Raleigh, NC- Homecoming for NC State (5-3, 1-3 ACC) didn’t go the way they wanted it to Saturday when No. 3 Clemson (8-0, 5-0 ACC) rolled into town. The unbeaten Tigers defeated the Wolfpack 56-41 in an old fashioned, back-and-forth shootout at Carter-Finley Stadium.
NC State could not have started the game any hotter than they did Saturday. The Wolfpack scored first on a 13 yard touchdown run by Jacoby Brissett, which was set up by a 41 yard Matt Dayes run. Special teams miscues would rear its ugly head as the extra point was blocked, to give the Wolfpack an early 6-0 lead. Clemson would answer on the next possession with a 24 yard touchdown run by Deshaun Watson to take a 7-6 lead, and the shootout was on from there.
True freshman Nyheim Hines would excite the Wolfpack faithful with and electrifying 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to give NC State a 13-7 lead. Again, the Tigers were able to answer with a 57 yard touchdown pass from Watson to Hunter Renfrow. The extra point was blocked and the game was tied at 13-13.
Just before the half, NC State led 20-19, and had a golden opportunity to increase their lead, but Kyle Bambard missed a 44 yard field goal. Clemson would score on a 42 yard touchdown from Watson to Charone Peake to give the Tigers a 26-20 lead going into halftime.
The start of the second half, both teams traded punts on the first two possessions, and touchdowns on the next two possessions. Clemson would start to pull away in the third quarter- scoring on three consecutive drives. A pair of touchdown catches by Deon Cain (40 yards) and Zack Brooks (35 yards) would give the Tigers a 47-27 lead entering the fourth quarter. The 20 point lead would seem to be all Clemson needed, but NC State would not go down without a fight.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack were able to cap off a drive with a 14 yard David Grinnage touchdown reception to pull within 47-34. Clemson would answer when Watson found Ray-Ray McCloud for a 36 yard touchdown strike. The extra point was blocked and Clemson led 53-34. To show they were not out of it, NC State got up off the mat again and returned the favor with a 28 yard touchdown pass from Brissett to Johnathan Alston to pull within 53-41, with almost 11 minutes left in the game.
Only down 12 points, and with enough time to pull off the upset, the Wolfpack were not able to finish drives late in the game to pull within single digits. Clemson was able to cap the scoring with a Greg Huegel field goal with 5:52 remaining to push the Tigers’ lead to 56-41.
Cause for concern
Defense: The Wolfpack’s defense gave up a lot of yardage and points Saturday, and they couldn’t control the line of scrimmage against Clemson. Whenever the offense scored, the defense wasn’t able to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. NC State’s secondary was gashed by quarterback Deshaun Watson to the tune of 383 passing yards and five touchdowns.
Matt Dayes: Junior running back Matt Dayes did not return after halftime with what is suspected to be an ankle injury.
Placekicking: Special teams miscues: NC State had an extra point blocked and freshman Kyle Bambard missed a 44 yard field goal, putting him at 3-for-9 on the season. The Wolfpack has four conference game remaining, and the kicking game will have to get stronger if they want to finish the season with 8-9 wins.
Rushing attack: Keep feeding the ball to Dayes and Jaylen Samuels. The duo combined for 137 yards, and Dayes didn’t play the second half. As a team, the Wolfpack rushed for 190 yards.
Integrating the tight end: Tight end David Grinnage was released from the witness protection program Saturday. Grinnage entered the game with five receptions- he had 7 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown against Clemson.
Highlight of the night
Hines shows his speed: Nyheim Hines received a kickoff in the first quarter in the end zone and took it all the way to the house for a 100 yard kickoff return. Once he was in front, no one was going to catch him. The kickoff gave the Wolfpack a 13-7 lead, and plenty of confidence going forward.
Numbers don’t lie
8-of-15: Clemson was 8-of-15 on third downs. It’s hard to defeat a top five team when you can’t get them off the field on the money down.
623: Clemson racked up 623 yards of total offense against the NC State defense.
139: Jaylen Samuels had 139 all purpose yards and two touchdowns to help the Wolfpack stay competitive.
383 & 5: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson had 383 yards and five touchdowns through the air against the NC State secondary. The defensive front seven didn’t give them much help in the pressure category.
The Wolfpack travel to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College (3-6, 0-6 ACC) November 7. Time has yet to be determined.