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Paws up, Paws down: NC State Edition

Daniel Green, staff

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) was 20-38 with a touchdown pass and interception against NC State Saturday. He also rushed for 88 yards with two rushing touchdowns.  

Paws Up: Capitalizing on NC State mistakes

Clemson’s offense didn’t perform particularly well, but the NC State defense bailed them out on multiple occasions. The Wolfpack’s physical defensive backs were called often for pass interference which, in a game where Kelly Bryant struggled throwing the deep ball, set up the offense in scoring position. Defensive end Bradley Chubb repeatedly stole Bryant’s hand towel after plays, obviously trying to send the message that he was going to be in his face all day, and at an inopportune time, he was. Chubb was penalized after Bryant overthrew Deon Cain for roughing the passer that resulted in a first down. Defenses are expected to play physically, to play tough and to play with discipline. Of course, no defense is perfect, but when you bail out the fourth ranked team in the nation and give them free yards, expect to suffer the consequences.

The costliest NC State mistake took place at the end of the game with the Wolfpack eyeing a last-second touchdown to tie the game. On fourth and 10, quarterback Ryan Finley hit   Meyers for the conversion. Fortunately for the Tigers, a wide receiver was pressing up to the line of scrimmage as the ball was snapped, resulting in an illegal shift penalty that brought the play back. On the ensuing play, the last of the game, the defense clamped down and intercepted the pass, sealing the win.


Paws Up: Quarterback running

Kelly Bryant continued to be effective on his feet, rushing for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. The amount that Bryant runs continues to be a concern in terms of keeping him out of danger, especially with the threat of re-injuring his ankle still lingering. Bryant accounted for over 57 percent of the offense’s carries, which reflects just how much the coaches believe in his ability to run and his tendency to do so under pressure. 

Bryant has proven time and time again that he is at his most dangerous carrying the football. His ability to read the defense continues to improve as he gains experience in the starting role. 

In the second quarter, he flashed this ability on a read-option as he read the backside defensive end pursuing him and pitched the ball to Travis Etienne, who broke off a ten-yard run. 

In the third quarter, it was Bryant’s ground game that marched the team down the field and set up Deon Cain’s 12-yard touchdown. 

After a Ryan Carter interception in the fourth quarter, it was Bryant who rushed the ball on back-to-back

plays in the red zone to score and put Clemson on top for good. Is it great that he has to run so much? Probably not. 

When you have a gifted runner as your quarterback though, not allowing him to run would be silly.


Paws Down: Quarterback passing

Right from the get-go, Bryant threw an interception on his second pass that gave the Wolfpack great starting field position, which they capitalized on with a touchdown. It’s not like he was really pressured; the offensive line didn’t allow a sack at all and helped create gaps that lead to the Tigers averaging 6.4 yards per rush attempt. 

It wasn’t as though he was uncomfortable in the pocket on his throws, either, as he seemed at ease and threw tight spirals with confidence when he decided to throw. Instead, he just flat out missed his throws

The NC State defenders played well, but not well enough to explain why Bryant was so out of sorts. He routinely missed his receivers and seemed more than happy to keep the ball in his own hands at the expense of developing a passing rhythm. 

Part of what makes Bryant’s passing woes so frustrating is that he demonstrates moments of impressive talent at multiple points throughout nearly every game. Developing consistency and diligence in the passing game will be the keys to distinguishing him as a true dual-threat nightmare. As for now, he’s still progressing.


Paws Down: Lack of defensive intensity 

There wasn’t a defensive group that played especially poorly, there was just a lack of momentum-creating plays. 

Throughout the game, the NC State play calling was varied enough to keep the defense on their heels and find ways to neutralize their strengths. 

The defensive front of the Tigers leads the nation with four sacks per game, and on Saturday managed just one.

The defensive play calling was atypically conservative.

There were less blitzes on third down, and none of them were disguised very well to begin with. 

It didn’t help that one starting cornerback was out or that there were two freshman getting consistent snaps. 

Brent Venables tried to remedy this by dropping more players into coverage; an effort that went largely unrewarded. Credit has to go to NC State’s offensive line, who consistently provided clean pockets for Finley, which they used to exploit the young cornerbacks. 


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