No. 3 Clemson, No. 16 NC State set to meet after bye weeks
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Refreshed, rested and ready for more success is the mindset for both No. 3 Clemson and 16th-ranked North Carolina State with both coming off bye weeks heading into their undefeated showdown in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tigers (6-0, 3-0 ACC) will host the Wolfpack (5-0, 2-0) in clash between the league’s only remaining undefeated teams. Each took time this past week to correct mistakes and prepare for a game that will likely determine the ACC Atlantic Division.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables believes the Tigers will be ready for the challenge.
“I think the bigger the stakes, the better our guys play,” he said Monday.
Same could be said about North Carolina State, which has nearly knocked off three-time defending ACC champion Clemson in down to the wire matchups the past two seasons.
The Wolfpack had a chance to derail Clemson’s national championship season in 2016, but missed a field goal in the final seconds and lost 24-17 in overtime.
Last year, Clemson trailed most of the game before escaping 38-31 when safety K’von Wallace intercepted Ryan Finley after the Wolfpack drove to the Tigers 28 on their final drive.
“Our guys have rose to the challenge. They haven’t finished,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Monday.
Doeren said the teams arrive dead even since each had similar chances to ramp up preparations during the week off.
Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers said players were eager for the break after going nonstop since the beginning of August.
“We needed a weekend to unplug,” he said. “But now we’re ready to get back to it.”
Doeren believed his Wolfpack players worked hard during the break.
Tigers co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said the team went through some self-evaluation to refine and refocus fundamentals that may have gotten out of whack in the week-to-week run of football.
One of the biggest concerns, Elliott said, was his team’s slow starts to games. The Tigers have scored 253 points this season, just 38 of those coming in the first quarter.
“I wish I knew the answer to that one,” said Elliott, the team’s chief play-caller.
Elliott cited tailback Travis Etienne, who leads the ACC with 761 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing, dropping first-down passes early against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest — games won by Clemson by a combined 112-24 score — as setting the team back into unexpected second-and-long situations.
“We’re going to keep working on it, challenging these guys to understand the importance of every single play,” Elliott said.
Venables likes his defense’s focus, its play set by an experienced, NFL-caliber front four of ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
“I think there’s a bunch of guys who really, truly enjoy each other,” Venables said when asked what made this defense unique. “This is one of the funner units to be around.”
Venables acknowledged that Clemson’s secondary, while improving, remains a work in progress and should face a difficult test with experienced Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley, who leads the ACC with more than 324 yards passing per game.
“Mentally, we’re still not a finished product, defensively,” Venables said.
Both the Tigers and the Wolfpack got a rankings’ boost while kicking back. Clemson moved up a spot to No. 3 while North Carolina State improved four spots in the latest poll.
Clemson left guard John Simpson watched several upsets — four Top 10 teams lost last weekend — and thought, “I’m glad we didn’t play Saturday.”
The Tigers are wary of the Wolfpack and will hear plenty more about that leading up to Saturday.
Said Clemson receiver Rodgers: “Coaches are emphasizing this week that NC State always gives us problems.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report from Raleigh, North Carolina