ACC

5 burning questions for Clemson against NC State ... and a prediction

No. 5 Clemson will travel to face N.C. State for a game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC) at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina. Clemson has won seven consecutive games in the series, but two of the past three years the game has been decided by one score.

Here are our top five questions heading into the matchup:

1. Will Clemson attempt to put on a show for the CFP committee?

Dabo Swinney has insisted throughout the 2019 season that he doesn’t care about style points, but after the Tigers debuted at No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, he has to at least be thinking about them a little bit. If Clemson goes undefeated, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the Tigers don’t get into the playoff. Then again, it was also hard to imagine Clemson opening the season 9-0 and not being in the initial top four of the playoff rankings. If Clemson has another close call at some point during the rest of the season, like it did at North Carolina in late September, the committee could punish the Tigers. Clemson has been dominant since its 21-20 win at North Carolina, and with the game in primetime on national TV, look for the Tigers to try to make a statement.

“You want to build depth, you want to build confidence, you want to stay healthy and you certainly want to dominate your opponents, and I think we’ve done that every game but one,” Swinney told reporters this week. “You want to position yourself for great things in the postseason, and we’ve done all those things, so we’re in a good spot. We just gotta finish.”

2. Can N.C. State QB Devin Leary play better in his second start?

The redshirt freshman struggled in the first start of his career last week against Wake Forest, completing 17 of 45 passes for 149 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Now Leary will be going up against one of the best defenses in the country in Clemson. Leary is a former four-star recruit and will need to play like it to give the Wolfpack a chance on Saturday.

“Offensively, they’ve had some transition at quarterback. Went with the young freshman last week and assume he’ll be the guy again this week,” Swinney said. “But they’ve also played Bailey Hockman (FSU transfer) a lot. They’ll do some Wildcat as well.”

3. Will Clemson’s offense continue to set records?

The Tigers have scored at least 45 points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history. Clemson also has a school record four games with at least 600 yards of offense this season, and the Tigers are averaging more than 250 rushing yards per game and 250 passing yards per game for the first time ever. Clemson will look to continue its offensive success this weekend against an N.C. State defense that is in the middle of the pack in the ACC, allowing 393 yards per game. The Wolfpack have had lots of injuries on defense and will be without three of their top four cornerbacks.

“Defensively, they’ve suffered a bunch of injuries, but they’re physical. A little bit of a challenge schematically because they’re unorthodox, so you have to do a great job communicating, picking up their pressures, and identifying properly because they’re going to pressure you,” Swinney said. “They have had a lot of injures in the secondary but they don’t change what they do. They are going to pressure you. They are going to play man coverage.”

4. Can Clemson’s defense hold another opponent under 300 yards?

Clemson lost seven starters off of last year’s defense, yet the Tigers are one of only three teams since 2000 to hold the first nine opponents of a season to under 300 yards of offense. The only other teams to accomplish that feat are the 2006 LSU Tigers and the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide. Clemson allowed 294 yards of offense against Georgia Tech in its season opener, and the Tigers have held every opponent since then to 290 yards or less. Clemson currently ranks No. 4 nationally in total defense, allowing 247 yards per game. N.C. State is No. 77 in total offense, managing 394 yards per contest.

“It’s pretty remarkable what this group has done,” Swinney said of his defensive unit.

5. Will the wackiness continue?

This rivalry has been intense in recent years, both on the field and on the sidelines. Clemson offensive lineman Isaiah Battle punched an N.C. State defender in 2013 and was ejected from the game. In addition to that, a Wolfpack staff member shoved Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2015. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren accused Clemson of illegally having a laptop on the sideline in 2017, and Wolfpack defensive lineman Bradley Chubb stole several of former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant’s towels that same year. In 2018 Clemson called a play by holding up a sign with a laptop on it to troll Doeren.

“I just think it’s the Textile Bow. It just goes way back. We forget about that, there’s a trophy on the line,” Swinney said of why the game has been so intense.. “There’s a trophy around here somewhere. I’m sure we’ll load it up and take it up there. That’s out of my lane, but I’m sure we will. N.C. State has been really good too, man. Goodness gracious they’ve had a bunch of really good players over these last few years.”

Prediction: Clemson is likely to arrive in a bad mood after being ranked No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff poll. That is bad news for an N.C. State team that got blown out last week against Wake Forest and that is battling injuries. Clemson has rebounded from a poor showing at North Carolina to put together four consecutive dominant wins since. The Tigers should make it five in a row this weekend.

Pick: Clemson 51, N.C. State 10

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Matt Connolly is the Clemson beat writer and covers recruiting and college sports for The State newspaper and The State.com
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