teams.
Why NC State Will Win
1. The Pack has done this before. Several times before, actually. The juniors and seniors know it is not an impossible task, and the freshmen are coming in with a fresh slate and confidence. One has to assume that the coaches will mention the 37-13 win in 2011. The atmosphere in Carter-Finley on a Thursday night can help make up the difference in the stats, athleticism, coaching, etc. that there may be between the two programs.
2. The key to beating a team like Clemson is to form a potent, balanced offensive attack. The Pack have the balanced part down, ranking 35th in the nation in passing yards per game at 280.5 and 43rd in rushing yards per game at 212.5. The key to making this a potent attack will be if Pete Thomas can take the next step in his development. So far Thomas has no touchdown passes and three interceptions, but has a completion percentage of 67.2%. He will have to throw a couple touchdown passes if NC State has a chance to win.
3. The battle in the trenches can make or break almost any game. The Wolfpack have one of the better defensive lines in the conference and will look to press that advantage tonight. The NC State defense has forced six turnovers through two games so far (all of which were fumbles), and will have to continue this trend against a dangerous Clemson offense. Three turnovers are easily enough to make the difference in a high-scoring game.
Clemson will likely win this game, especially if given a quick lead to protect. The Wolfpack will probably have to play an almost flawless game to win, as I expect the Tigers to come out looking sharp for this game. The key for the Pack will be creating turnovers while protecting the ball themselves. Look for the Tigers to get a quick lead and hold on to win 38-24 in a fast-paced game.