It’s safe to say that Clemson has found its groove again. The defending ACC champs got off to a bit of a slow start this season, winning games though not dominating like many thought the Tigers would. But the big win over Louisville was followed by a romp of Boston College and anyone that wasn't all in is now back on board.
This week the Tigers host 4-1 NC State, who is probably just drying off after their 10-3 water-logged victory over Notre Dame. The Wolfpack are 1-0 in the conference but they now begin the meat of what is a very difficult ACC slate.
In a series they call the Textile Bowl, Clemson holds a 55-28-1 edge.
NC State at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Clemson -17
Three Things to Watch
1. NC State Offensive Line vs. Clemson Defensive Line
The Wolfpack front has allowed just five sacks in five games this season and has done a very good job of opening up running lanes for Matt Dayes but this will be far and away this group's biggest challenge of the season. The Clemson front seven is nasty. Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins, and freshman Dexter Lawrence may be the best known of the defensive linemen, but they have plenty of help. The linebacker trio of Ben Boulware, Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel are playmakers as well. To win, NC State needs at least a stalemate in this battle.
2. Wayne Gallman
After rushing for 123 yards in the season opener at Auburn, the Clemson running back averaged just 44 yards a game over the next three contests. But against Louisville and Boston College, the junior from Loganville, Ga., totaled 219 rushing yards on just 25 carries. NC State has one of the nation’s best run defenses and Gallman’s tenacity will be valuable as the Wolfpack try to contend with Deshaun Watson and the passing game.
3. Third Down Conversions
With all of the talent on the Clemson offense, you would think these Tigers would be a big-play machine. But they are currently 80th in the FBS in number of plays of 30 or more 30 yards. Their offensive success this year has come from converting on third down, something NC State has been efficient at as well. Likewise, both defenses are in the top 12 in opponents' third down conversions. In particular, the Wolfpack offense will need to maintain its possessions and make sure third down is a manageable distance and therefore more convertible.
It was hard to take much from NC State’s win over Notre Dame last week. The Fighting Irish are not very good right now and the conditions due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew made the game a mess. But you can glean a lot from Clemson’s last two performances. Coming off the emotional win against Louisville, a letdown against Boston College would not have been surprising. But after a few miscues early on, the Tigers once again flexed their muscles and destroyed the Eagles. The Wolfpack look like a good football team. But right now, good is not good enough against Clemson.
Prediction: Clemson 35, NC State 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.