Coach Dabo Swinney said Clemson's offense will continue to run smoothly with reserve receiver Adam Humphries in the starting lineup.
Humphries is replacing Charone Peake, who was the Tigers (2-0) second-leading receiver when he tore his ACL in a non-contact drill a week ago and needs season-ending surgery. So Humphries, Peake's high-school teammate from Dorman, will be front-and-center when Clemson faces North Carolina State (2-0) in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams Thursday night.
"Adam Humphries is a special player," Swinney said Tuesday. "We're fortunate to have a great player like Adam who can step in. From that standpoint, I think we're OK. Where this really hurts us is our depth."
Humphries gave Clemson the luxury of having a fast, sure-handed receiver to sub for Peake, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. With Humphries now a starter, Swinney will have to rely on less proven players like Germone Hopper, Mike Williams and T.J. Green, who have a combined eight career catches between them. Swinney also said junior Matt Porter, who's got two career catches in a reserve role, can fit into Clemson's rotation.
The Tigers threw to 14 players in the South Carolina State win and will likely need to call on many of those pass-catchers as the season continues.
"That's what we got, all great players, and we're going to have to ramp up the development," Swinney said.
Peake, a junior, is expected to have surgery next month during Clemson's midsemester break so he'll get a few days to rest without worrying about going to class. If all goes as planned, Peake will be granted a medical redshirt and have two full years left at Clemson, Swinney said.
Watkins said Peake, who is his roommate, is holding up well despite the injury and is confident he'll return to his old form next season. For now, Watkins said it's up to himself and Bryant to become even more of an offensive focus than they've been.
"I think having this week off, we've prepared well and we'll see a lot of big plays from (Bryant) and hopefully myself," Watkins said.
Swinney's confident Humphries will excel in his increased role.
Humphries has started five of 29 games in his career with 63 catches and one touchdown. And Swinney says Humphries always seems to be in the middle of Clemson's big moments, like in last year's 25-24 Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over LSU.
Humphries took a pass from quarterback Tajh Boyd, then flipped it Andre Ellington for a 21-yard gain on Clemson's fourth-quarter TD drive that cut LSU's lead to 24-22. On Clemson's last series, Humprhies had his eighth catch, a 9-yard gain that turned a longish field goal try into a chip shot that Chandler Cantazaro nailed as time ran out for the victory.
"Adam is just a consistent player," Boyd said. "There's really no wavering with him, you know what you're going to get when he steps on the field. Little disappointed for Charone, but very excited and confident in what Adam offers."
First-year Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Clemson has experienced, talented players.
"They've got a lot of things going for them right now," Doeren said. "There are some things we've found. Can we exploit them or not? We'll find out. We're going to try."
Clemson's fast-pace offense hasn't cranked things up since a 52-13 victory over FCS opponent South Carolina State on Sept. 7. Boyd said the players kept their edge during off-week workouts and are ready to build on what they've done so far. The Tigers are averaging 490 yards and 45 points a game this season.
Starting tailback Roderick McDowell, who had 132 yards in the season-opening win over Georgia, left the South Carolina State game with a concussion two weeks ago, but quickly was cleared to return to practice and has been fine.
"He's good," Swinney said. "He's starting."
North Carolina State pulled off one of its most surprising victories of 2011 when it upended No. 7 Clemson, 37-13. Swinney called the ordeal "one of the most miserable games I've ever been a part of."
The Tigers, who started 8-0 that season, were able to rebound and win their first ACC championship in 20 years. Watkins was a freshman on the last trip to Raleigh who was out with a shoulder injury and said he wasn't even sure he could've helped avoid that defeat.
"Two years ago, we weren't humble," Watkins said. "We didn't deal well with the success we had as a team."