RALEIGH, N.C. Clemson’s defense played one of its worst halves of the season in the first half Saturday afternoon at N.C. State, but Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables was calm in the locker room and provided positive motivation to his unit.
Clemson trailed the Wolfpack 21-17 at halftime and had surrendered 244 yards of offense, including 154 passing yards to quarterback Ryan Finley. But the Tigers held N.C. State to 10 points in the second half in the 38-31 win.
“That was the calmest Coach V I’ve ever seen in my whole life at halftime,” defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “He really just kind of told us it was just small, technical difficulties that we had. It was nothing difficult that we really had to fix.”
Ferrell added that he believed if Clemson could correct a few of its mistakes the Wolfpack would not be able to continue their offensive pace.
“That was everything N.C. State had. That was the best N.C. State first half of football I’ve seen them play,” Ferrell said. “But we knew that we were still in the game. We just had to keep our composure and come out and play a good third quarter.”
Emotions were high in the Clemson locker room as the Tigers missed a short field goal on the final play of the first half that would have cut the lead to 1. But Venables was able to calm everyone down.
“He’s never calm, even when we’re playing well, but he just knew in a heated game like this there was a lot of emotions running high,” Ferrell said. “A lot of guys were in the locker room trying to give motivational speeches and stuff like that, yelling and stuff like that, but he was kind of that guy to bring everybody down to earth.”
McCLOUD BREAKS LOOSE
Clemson receiver Ray-Ray McCloud returned a punt for a touchdown for the first time in his career during the first quarter of Clemson’s win.
The junior went 77 yards to tie the game at 7 with 8:59 remaining in the first period.
McCloud had gotten close to scoring on a punt return several times earlier in his career, including dropping the ball at the 1 last season, before finally breaking loose on Saturday.
“That’s why we didn’t fire him. That’s why we hung in there with him,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s a special talent. I’m really proud of him and proud of those guys holding up … We’ve created a lot of confidence, and we have some swagger on our return team right now.”
Clemson changed its safeties in the second half as Tanner Muse, who was playing with a cast on his hand, was replaced in the lineup by K’Von Wallace.
Van Smith moved over from free safety to Muse’s strong safety spot, while Wallace played free safety.
The move paid off as Wallace broke up a pass in the end zone on N.C. State’s final drive and had the game-clinching interception on the final play.
“We made the decision to move Van over to free, where he played a year ago, and put K’Von at strong, and we’ve got some really talented young guys and got banged up,” Venables said. “I loved the courage they showed and the grit and the toughness, the way we came out and didn’t panic. Everybody recognized the little things.”