N.C. State did not beat Clemson on Saturday, but the Wolfpack did earn the Tigers’ respect.
Clemson (7-0) remained unbeaten, and in the thick of the national title race, after a 24-17 overtime win over N.C. State.
A 33-yard field goal could have knocked off the third-ranked Tigers on the final play of regulation, but kicker Kyle Bambard missed wide right. N.C. State (4-2) did more than just scare the Tigers and the homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium.
“They came in here and fought hard,” Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins said. “It’s not easy coming into Death Valley, and they came in here and prepared and really gave us a challenge.”
Wilkins blocked a field goal, ran for a first down on a fake punt and had a key quarterback pressure late to help the Tigers win their 20th straight home game. N.C. State hasn’t won at Death Valley since 2002.
The Wolfpack defense stood out in the game. It forced four turnovers and made Clemson’s offense manufacture yards and points.
Clemson had scored a total of 97 points in the previous two games against N.C. State and had 17 points in regulation.
Receiver Mike Williams, who finished with a game-high 12 catches for 146 yards, was among the Clemson players impressed by N.C. State’s effort.
“First, I just want to say, N.C. State, that is a great team,” Williams said. “They played a great game.”
Earlier in the week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had praised N.C. State’s defensive line and talked about how Clemson and N.C. State were the only two teams in the Atlantic Division without an ACC loss.
Clemson’s players figured out pretty quickly that wasn’t just coachspeak from Swinney.
“We knew they were going to give us every ounce of juice that they had in their body, and they did,” Swinney said.
The question now for N.C. State is how does it turn Clemson’s respect into a positive. Junior defensive end Bradley Chubb said the obvious way is through the confidence the defense picked up in Saturday’s effort.
“We should have all the confidence in the world for the rest of the season because we know we can play with whoever the top team is,” Chubb said.
With Louisville, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina still on the schedule, the Wolfpack has more chances at picking up the big win that eluded them at Clemson.
Quarterback Ryan Finley said the team would be able to bounce from the difficult loss.
“This is definitely not the end of our season,” Finley said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio