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Behind Enemy Bylines: NC State Edition

Daniel Lacy (DL): Mike Williams is back after he suffered a season-ending neck injury last year. How valuable is he to the offense as arguably the best of Deshaun Watson’s many weapons?


Tiger Sports (TS): Mike Williams has established himself as the nation’s top receiver through the early portion of this season. With an uncanny route-running ability, great hands and imposing size, Williams is definitely Deshaun Watson’s top target and most pivotal weapon. Williams is extremely difficult to cover and is also a key veteran leader for the Clemson offense.


DL: Clemson’s defense lost some key contributors on defense from last season, including Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd and Mackensie Alexander. How has it looked without them so far and how do you think it matches up against the Wolfpack offense?


TS: It is difficult to critique the Clemson defense for its performance so far this fall. While the three aforementioned players were excellent as Tigers, their departures have not exactly left holes in the Clemson defense. Clemson’s defensive line is arguably the most talented in the nation, and the secondary has been rather impressive through the first five games. 

As for the Wolfpack, quarterback Ryan Finley should expect to face a formidable pass rush that forces him to remain in the pocket for most of the game. NC State boasts something that the Tigers have yet to face so far in 2016, and that is a really good running back in Matt Dayes. The Clemson linebacking unit has proven to be a little slow at times this season, so Dayes could create problems for the Tiger linebackers.


DL: Thanks in part to Lamar Jackson, Louisville has surprisingly emerged as one of the top teams in the nation. How important was it for Clemson to come out of that game with a win and what kind of statement did it make?


TS: More than likely, the outcome of the Louisville-Clemson clash will end up deciding the ACC Atlantic title, so it was definitely very important for the Tigers to come out on top in that. While the Tigers struggled with turnovers and looked out of sorts at times in the second half on defense, the victory was still very impressive. In particular, the 85-yard, game-winning drive in the matchup’s waning minutes was really impressive and reaffirmed Watson as a clutch quarterback.


DL: Watson finished third in Heisman voting last year. Do you think he is on pace to potentially win it this season? If not, what will he need to do better?


TS: Watson has already thrown seven interceptions, which is not going to help his Heisman cause, and Lamar Jackson, his ACC adversary, is currently faring far better statistically than Watson (and everybody else, for that matter). If Watson is to win the Heisman in what is likely his final season as a Tiger, he will need to become more accurate, especially with short-yardage passes and passes over the middle. Watson missed a few surefire touchdown throws against Louisville but regained his elite form in the fourth quarter, when it mattered most.


DL: What is your score prediction and why?


TS: The Tigers have seemed to have the Wolfpack’s number lately. In fact, two of Watson’s best collegiate games have come against NC State. With that being said, I think that the Tigers will defeat the Wolfpack at Clemson’s homecoming game on October 15 by a final score of 45-27. I expect the electrifying Clemson offense to dominate from start to finish.




Tiger Sports (TS): Starting NC State quarterback Ryan Finley transferred to the Wolfpack in the spring. How has he filled the shoes of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who graduated following last season?


Daniel Lacy (DL): Finley has played very well this season, Like Brissett, he hasn’t been flashy to start the season, but he’s done what the team needed him to do — be consistent and minimize turnovers. He threw for a career-high 300 yards and three touchdowns against Wake Forest, which had arguably been the best defense they have been up against before traveling to Clemson. 


TS: The Wolfpack have gotten off to a solid start. Do you feel like they could compete for the ACC Atlantic title?


DL: No. Clemson and Louisville are the clear powerhouses of the not only the Atlantic Division, but the whole conference. As the Wolfpack plays these two teams on the road in back-to-back weeks, it will be lucky to keep these games within one-score. Additionally, it still has matchups against Florida State, Miami and UNC, and will likely have to fight and claw its way to get to .500. However, that wouldn’t have been as difficult if the Pack had beaten ECU. A team of this caliber should have beaten ECU by one or two scores, but instead lost by a field goal as it made mistakes throughout the game. Clemson and Louisville are both Playoff-caliber teams that will make NC State pay if it makes those mistakes against them.


TS: NC State has scored an abundance of points thus far this season. What problems could the Wolfpack pose for the Tiger defense?


DL: The Wolfpack has some good playmakers. Senior running back Matt Dayes is a workhorse that the team leans on for success. He has played well to start the season, including a 125-yard performance against Wake Forest. Junior tight end Jaylen Samuels can do just about everything for the team on offense, as he has lined up at tight end, fullback, running back, wide receiver and even wildcat quarterback so far this year. He is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and is particularly dangerous in the red zone. Stephen Louis has emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver, and is possibly the most talented player NC State has had at the position since Tobais Palmer graduated after the 2012 season. If Finley’s consistency continues into this game and these three playmakers can get going, NC State has the opportunity to put a sizable dent in the scoreboard.


TS: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson dominated the Wolfpack defense last year, throwing for 383 yards and five touchdowns. What can NC State do to keep him in check this time around?


DL: Obviously, the pass defense has to be a lot better than it was last year. However, that will be tough, as it lost Juston Burris, who was a fourth-round pick in the draft, and Hakim Jones to graduation. Watson’s ability to run is also tough to match up against, as NC State has particularly struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks over the last couple seasons (even though I know Watson doesn’t like to be called that). If NC State can slow down Watson and Wayne Gallman in the run game and make the Tigers one-dimensional, it has a better chance at slowing down Watson in the passing game, although it is still unlikely.


TS: What is your score prediction for Saturday’s clash at Death Valley, and why?


DL: Last time the Wolfpack traveled to Death Valley, it seemed to be over before it started, with the Tigers coming away with a 41-0 victory. While I expect this to be a closer game, I simply don’t think NC State has the firepower to keep up with Clemson. Prediction: Clemson wins 37-24.

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