It’s been almost two decades since NC State has beaten the Tigers in consecutive games.
The No. 10 Wolfpack (4-0) travel to Death Valley this weekend to face No. 5 Clemson (4-0, 2-0), with NC State looking to win two straight over the Tigers for the first time since 2002-03. Dave Doeren’s team will also be looking for its first win at Clemson since that 2003 season.
“I’m excited for the game,” Doeren said told reporters earlier this week. “It’s a great matchup against a very talented group with an experienced, talented staff. I’ve got great respect for coach Swinney and his program. It’s two Top 10 teams competing on a national stage. That’s why we do this. The kids have worked hard. The staff has worked hard, and we expected to be in this position. We expected to be 4-0 going into Clemson. We look forward to playing a great team.”
NC State knocked off the Tigers 27-21 last season at home in double overtime, and Doeren knows if his team is to come away with another victory in the series, it all starts with containing that Clemson defensive line.
“When you talk about them, to me it starts with their defensive front. I think they’re really, really talented. They’ve got a great rotation on the defensive line. They’re skilled. They’re big. They’re really good football players on that defensive front. They’ve done a nice job of recruiting those types of guys and developing them and coaching them. They’ve put them in positions to be successful.”
Doeren also expects a different DJ Uiagalelei than what the Wolfpack saw a season ago. Clemson’s starting quarterback struggled in Raleigh last season, going just 12-of-26 for 111 yards with two touchdowns and a crucial interception.
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“He’s endured a lot of criticism,” Doeren said. “His completion rate is up. He’s throwing good deep balls. A lot of times a year ago he was overthrowing guys, and now guys have chances to make plays. You can see that his chemistry is good with his receivers. He’s throwing them deep. He’s throwing back-shoulder to guys. His guys are making better plays for him, too. That’s part of this that gets lost sometimes. Quarterbacks take the heat, but there’s guys dropping passes all over the field that could have changed the game. That changes the quarterback, too.”
NC State’s head coach is also preparing for the weather, with rain expected in the areas on Saturday night due to Hurricane Ian. Although, Doeren does have some experience playing those kinds of conditions, as the Wolfpack beat Notre Dame 10-3 in 2016 as Hurricane Matthew churned through the state of North Carolina.
“We’re going to have to have wet balls (in practice),” Doeren said. “I’ve been through the hurricane situation before. I hope we don’t have to play in something like the Notre Dame game. That was nuts. We’ll be prepared if it is raining. Hopefully, it won’t be one of those things that has devastation that comes with it, either. Sometimes these things fizzle out and sometimes they get pretty strong, so we’ll just have to see where it goes. We’ll plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Doeren is bringing one of his most experienced teams to date to Clemson this weekend, something that could prove to be invaluable for his Wolfpack.
“That’s something that takes time to accumulate as players,” Doeren said. “That linebacking group, in particular, some of the D-linemen, our receivers in Thayer (Thomas) and (Devin) Carter, we’ve got a lot of guys that have played football. That’s good. They’ve been in big games. They’ve won big games. They bring a calmness to the locker room. They’re talking the right way. These are things they believe. They can talk to their teammates and show good leadership. They can be calm in the midst of a storm and get guys to settle down if they need to. That experience is something that I value a lot because I’ve had teams that were the opposite. When you have it, ride the wave with it.”
While Clemson and NC State have a long, storied history, this is the first time the two teams will square off with both ranked inside of the Top 10. With it being the marquee matchup of the weekend and with ESPN’s “College GameDay” on hand, Doeren acknowledged this was probably the biggest game for the Wolfpack since he’s been at the school, but stopped short of calling it the biggest in program history.
“In my 10 years, I would say probably so,” Doeren said. “As far as the history, that’s a long time. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with that answer. It’s a great opportunity against a great team in a great venue. It’s everything you want as a coach and a player, and we’re excited for the opportunity.”
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