Clemson at N.C. State, 7:30 (ESPN)

NC State braces for a ferocious Clemson attack

jgiglio@newsobserver.comSeptember 18, 2013 

  • Attack mode

    Clemson became the seventh team in ACC history to average more than 500 yards per game last season. Florida State’s 1995 team, which featured running back Warrick Dunn and five other first-team All-ACC offensive players on offense, holds the all-time ACC mark for average yardage and points.

    1995 FSU7-148.4 550.7
    2000 FSU8-042.4 549
    1993 FSU8-043.2 548
    2012 Clemson7-141 512.7
    1999 Georgia Tech5-340.7 509
    1989 Duke6-132.4 501.7
    1990 Virginia5-240.2 501.5

— Here’s an unpleasant proposition for N.C. State before Thursday night’s game with No. 3 Clemson:

Asked if it’s possible that the Tigers could be better on offense than they were a year ago, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said: “Absolutely.”

Consider the Wolfpack took Clemson’s best shot in a 62-48 road loss last season when the Tigers rolled up 754 yards of offense.

Consider senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who accounted for an ACC-record eight touchdowns in last year’s win over the Wolfpack, is a year older and more comfortable in coordinator Chad Morris’ up-tempo, spread offense.

Consider four offensive linemen returned from last season’s offense, which became the just seventh team in ACC history to average more than 500 yards per game.

Consider the health of receiver Sammy Watkins, who is rounding back into his superior 2011 form, and you understand how first-year N.C. State coach Dave Doeren feels after watching film of the Tigers’ past 15 games.

“There’s not really a weak spot you look at,” Doeren said.

The Tigers (2-0) set an impossibly high bar last season with their offensive production during their second season under Morris, who was just a year removed from coaching high school football in Texas when Swinney hired him after the Tigers finished 6-7 in 2010.

Last season, Clemson averaged 512.7 yards per game, the fourth-highest average in ACC history, and averaged 46.5 points per game in conference play.

It was enough to get Morris, the highest-paid assistant coach in the country, an interview with N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow when she was looking for a replacement for former coach Tom O’Brien last November. Yow chose Doeren, who shares a similar philosophy about offense to Morris, instead.

Now, Doeren’s first ACC game, after a 2-0 start out of the conference, comes on national television (7:30 p.m., ESPN) against Morris’ offense and the third-ranked team in the country.

The Wolfpack’s defense is up against an historical challenge in Clemson’s offense, if the Tigers can repeat least year’s statistical achievements.

Only a trio of Florida State teams – 1993, 1995 and 2000 – averaged more yards or points than Clemson’s offense last season.

The Tigers lost both leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins (82 catches, 1,405 yards, 18 touchdowns ) and leading rusher Andre Ellington (1,081 yards) to the NFL, but Swinney believes this group has a chance to be better than last year’s, which finished 7-1 in the ACC and 11-2 overall.

“We’ve got a lot more back than we lost,” Swinney said. “Who knows statistically, we may not be as good statistically but that doesn’t mean we’re not as good. There’s a lot of things that go into that.”

Clemson, which opened the season with a 38-35 win over Georgia, has already done enough to catch the attention of some of the best players from two of the most prolific offenses in ACC history.

ESPN analyst and former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell said the Tigers’ offense could be better this season because of Boyd’s maturity in Morris’ system. Kanell also pointed out that Watkins, who missed three games last season, has taken over Hopkins’ role as the top target and that senior running back Roderick McDowell has proven to be a capable replacement for Ellington.

“This Clemson program is getting to be the type that reloads after consistently recruiting top tier talent,” said Kanell, whose Florida State offense in 1995 averaged the most yards (550.7) and points (48.4) in ACC history.

Clarkston Hines was an All-American receiver at Duke in 1989 when the Blue Devils, coached by Steve Spurrier, became the first ACC team to average 500 yards per game. He said it’s difficult to compare eras, Duke’s offense under Spurrier was ahead of its time – as was Bobby Bowden’s “Fast Break” tempo at Florida State in the mid 1990s – but he also said it was impossible to ignore the accomplishments of Clemson under Morris’ scheme.

“I’m big fan of what they do,” Hines said. “They have a really respected offensive coordinator who has an effective philosophy and a smart game plan.

“It also helps they have studs at the skill positions.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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