Who has the edge?
When Clemson has the ball
Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson. That’s both good and bad for N.C. State. Watson was a once-in-a-generation player. He made plays few others could. His 40-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain at Carter-Finley Stadium in 2015 should be in a museum.
Watson was a great leader. The Tigers would not have won the national title without him.
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But Clemson had to protect Watson and not let him run as much as he probably needed to during the season. You’ll note when it was “go” time, Watson ran (15-plus carries vs. FSU, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Alabama).
Clemson also had to showcase Watson in an effort to get him the Heisman Trophy. So Watson threw a lot of passes (579), and took a lot of chances. That added up to 17 interceptions last year (and 13 in 2015). Bryant has four interceptions (in 209 attempts) this season.
Clemson’s offense is at its best when the quarterback can run. Bryant has been more willing to run than Watson (who also, to an extent, had to protect his NFL value last year).
Bryant was knocked out of the Syracuse loss in the second quarter. In the other six games, he has run 109 times for 468 yards with seven touchdowns. With a more active running quarterback, the Tigers’ rushing average is up 50 yards per game (219.7).
Freshman running back Travis Etienne (489 yards) and sophomore Tavien Feaster (424 yards) have offset the loss of Wayne Gallman.
After Notre Dame ran all over the Wolfpack defense (for 318 yards), N.C. State’s going to get a heavy dose of read-option from Bryant. The Wolfpack safeties will have to make more plays than they did against the Irish. Edge: Clemson.
When N.C. State has the ball
Running back Nyheim Hines is supposed to play, which would be a big boost for the Wolfpack offense. Hines turned his right ankle in the first quarter of the Notre Dame loss and was limited to 6 yards on two carries.
Quarterback Ryan Finley struggled in the loss to Notre Dame last week, and he struggled in the overtime loss to Clemson (20-of-40, 231 yards, 2 interceptions) last year.
State needs both to be on their “A” games against a Clemson defense that is the best in the ACC and right there next to Alabama as the best in the country.
The Tigers’ strength, like N.C. State’s, is up front with defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel (five sacks) has reaped the benefits of playing behind a stacked front.
If Hines is not sharp, then Clemson’s defense will be able to press up on State’s receivers and force Finley to beat them deep. Notre Dame’s secondary was ultra-aggressive with State’s receivers on short routes and bullied them off the ball.
There isn’t a more aggressive secondary in the ACC than Clemson’s. Edge: Clemson.
Everyone knows how this one ended last year. Kyle Bambard’s missed 33-yard field sent the game into overtime, where Clemson won.
State’s kicking game has not improved by much. Like State, the Tigers don’t have a great kicker but Ray-Ray McCloud and Etienne are dangerous return men.
Hines’ absence hurt State’s return game just as much as it did the offense. Even if he’s healthy and can run, it might not be worth the risk to let him return kicks. That negates a significant advantage for State. Edge: Even.
Big games aren’t a big deal to Clemson. The Tigers have one nearly every week (and win almost all of them). N.C. State wasn’t quite ready for the big stage last week at Notre Dame.
At home, though, with another full moon and a shot at both revenge (for last year’s gut-busting loss) and control of the Atlantic Division, N.C. State will have plenty of juice going for it. Edge: N.C. State.
Prediction: Clemson 24, N.C. State 17
Clemson at NC State
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
By the numbers
Yards per play (O)
Yards per play (D)
3rd-down conversion % (O)
3rd-down conversions % (D)
Ryan Finley, State
Kelly Bryant, Clem
Nyheim Hines, State
Travis Etienne, Clem
Kelly Bryant, Clem
Reggie Gallaspy, State
Kelvin Harmon, State
Jaylen Samuels, State
Hunter Renfrow, Clem
Deon Cain, Clem
at Virginia Tech
at N.C. State
at South Carolina
N.C. State (6-2)
vs. South Carolina*
at Florida State
at Notre Dame
at Boston College
at Wake Forest
Note: *-at Charlotte.