NC State vs Clemson preview: Copycats, Read Options and Josh Jones
There are no new ideas in coaching.
So after Notre Dame ran for 318 yards, mostly on read-option plays, in a win over N.C. State, the Wolfpack expects Clemson to try and copy what worked for the Fighting Irish.
“Oh, yeah, no doubt,” N.C. State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said.
Clemson, ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, visits No. 20 N.C. State on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC). The Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) likely noticed Notre Dame’s success on the ground against N.C. State’s defense.
Notre Dame got 202 rushing yards from running back Josh Adams in its 35-14 win over the Wolfpack (6-2, 4-0) last week. The Irish ran 54 times (compared to only 19 pass plays) for 318 yards. That was more rushing yards than N.C. State had allowed in its previous three games – wins over Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh – combined (270).
Even if you throw out a late 77-yard touchdown run by Adams, the Irish ran for more yards against N.C. State’s defense than any team this season and the most since North Carolina piled up 374 yards in the last game of the 2015 regular season.
As good as Notre Dame’s offensive line was, its success on the ground came down to simple math. With quarterback Brandon Wimbush and Adams running a read-option behind five blockers, Notre Dame had a numerical advantage (seven to six) over N.C. State at the line of scrimmage.
“More people are creating quarterback-designed runs, to get ‘plus one,’ ” Huxtable said. “You have to find a way defensively to counter that.”
N.C. State had a ready-made answer for that last season in safety Josh Jones, who led the team with 109 tackles. Jones is in the NFL now, and the Wolfpack’s new safeties haven’t been as aggressive or effective against the run.
Clemson, with star quarterback Deshaun Watson now tearing up the NFL, has turned into more of a running team. The Tigers average 50 more rushing yards per game (219.7) than they did a year ago.
Running backs Travis Etienne (8.4 yards per carry) and Tavien Feaster (5.8 ypc) have home-run potential, but quarterback Kelly Bryant has been the major difference in Clemson’s running game.
“They’re running the quarterback more,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
In the six full games Bryant has played, he has run 109 times for 468 yards with seven touchdowns. Bryant was knocked out with a concussion in the second quarter of Clemson’s loss at Syracuse on Oct. 13. He had four rushes for negative-8 yards in that game.
Even with the injury, Bryant has run almost 60 percent more than Watson (71 for 279 yards) did through the first seven games last season.
N.C. State is prepared for a heavy dose of Bryant and Etienne, who Doeren described as “scary” with the ball.
The troubling part for the Wolfpack is it thought it was ready for Notre Dame’s run game, too.
“(Notre Dame) didn’t do anything we didn’t practice,” defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Injuries on the defensive line didn’t help N.C. State’s cause in the second half of the loss to Notre Dame. Doeren was optimistic defensive tackles Justin Jones (elbow) and Eurndraus Bryant (ankle) would be able to play against Clemson.
Regardless of who’s on the field, Huxtable said there’s only one way for the defense to react to the Notre Dame loss.
“We have to play smarter and more disciplined,” Huxtable said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Stopping the run
N.C. State didn’t have any problems stopping the run before last week’s trip to Notre Dame:
On the run
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has been more active in the running game for the Tigers, who average 219.7 rushing yards per game (50 more per game than a year ago):
Kelly Bryant (2017)
Deshaun Watson (2016)