3:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Clemson -17.5, Over/Under: 56
A blossoming rivalry that could tilt the balance of the Atlantic Coast Conference takes place in Death Valley, as the Third-Ranked Clemson Tigers host the undefeated Sixteenth-Ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack from Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. Don’t be fooled by this rivalry’s inauspicious name, for The Textile Bowl has evolved into one of the more heated encounters in the ACC over the past few years, coupled with the incremental improvement of NC State (5-0, 2-0 in ACC) as a program. Now in his sixth campaign in Raleigh, Dave Doeren has the Wolfpack trending upward, fresh off of their best finish (9-4 in 2017) since 1994, and looking to unseat the league’s resident reigning powerhouse. And man, they sure have come close. In Doeren’s first season back in 2013, a potential 83-Yard Touchdown Reception was overturned as his Receiver was ruled out of bounds at midfield, halting all momentum in a games that Clemson ultimately won 26-14. In 2016, the visiting Wolfpack missed a crucial 33-Yard Field Goal at the end of Regulation, allowing the eventual National Champions to escape in Overtime 24-17. Lastly, in their most recent meeting, a 38-31 loss at Carter-Finley Stadium, the Hosts were victimized by an Illegal Formation Penalty on First & Goal as they were attempting to tie the contest. In addition to these tightly contested encounters, there has also been a slew of incidents that have occurred on and off the field, further stoking the growing fire of this rivalry, with players punching players, Staff Members in turn swinging at players, Coaches making accusations in regards to the other’s technology, and All-Americans stealing towels from the opposing Quarterback, but then again, this is the Textile Bowl, right? Anyway, North Carolina State is on a roll, thanks in large part to one of the most experienced rosters in the conference, particularly on Offense where Fifth-Year Senior Quarterback Ryan Finley (69.5%, 324.2 Y/G, 8.7 Y/A, 10 TD, 3 INT) is leading an attack that is averaging 33.0 Points per Game (45th Overall) on 480.6 Total Yards, including 335.4 Yards through the air and another 145.2 Yards on the ground. Finley has aired it out a great deal this season, spreading the wealth to a number of Receivers with five of them reeling in at least Ten Receptions, though the triumvirate of Kelvin Harmon (33 REC, 534 YDS, 16.2 Y/R, 2 TD), Jokobi Meyers (30 REC, 319 YDS, 10.6 Y/R, 1 TD), and Emeka Emezie (20 REC, 244 YDS, 12.2 Y/R, 2 TD) have stood out from the rest of the crowd. When we last saw these guys, they were busy building a what should have been a comfortable 28-3 lead late in the Third Quarter at home against Boston College, though apparently did everything in their power to give the game away, as the Eagles rallied back with three consecutive Touchdowns inside the final 17:00 of the affair. Statistically, Doeren’s charges dominated the visiting side, earning sizable advantages in First Downs (34-12) and Total Yards (533-318), but nearly self-destructed with Four Turnovers. Finley completed 24-of-35 Passes for 308 Yards, Two Touchdowns and Two Interceptions, while Harmon hauled in Nine Catches for 128 Yards and a Touchdown, with Meyers not far behind with Ten Receptions for Ninety-Nine Yards and a score of his own. In two previous meetings with Clemson, Finley has done his best to topple the Tigers, completing 56.7% of his Attempts for an average of 284.5 Yards on just 6.32 Yards per Attempt, with Three Touchdowns and Four Interceptions, though all three of those strikes came in last year’s narrow defeat. It goes without saying, but a win in Death Valley would serve as the ideal resume builder for NC State, for this has been an extremely one-sided series over the years, with Clemson taking thirteen of the last fourteen meetings.
Meanwhile, Clemson (6-0, 3-0 in ACC) also arrives into today’s matchup undefeated, racing out to a 6-0 start for the fourth consecutive season, and for the sixth time in the last eight years. Dabo Swinney’s charges have faced a few close calls though, with a brief Quarterback Controversy spicing things up for a bit, though that was ultimately settled with the transfer of the incumbent Kelly Bryant (66.0%, 114.0 Y/G, 8.6 Y/A, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 CAR, 144 YDS, 4.8 Y/C, 2 TD ), who elected to had to North Carolina, where he’ll be eligible to compete next fall. The man who made him expendable is Trevor Lawrence (68.3%, 144.7 Y/G, 8.6 Y/A, 11 TD, 2 INT, ), a Freshman who after the Tigers’ narrow 28-26 victory over Texas A&M, gradually earned more playing time, ultimately relegating the more experienced Bryant to fewer and fewer minutes. The difference between the two Quarterbacks has been their play within the Pocket, which has been decisively in Lawrence’s favor; while both Signal-Callers have exhibited similar marks in Accuracy (66.0% and 68.3%) and Yards per Attempt (both at 8.6), the Freshman has found the End Zone far more frequently, tossing Eleven Touchdowns to Bryant’s Two. With the competition settled, Lawrence looked very comfortable in Clemson’s last outing, a 63-3 drubbing of Wake Forest, in which he completed an efficient 20-of-25 Passes for 175 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns. However, it cannot go without saying that the Underclassman has benefitted tremendously from what has become one of the nation’s most prolific Rushing Attacks, for the Tigers have averaged a whopping 283.7 Yards per Game on the ground, all the while racking up a staggering 7.1 Yards per Carry. Tailbacks Travis Etienne (83 CAR, 762 YDS, 9.2 Y/C, 11 TD), Adam Choice (36 CAR, 283 YDS, 7.9 Y/C, 2 TD), Lyn-J Dixon (27 CAR, 298 YDS, 11.0 Y/C, 2 TD), and Tavien Feaster (35 CAR, 178 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 2 TD) have all had their moments this season for an Offense that now ranks Fourth Overall in Rushing. And man, were they on display in the win over the Demon Deacons; the visiting Tigers totaled a ridiculous 471 Rushing Yards and Six Touchdowns on Forty Carries, with Etienne (167 YDS, 3 TD), Dixon (163 YDS, 2 TD), and Choice (128 YDS, 1 TD) each passing 100 Yards while only needing Ten Carries to do so. The Ground Game played a large part in their success in last year’s 38-31 victory at Raleigh, in which the visiting side rolled up 224 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Thirty-Five Carries, with the aforementioned Feaster gashing them the Wolfpack for 105 Yards on just seven Carries, highlighted by a scintillating 89-Yard Touchdown. However, while the Running Game will go a long way towards relegating Finley & Co. on the sidelines, he real matchup will be when NC State’s explosive Offense is on the field, when they will match wits with Clemson’s staunch Defense, which once again ranks among the nation’s elite in a slew of categories. On the season, the Tigers are yielding just 14.5 Points per Game (6th Overall) on 275.2 Total Yards, including 152.8 Yards versus the Pass, and another 122.3 Yards against the run. As was the case last year, everything starts up front for this unit, where they possess a wealth of NFL-caliber talent. Defensive Tackles Christian Wilkins (21 TKL, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR) and Dexter Lawrence (11 TKL, 0.5 TFL) are sure to plying their trade on Sundays someday, while Austin Bryant (17 TKL, 5.5 TFL, 3.0 SK) and Clelin Ferrell (20 TKL, 8.0 TFL, 6.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 TD) are two of the most feared Edge-Rushers in the land. This quartet will likely relish the opportunity to get after Finley, whom they only managed to sack once in last year’s matchup.