Saturday was undoubtedly NC State's best performance of the season. The Wolfpack dominated Clemson 37-13 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to keep its bowl hopes alive. Now it's time for a final look at the game with some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
The floodgates opened in the second quarter. It started when redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon completed 4 of 4 passes for 38 yards on a touchdown drive, with three of the passes going to fifth-year senior tight end George Bryan, including an 11-yard score that gave the Pack a 7-3 lead with 11:35 left before halftime.
On the first play of Clemson's ensuing possession, redshirt freshman defensive end Art Norman stripped Clemson redshirt sophomore Tajh Boyd of the ball and redshirt junior linebacker Terrell Manning recovered the fumble at the Clemson 6. Two plays later Glennon connected with fifth-year senior Jay Smith for a 7-yard score just 1:02 after the Bryan touchdown.
After Clemson got a first down on its next possession, they were penalized for a holding that set up a first and 20 at the Clemson 19. The Tigers called for an inside reverse to freshman tailback Mike Bellamy, but the handoff was botched and Manning recovered the fumble at the Clemson 18. State converted that into a field goal, giving them a 17-3 lead and control of the game with 7:26 left before halftime.
Three things that worked:
1. Defense The Tigers entered the game as the ACC's most prolific offense. They were averaging 478.1 yards of total offense and 37.3 points per game. The Wolfpack held them to 13 points and 337 total yards, numbers that were inflated by a 68-yard touchdown drive with 1:22 left in the contest with the reserves in the game for both teams.
2. Offense The Wolfpack had its best offensive performance since they rolled up 38 points and 406 total yards in a win over Central Michigan Oct. 8, and make no mistake, Clemson is a better team than CMU. The Wolfpack could have threatened the best total yards effort of the year of 424 against Wake Forest in week two had State not focused on running the clock in the fourth quarter.
3. Playing with energy There was some wondering Saturday how State would handle the emotions and pressure of having to win out to be bowl eligible. The start in the first quarter was not inspiring, but once State got a few turnovers and a little bit of momentum, a tidal wave of energy overcame the team, and they went for a quick and emphatic kill of Clemson.
Three things that did not work:
1. Covering DeAndre Hopkins We have to be a nitpicky about what did not work Saturday. The sophomore receiver from Clemson caught five passes for 124 yards Saturday and was able to get some big plays, including a 43-yard haul.
2. Stopping the late touchdown A final score of 37-6 would have had a nicer ring to it than 37-13, but oh well.
3. Playing like that every week The first reaction in Wolfpack nation after the euphoria of the victory was nearly unanimous, why can't NC State play that every week? How did that team lose to Boston College?
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Clemson's front seven The first quarter was tough for the offensive line. Glennon was sacked twice, and the Pack's offense struggled to gain traction on its first four possessions. After that though the Pack's offensive line settled down and took control of the matchup.
NC State's front seven vs. Clemson's OL This was not much of a contest. NC State had six sacks and eight more tackles for losses. Clemson's top two running backs had 16 carries for just 39 yards. Clemson ran for 34 total net yards.
NC State's WR vs. Clemson's DB The Pack did not get a whole lot downfield, but they found some success with flair passes and a combination of crossing and slant routes. Redshirt junior Tobais Palmer may have had the highlight of the game with a 43-yard catch and run touchdown.
NC State's DB vs. Clemson's WR There's no denying that Clemson missed star freshman Sammy Watkins. Hopkins was a tough matchup for the Wolfpack, but overall the defensive backs covered well.
Quarterbacks No question who was the best quarterback on the field Saturday. Glennon completed 19 of 29 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns and did not turn the ball over. Boyd completed 21 of 34 passes for 238 yards, threw two interceptions (both either in or near the end zone) and had a fumble.
Running backs Redshirt freshman Tony Creecy may have had his best running game of his young career, rushing 15 times for 65 yards and a score. Junior James Washington hit his best stride late and finished with 22 carries for 86 yards and four receptions for 44 yards. They were clearly much more affective than the Clemson running backs.
Tight Ends Clemson junior Dwayne Allen will be the first-team All-ACC tight end this year, ending Bryan's two-year reign, but Bryan was the best tight end this afternoon. He caught 3 passes for 35 yards and a score. Allen also caught three passes, but he was effectively neutralized and held to just 18 yards. Bryan has caught at least three passes in three of the last four games after he caught three passes just twice in the first seven games.
Special teams Senior receiver T.J. Graham, who became the ACC's all-time kickoff return yardage leader in the game, had a key 34-yard punt return during the second quarter explosion. Freshman kicker Niklas Sade made all three field goal attempts, giving him six straight made field goals. Clemson did better when it came to punting, but Graham's return tilted the matchup to the Wolfpack.