CLEMSON – This one could get scary.
Not only is that quite possibly the worst holiday-related pun ever to stain the esteemed pages of the Tiger Tracks blog – Happy Halloween, everybody! – but it’s also true, because North Carolina State has been a house of horrors before.
Listen up, goblins and ghouls: strolling through Carter-Finley Stadium isn’t a snap. Just ask Florida State, which lost there in 2010 and 2012 and nearly had its perfect season derailed last fall. Clemson also went down late in 2011, which triggered its own relative swoon to conclude that year.
The Wolfpack lost its first 12 ACC games under Dave Doeren, but won four of its last five in 2014, including wins at North Carolina and over UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Fortunately for Clemson, the Tigers seem to have N.C. State’s number with the exception of that pesky 2011 upset. Clemson has won the other 10 out of the past 11 meetings, and thumped N.C. State in a 41-point blasting last fall at Death Valley.
But once quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back Shadrach Thornton and a reasonably experienced offensive line gels, N.C. State might be capable of engaging in a shootout, which often favors the home team.
Whether Brissett, Doeren and the gang is ready to take that next step by midseason could determine whether Clemson finds itself a trick or treat entering November.
(Enough with the Halloween puns. Promise.)
N.C. State coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, 3rd season)
Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
2014 record: 8-5, 3-5 ACC
Scoring offense: 30.2 points per game (57th in FBS)
Scoring defense: 27.0 points allowed (66th)
Series: Clemson leads 54-28-1, including 19-16 on road
Last meeting: Clemson 41, N.C. State 0: Oct. 4, 2014 in Clemson
Opposing beat writer to follow: Joe Giglio, Raleigh News & Observer (@jwgiglio)
1. Proven coach: Don’t forget, Doeren’s the guy who went 23-4 at Northern Illinois and led the Huskies into an Orange Bowl date. With a linebacker’s background, Doeren has never had more returning starters on defense than he does this year with the eight on defense, which should help at least balance the scales if N.C. State can replace the likes of Art Norman with some younger talent. One thing Doeren hasn’t done at NIU or N.C. State is beat the big dogs; he’s 1-4 all-time vs. ranked opponents, but last year’s FSU game proved the Wolfpack are no homecoming opponent.
2. Jacoby makes the jump: Brissett’s the No. 1 reason for hope in Raleigh. ‘Big Shifty’, the former Florida transfer, was outstanding vs. the Seminoles, and finished with 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns against a mere five picks. In fact, of all the fine efforts put forth on gameday by Clemson’s top-ranked defense last year, shutting out the Wolfpack and limiting Brissett to 4-of-18 passing with 35 yards might have been the crème de la crème. Brissett can be shaky, with three sub-100-yard passing games last year, but because he’s streaky, he’s dangerous. It didn’t help losing top receiver Bo Hines to Yale; it does help having his top two rushers back in Thornton and Matt Dayes, plus five of N.C. State’s top seven receivers.
3. Sieve-like symptoms: The red flags raised when Georgia Southern hung with N.C. State and Old Dominion put up 34 on the Pack’s defense. FSU and Clemson combined for 107 points in consecutive weeks, and later BC and Louisville each had 30 points while Georgia Tech hung 56 on Doeren, who again is a defensive-minded coach. That old question poses itself to defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable: is it a positive to return eight starters from a classifiably “meh” unit? Guess we’ll find out if Doeren’s worth the hype in Year 3.
Week before: at Miami
Next week: Florida State
On the horizon: Florida State