Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NC State and Clemson to Lock Horns in "Battle of the Unbeatens"

NC State and Clemson will meet for the first “battle of the unbeatens” of October, as the No. 20 Wolfpack heads to Death Valley. It also marks the first time since 2000 that the Wolfpack will play in an October game that boasts two unbeaten teams. In that season, head coach Chuck Amato’s first as head coach, a 4-0 NC State squad headed to South Carolina to face a 4-0 Clemson squad. The Wolfpack lost that game, 27-34.

Since the beginning of the 2016 campaign, the Wolfpack has suffered 10 losses, posting a 21-10 record during that frame (7-6 in 2016, 9-4 in 2017 and 5-0 in 2018). Seven of those 10 losses have been by a touchdown (7 pts.) or less - including three of the four losses in 2017. Each of the past two losses to Clemson has been by just seven points - - a 17-24 overtime loss at Clemson in 2016 and a 31-38 loss in Raleigh last season. In0 the three years prior to that time frame (Dave Doeren’s first three seasons at NC State), the Pack suffered 20 losses. Of those, only one was by 7 points or less and only two were by less than a double-digit margin.

Graduate quarterback Ryan Finley has started 31 games for the Wolfpack (every game since he’s been at NC State) and posts a 21-10 record in those starts for a .677 winning percentage. That’s higher than any of the four former Wolfpack quarterbacks who are now playing in the NFL: Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon, and Jacoby Brissett and the third-highest mark in school history for players who started at least 25 games in their career.

RS - junior nickel Stephen Griffin has spent plenty of time in Clemson’s Death Valley, even though this will mark his first trip as a member of the Wolfpack. Griffin’s father, Steve, played for the Tigers from 1982-86 - at running back in 1982, ‘84 & ‘86 and at defensive back in 1985. He scored a touchdown on a 10-yard run in Clemson’s 35-34 win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Oct. 27, 1984. In 1986, he led the Tiger in kickoff returns. Stephen, Jr., started his career at Tennessee but transferred to NC State following the 2016 campaign. He sat out last season and was expected to be the starter at nickel for 2018. However, he missed all of fall camp with a foot injury and has yet to be 100% this season. In the meantime, true freshman Tanner Ingle has worked his way into the starter’s role at nickel.

188 rushing attempts + 188 pass attempts = a pretty balanced offense. That’s what the Wolfpack has fielded thus far in 2018. Offensive balance has been a hallmark of a Dave Doeren football team. In the three seasons under offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz (2016-present), the Wolfpack has rushed the ball 51.7% of the team (1,188 total rushes) and thrown 48.3% of the time.

NC State is coming off its best conference record since 1994, as the six league wins in 2017 tied the school record. The Pack has won 10 of its last 13 ACC contests dating back to the 2016 season. The win over Boston College gave NC State a 2-0 start in ACC play for the second year in a row and for only the fifth time since 2000 (2017, 2006, 2004, 2002).

NC State is ranked in the top 20 in both national polls this week, checking in at No. 16 in the Associated Press poll and No. 15 in the Coaches’ Poll. Last season, the Pack was ranked 10 weeks during the season, reaching as high as No. 14 in late October. It marked the first time NC State was ranked in the AP poll since the final poll of the 2010 season. NC State was ranked 23rd in the final AP poll of 2017. If the Wolfpack finishes the season ranked in the AP poll, it will mark the first time NC State has been ranked in back to back final polls since 1991 and 1992 (26 years).

NC State is one of just eight remaining undefeated teams in the FBS in 2018, posting a 5-0 mark. It ranks only the sixth time in the ACC era (since 1953) that the Pack has won its first five games. Head coach Dave Doeren, now in his sixth season at NC State, is only the second coach in school history to lead his Wolfpack team to a 4-0 start three times. Doeren’s 2014 and ‘15 squads each opened with perfect records in the first four games prior to this year’s 5-0 start. The only other Pack head coach to lead three different squads to 4-0 records to start the season was Earle Edwards, who had a few more opportunities to accomplish the feat as head coach for 17 years. Edwards’ squads opened with a 4-0 mark in 1957, ‘60, ‘63, and ‘67.

The depth of the NC State wide receiver unit is evident in the load they are carrying in the Wolfpack’s passing game. Prior to 2018, the highest percentage of passes caught by wide receivers for the Wolfpack under Dave Doeren was 71.9% in 2013. In the past two seasons (2016-17) under quarterback Ryan Finley, the WRs accounted for 61% of the total receptions (355-579). That number has changed so far in 2018. Of 131 completions this season, 120 have been caught by the Wolfpack wideouts - a mark of 91.6%. That mark ranks fith in the FBS. Three Wolfpack wideouts rank in the top 10 in the ACC in receptions: Jakobi Meyers (2nd, 7.5/game), Kelvin Harmon (3rd, 6.6/game) and Emeka Emezie (10th, 4.0/game). In terms of receiving yards per game, Harmon leads the league (and ranks 6th in the FBS) with 106.8 ypg