With a spot in the ACC Championship Game ranked Clemson Tigers set their sights on a strong finish, closing out ACC play this weekend in Raleigh against the NC State Wolfpack.
It wasn't easy, but Dabo Swinney's Tigers earned a 31-28 come-from-behind victory over Wake Forest last week to earn the ACC's Atlantic Division crown. At 6-1 in-conference, Clemson will take on NC State this week, followed by the annual showdown with rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale.
Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack are an even 5-5 on the season and while an ACC title has long been out of the picture, bowl eligibility can still be attained. However, with a pair of wins over FCS opponents and last weekend's 14-10 loss at Boston College, the Wolfpack must win out to reach the postseason. After this game, NC State closes out the regular season against Maryland.
Swinney recognizes the challenge that NC State presents this week.
"We're back on the road this week and have to go place in a tough place at N.C. State. They're a very capable team. They went to Virginia and win, and now Virginia is playing for the Coastal Division title. They shut out North Carolina, they battled hard with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. They're getting guys back and we're going to have to play better."
Clemson holds a 51-27-1 advantage in the series with NC State and has won each of the last seven meetings.
The Tigers are in a position to earn a BCS bowl bid thanks to an offense that ranks among the nation's best. A balanced attack, Clemson is averaging 478.1 yards per game and has the ability to move the chains both by the run (170.5 ypg) and via the pass (307.6 ypg).
Sophomore QB Tahj Boyd has burst on the scene as one of the top young signal- callers in the country, completing 61.5 percent of his passes, for 3,017 yards and 27 TDs thus far. It helps to have the ACC's top receiver in freshman phenom Sammy Watkins, who has 68 catches, for 1,034 yards and 10 TDs.
Tailback Andre Ellington gives the team a viable option out of the backfield, averaging 93.7 ypg. He leads the team with 843 yards and nine TDs on the year.
The Clemson defense doesn't put up the gaudy numbers the offense does, but the unit still has playmakers at each level. The defensive line is headlined by rush end Andre Branch, who ranks second on the team in tackles (60), and first in TFLs (12.5) and sacks (8.5). Linebacker Jonathan Willard leads the team in tackles (61), while safety Rashad Hall (55 tackles) get it done in the secondary.
The Wolfpack aren't the most explosive offensive team and will need to really turn things up this weekend to keep pace with Clemson. Quarterback Mike Glennon has played to mixed reviews, completing 61.6 percent of his throws, for 2,231 yards and 20 TDs.The numbers are solid, but he has also thrown 10 interceptions. Wideout T.J. Graham is a dynamic playmaker both on the outside and as a return guy. He leads the team with 31 receptions, for 553 yards and five TDs.
The Wolfpack have played well on the defensive side of the ball, as evidenced by the shutout they registered against North Carolina two weeks ago. This unit relies heavily on big plays, and no one provides more than All-American candidate David Amerson. The sophomore cover corner leads the nation in interceptions with 10, with one returned for a TD. Senior linebacker Audie Cole (team-high 103 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) is a true leader n the middle. Safeties Earl Wolff (93 tackles) and Brandan Bishop (66 tackles, four INTs) join Amerson in an extremely productive secondary.
The Tigers run the risk of a letdown after securing the division title last week, something Swinney hopes to avoid.
"We are fighting for a 10th win. We haven't won 10 games in 21 years. That would be a big deal. A lot of these guys weren't even born then. We have to finish strong and be our best. We have to keep moving forward. We can never be satisfied."