From Ryan Finley to Jaylen Samuels, Clemson defense has hands full at N.C. State
CLEMSON — He has watched the tape and spent all week formulating a game plan. And for Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, this N.C. State offense his Clemson team faces Saturday seems to have a familiar vibe to it.
In one sense, it reminds him of one of Clemson’s biggest divisional rivals in the past: Florida State.
“Think about Florida State and their good offenses with a good quarterback and good receivers and a good back. We know how those things went,” Venables said Wednesday, referring to the battles the Tigers and Seminoles have had over the years. “I think the best thing (N.C. State) has got, other than their talent, is they’re veteran. They’re a mature team. Those veteran teams, they don’t make as many mistakes.”
That veteran leadership the Wolfpack has stretches through the whole team, as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney pointed out this week. He noted that N.C. State has 21 starters back with 19 of them classified as graduates, seniors or redshirt juniors.
But it is particularly obvious on the offensive side of the ball, where Venables’ unit will be focused on quarterback Ryan Finley and H-back Jaylen Samuels. Along the lines of not making mistakes, Finley threw his first interception of the season Saturday against Notre Dame, snapping a streak that dated back to last season with 339 passes without a pick.
By Swinney’s count, Finley has just four turnovers all season. He is a redshirt junior who ranks in the top three of the conference in passing yards, too, with 2,181 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he also has not seen a defense as strong as Clemson’s. He struggled against South Carolina and Notre Dame. Against the Gamecocks, Finley had two key incompletions down the stretch.
“Just really good players all around this quarterback, who I think is an outstanding player ... he throws a nice deep ball,” Swinney said. “The two losses that they had, they just had some critical errors, critical mistakes and turnovers and things like that. But this is a team that’s really capable of playing with anybody.”
In terms of Samuels, Clemson likely will not experience anyone in the conference as versatile as the senior from Charlotte who is listed as an H-back but who also can play tight end, wide receiver or running back. He has seven rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns, which prompted Swinney to dub him “one of the best players that has come through this conference.”
Should Clemson’s defense lose sight of where he is or how he might be lining up, the No. 6 Tigers (No. 4 College Football Playoff) will have some ground to make up against a No. 20 N.C. State team hoping to spoil Clemson’s College Football Playoff hopes.
“He’s the guy. They’re not coming out of the game without him touching the ball ... you’re not going to take his touches away, but you’ve got to do a great job of knowing where he is and understanding how they use him,” Swinney said of Samuels. “When you have a veteran team like that you kind of get to another level of nuances within a system, and that’s where they are right now offensively.”