North Carolina State (5-2) plays host this weekend to the Clemson Tigers (7-0); a win would make the Wolfpack bowl eligible for the fifth time in six years, and the second time in three years under Coach Dave Doeren. Like Clemson’s humiliation of the Hurricanes in record fashion, N.C. State also is coming off a week in which it produced historic figures: Against Wake Forest, N.C. State became the first team to have four touchdowns of 50-plus yards in the first 15 minutes.
However, while impressive, there’s little to no chance of Doeren’s squad being as potent offensively against the Tigers, who rank second in defensive efficiency.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, now in his fourth year with the team, has the South Carolina faithful accustomed to impossible-to-avoid rankings in defensive metrics, even if he doesn’t care for them.
“They’ve got explosive players,” Venables said of the N.C. State offense. “So you’ve got to play sound.”
Football Outsiders’ IsoPPP metric separates an offense’s explosiveness from efficiency by determining the point value of every yard line based on the expected points a team could expect to score from it. The past two seasons, Clemson has ranked no lower than second; this season it leads the country.
N.C. State excels in a handful of areas — third-down conversion rate, completion percentage, limiting turnovers — but has yet to face anything like Venables’s unit. Virginia Tech and Louisville tout above-average defenses, surely, but the margin for error against Clemson’s defense is toothpick-thin and the Tigers’ schedule it littered with the remnants of teams unable to find rhythm against it. N.C. State’s formidable third-down offense is about to run headlong into Clemson — a team which ranks second nationally in third-down defense, having only allowed 21 conversions all season.
In wins this season, the Wolfpack are putting up more than 220 yards through the air and 256 on the ground — a balanced attack. Meanwhile, Clemson doesn’t allow teams to eclipse 157 in either area; no team has put up more than 159 yards through the air or on the ground the past three weeks.
Clemson’s offensive schemes aren’t sub-par, either: Entering this week, co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott had an offense ranked in the top 10 in efficiency. Over the past three weeks, the offense has put up at least 34 points, 530 yards of offense, and averaged 6.4 yards per play—numbers that seem to belong to a Big 12 outfit.
It’s an offense that has shown noteworthy progressions — in yards per play, yards per game, and points per game, to name a few areas — compared to last season’s unit, which held the team back in its 2014 losses to Georgia and Florida State.
N.C. State’s defense ranks outside of the top 50 in efficiency and has been tested considerably in conference play, allowing more than 300 yards of total offense in two of the three games thus far.
More importantly: this could be the best Clemson team in decades, and N.C. State seemingly doesn’t have enough to keep either its offense or defense in check. History doesn’t favor the Wolfpack, either: Clemson has won nine of the past 10 meetings, with eight coming by more than one possession. Swinney’s outfit is more dominant in the principles that N.C. State has been reliant on to win games this season, and should roll Saturday night in Raleigh.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.