Here are the keys to victory for No. 3 Clemson in its first road test of 2013 at North Carolina State at 7:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium:
KNOCK OFF THE RUST
Of course, both teams have had 11 days off since their last game. But the difference is N.C. State had to labor to hold off Richmond, which isn’t the worst thing in that the Wolfpack were forced to strain through a tough battle. Meanwhile, the Tigers yawned their way to a 52-13 romp in their previous game, meaning it’s been nearly three weeks since the emotionally draining Georgia opener. Don’t be surprised to see the Tigers out of sync in the first quarter, on both sides of the ball, and let the Raleigh crowd make some noise early. The main priority is not letting adversity soon after kickoff get out of hand.
RE-ESTABLISH THE RUN
Roderick McDowell is cleared for takeoff, after getting his bell rung in week two. If he can bring the same between-the-tackles toughness he displayed against the SEC-gritty Bulldogs, the Tigers’ offense will be infinitely more balanced. Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson will also look to stick their nose in there.
COLLAPSE THE POCKET
Pete Thomas is 6-6 and not that mobile or experienced. While the Wolfpack line is gargantuan on paper, we’ll see if they can consistently handle Clemson’s quick pass-rushers and run-stuffers. Because State prefers plenty of quick outs and slants, while mixing in playaction out of the running game, Clemson’s got to create some pressure on Thomas, or it could be a long night for the defense. Holding State to field goals – the hosts trust their very good kicker – is paramount.
First Clemson in 2011, then Florida State in 2012. These aren’t yesteryear’s Pack, but they’re like actual wolves in that they eye foes bigger than themselves and yet don’t see a size difference. (Anyone who owns a small or medium-sized dog understands this.) The next eight opponents on Clemson’s plate will take their best shot, and for a simple-on-paper schedule to play out the way it should, the Tigers are going to need to flex their muscles a few times and play like a dominant favorite, not take their chances with toe-to-toe shootouts.
Clemson 34, North Carolina State 19