NCAAF Team Report - Clemson - INSIDE SLANT
When Clemson kicks off its Atlantic Coast Conference season on Thursday in a nationally televised game on ESPN, the Tigers will do so with plenty of confidence -- they're unbeaten (2-0), ranked No. 3 in the nation and are set up for a potential run at a national championship.
But the Tigers also have a memory, and this week their minds have been quick to recall the 37-13 shellacking they absorbed against an unranked N.C. State squad in Raleigh, N.C., just two short years ago.
"That was about as miserable of a game as I've ever been through -- they kicked our butt," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "We weren't ready. We executed a plan to lose. We had four turnovers, and you can't win that way. Hopefully we grew through that experience and will put our best foot forward this time."
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had a career day in a shootout victory against N.C. State last season at Clemson, accounting for eight touchdowns and 529 yards, but Swinney isn't convinced that the Wolfpack -- which is 2-0 under first-year coach Dave Doeren -- will surrender yardage so readily this time around.
"I think N.C. State is going to prove to be one of the better teams in the conference," Swinney said. "Every single week is going to be a challenge, so we can't overlook anybody."
The biggest question facing Clemson this week is how the Tigers will respond to losing receiver Charone Peake for the rest of the season courtesy of a torn ACL. Peake was the team's second-leading receiver this season with eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown before suffering his injury in practice in a simple non-contact drill on Sept. 10.
"This is a big loss," Swinney said. "He was having a great year and was going to have a great year. We are thin at receiver with just six scholarship players now."
Junior Adam Humphries -- Peake's former high school teammate -- has moved into the starting role, but the Tigers will need to get more production from Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant as well as freshmen Mike Williams and T.J. Green.
Still, most teams would be happy to trade places with the Tigers, who after facing the Wolfpack will take on Wake Forest, Syracuse and Boston College -- three teams with a combined 4-5 record that includes three wins against FCS teams -- before hosting Florida State in mid-October.
"We're in a good position, but we're just kind of getting into that first curve," Swinney said. "Everybody is jockeying, and that's what makes college football fun. Every game is like a playoff game.
"Just look at the history of college football -- it's hard to go undefeated. That's our goal, but it's hard to do and not many teams pull it off."
NCAAF Team Report - Clemson - NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Tajh Boyd had a tough game in his last visit to N.C. State, as the then-sophomore was intercepted twice in a 37-13 defeat. But he rebounded in a big way against the Wolfpack last season, accounting for eight touchdowns and amassing 529 yards of offense, 426 passing and 103 rushing. He could put up similar numbers against an N.C. State defense that is breaking in three new starters at linebacker and three new starters in the secondary.
--WR Adam Humphries will replace Charone Peake in Clemson's lineup after Peake was lost for the season with a torn ACL. It will be just the sixth career start for the junior, who coincidentally is a former high school teammate of Peake's. Humphries is a proven commodity after making 41 receptions for 280 yards and a touchdown last season and also has an impressive track record in games against N.C. State, with 10 catches against the Wolfpack the previous two seasons. "Adam is just a consistent player," Boyd said. "You know what you're getting when he's out there. There's no wavering."
--LB Spencer Shuey should play a prominent role against N.C. State. Shuey had a career-high 10 solo stops against the Wolfpack last season, and with the Tigers once again facing an N.C. State team intent on establishing the run, Shuey could match or exceed that number this week. The Tigers' leading tackler has emerged as a potential All-ACC candidate. "He's willed himself into the player he is now," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
--Senior K Chandler Catanzaro is just eight points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Clemson history. Catanzaro has 56 career field goals 154 extra points for his 322 career points, which is second behind K Aaron Hunt in the Clemson record book. Catanzaro has made 56 of 70 field goals in his career, good for a .800 success rate, and has been particularly accurate over the last 21 games, making 28 of his last 29 attempts.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 52-28-1 and holds an 18-16 advantage in games played at N.C. State. Clemson's 52 wins in the series rank as the third-most over an opponent in school history behind only South Carolina (65) and Wake Forest (60).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't go broke making a profit. And five yards is a profit." -- Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris on getting his offense to understand his "take what the defense will give you" mentality.
NCAAF Team Report - Clemson - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Roderick "Hot Rod" McDowell remains the Tigers' starter and primary running threat, but several backs have had a big impact over Clemson's first two games. Backup Zac Brooks had a touchdown catch against Georgia, third-teamer D.J. Howard had a 19-yard scoring run and fourth-teamer C.J. Davidon led the team with 63 yards on the ground against S.C. State. McDowell suffered a concussion against S.C. State on Sept. 7, but he's been cleared to return to action, so expect the senior to carry the bulk of the load for a rushing attack that is averaging 190 yards per game behind a veteran offensive front.
Scouting the passing game: Clemson has plenty of talent at receiver, but not a lot of depth. Without junior Charone Peake, who has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, some newcomers will have grow up in a hurry, including freshmen T.J. Green and Mike Williams, both of whom have been elevated to backup roles. With Sammy Watkins and Adam Humphries, the Tigers' passing game shouldn't miss a beat regardless of who's delivering the ball. QB Tajh Boyd is one of the nation's top passers, but backup Cole Stoudt is coming off a school-record 19 of 20 performance against S.C. State.
Scouting the run defense: Clemson's front seven continues to gel, much to the delight of defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "We've been able to display that there is some competitive depth there that you like to see," Venables said. Clemson has allowed 308 yards on the ground this season, but that total includes 222 yards against a formidable Georgia rushing attack. Last week against S.C. State, the Tigers surrendered only 86 yards -- less than two yards per attempt. With a defensive front that is personified by liberal substitutions, Clemson has the potential to hold several other opponents to similar numbers this season.
Scouting the pass defense: Clemson appears to have more playmakers in the secondary than it has in quite some time, as evidenced by the two interceptions returned for touchdowns against S.C. State on Sept. 7. "It showed we've got guys with good ball skills who are playing in an aggressive manner," Venables said. "The depth is there, too, and that's probably the most pleasing thing." Last season the Tigers slogged through the year with an injury-riddled secondary; this year the Tigers, buoyed by an infusion of youthful talent, go at least 10 deep.
Scouting the special teams: Special teams continue to be a strong suit for the Tigers. K Chandler Catanzaro has made 28 of his last 29 field-goal attempts and has made both of his attempts this season. Sophomore P/kickoff specialist Bradley Pinion is off to a great start as well, having booted 12 of his 13 kickoffs for touchbacks for a nation-leading 92.3 percentage. He's also punted 11 times for a 43.8-yard average, with four punts downed inside the 20 and five punts covering 50 yards or more. In the return game, the Tigers have experimented with several different players with moderate results; their longest kickoff return this season is 25 yards.
--WR Charone Peake is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in practice last week.
--DB MacKensie Alexander continues to be sidelined by a groin injury and will not play at N.C. State.
--LB B.J. Goodson also will miss the game with a concussion.
--OG Tyler Shatley injured his foot against Georgia and missed the S.C. State game, but he is expected to play at N.C. State.
--DB Korrin Wiggins is expected to return to the lineup after missing the S.C. State game with a hamstring injury.