Clemson Tigers, North Carolina State Wolfpack: Preview, game time, outlook

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 1, 2017 at 11:19 AM
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- This is right where Clemson wants to be with a month remaining in the regular season.

North Carolina State isn't in a bad spot either.

The teams meet Saturday with a division title in the Atlantic Coast Conference possibly riding on the outcome.

"This is playoff football," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "That's what it really comes down to."

Clemson, ranked fourth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, can't afford another slip-up as it tries to move into position so it can defend its national title. No. 20 North Carolina State also is in the mix for the Atlantic Division title.

"We're in first place and we control our own destiny," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said.

While the Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) showed they could recover after a loss by defeating Georgia Tech last week, now it is N.C. State's turn to rebound following last week's setback in a showdown at Notre Dame.

Compared to the outing against the Fighting Irish, a 35-14 defeat, the Clemson game has more importance for the Wolfpack.

"We want to beat Clemson, and to do that we have to play much better than we did last week," Doeren said. "Every game we play brings us closer and closer and closer to where we want to be at the end."

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant returned from an injury sustained in the loss at Syracuse to catapult the Tigers' offense against Georgia Tech, completing 22 of 33 passes for two touchdowns without an interception and rushing for a game-high 67 yards in a 24-10 win.

"They're running the quarterback more, I think that's the biggest thing," Doeren said of studying Clemson in relation to the 2016 Tigers. "But they're taking their shots down the field."

Either way, the Tigers are feeling good again.

"We're right where we wanted to be coming into this season," Swinney said. "It's November, and we're moving into the next phase of our journey. If we want something, we're going to have to go and get it."

The Wolfpack (6-2, 4-0) no longer has playoff hopes, but a division title would be a huge accomplishment in a division that includes Florida State and Louisville, teams hyped in the preseason that have fallen on hard times, including losses to the Wolfpack.

If Clemson wins this week, the Tigers would be back in the ACC Championship Game if they defeat Florida State on Nov. 11 or as long as N.C. State and Syracuse both take another setback.

A Wolfpack victory against Clemson means N.C. State would head to the ACC title game for the first time as long as it wins one more game -- at Boston College, at Wake Forest or home against North Carolina.

"We'll see where it all goes," Doeren said. "A lot of football left. A lot to play for left in the season."

N.C. State played most of the Notre Dame game without running back Nyheim Hines, who sustained a first-quarter sprained ankle. He is also a return specialist. Doeren said it is not a long-term injury, but a determination about Hines' game-day status isn't expected until late in the week.

"Losing Nyheim was a blow," Doeren said. "It hurts a lot. One of the best players in the country in all-purpose yardage. Impacted our games in every game we played."

Hines had only two carries for 6 yards before exiting at Notre Dame. That ended his streak of three consecutive games with more than 100 yards rushing.

N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley didn't throw an interception in 274 passes this season until the third quarter against the Irish.

Last season, N.C. State's Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have resulted in an upset at Clemson.

Doeren said both teams have changed since then.

"I absolutely remember it, but it's not last year," the coach said. "Our guys who played in that game remember it well, and I'm sure their guys do, too."

Even with the 2016 result, the Wolfpack might have as much confidence as any division opponent in tangling with the Tigers.

"A game that our players are excited to play in," Doeren said. "We've played well against them, and we want to find a way to win this game."

Clemson has won its last five meetings with N.C. State to boost its series lead to 56-28-1.

Swinney, with a 96-29 career record, is tied for second on Clemson's all-time victories list with Danny Ford.

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