With the football season less than 10 weeks away, it is never too soon to begin to look at the opponents that will try to derail the Clemson Tigers’ quest for a second-consecutive national championship and their third appearance in the College Football Playoff in as many years.
Today, we continue our series with the Tigers’ eighth opponent—the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who the Tigers will face on the road at Carter-Finley Stadium on Nov. 4.
Since Dave Doeren took over as the head coach of the Wolfpack in 2013 the N.C. State faithful have been treated to a whirlwind of ups and downs.
After going 3-9 in his first season, and failing to win an ACC game, the Wolfpack have put together back-to-back-to-back winning seasons (8-5, 7-6, 7-6), while also winning their bowl game in two of the three seasons (2014, 2016).
But it is the close calls that have haunted Doeren, most memorably last season which saw his team drop games to Clemson (OT), Boston College (21-14) and Florida State (24-20). Now entering his fourth season, Doeren understands that it is time for those close losses to change over to wins.
“We’ve been to three straight bowls and won two of the three,” Doeren said. “We had teams that were very competitive. I think last year was probably our most competitive team. But didn’t always get to feel what we wanted to feel at the end of it.
“There are guys like that on the entire football team, not just the defense. That’s been the most gratifying thing is watching these guys stick together and fight and become somebody that I know no matter who we play, it’s going to be a physical game. We’re going to play hard for four quarters and do everything we can to be in it and win it in the end.”
The NC State offense is already better off this season than they were last season, because they return most of their offense—including quarterback Ryan Finley, who threw for more than 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago.
The offensive line returns four of their five starters from last season—a group that allowed only 17 sacks— and while top receiving target, Jaylen Samuels, who plays a little bit of everything for the Wolfpack, also returns the focus will be on replacing running back Matthew Dayes.
The Wolfpack head coach feels that moving some pieces around on the offense could help his team make up for the loss of Dayes—namely Nyheim Hines, who is making the move to running back for the Wolfpack this season.
“He was a runner in high school more than he was a receiver,” Doeren said. “So, it’s just natural for him. He does have an innate ability to see things. Sometimes it’s kind of forced with guys when it comes to see eight whole or making a cut. He’s really good when it comes to our stretch play, planting his foot and the defense.
“He runs harder than a lot of people think. He’s a small guy maybe in height, but he’s 195 pounds and he’s not easy to tackle. So just seeing how hard he would run behind his offensive line was impressive.”
The Wolfpack defense may be one of the strongest in the ACC this season, returning eight starters off a squad that finished 2016 ranked eighth in the nation in rushing defense and 24th in total defense.
With all four starters on the defensive line returning, including All-ACC selection Bradley Chubb (21.5 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks last season), as well as all three linebackers– the front seven of the defense should be good enough to allow the coaching staff to figure out who will take over the three vacant spots in the secondary.
“Well, if they continue to improve on little things, they’re definitely as strong and big as we’ve been up front,” Doeren said. “You know how it is with injuries. You just hope you can continue to stay injury free there. But we feel like the four seniors that we have, plus Darian Roseboro and Eurndraus Bryant, those six guys have a lot of experience and they’re good sized, tough guys. We could be very good up front.
“So, our front six guys are as deep as we’ve been. We’ve finished fifth in rushing defense a year ago and challenged our players not to drop off there. Obviously want to improve in other categories around that.”