Clemson University

Clemson plays inspired against NC State in what could be its last statement game

Clemson safety K’Von Wallace on win against NC State

Wallace, Clemson secondary shut down Wolfpack
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Wallace, Clemson secondary shut down Wolfpack

Chip-on-the-shoulder Clemson has a detailed history of showing up in big games.

Playing with a feeling of disrespect or taking things personal has been one of the underlying themes to the Tigers’ rise to superpower status.

No. 16 N.C. State, the only ranked team left on Clemson’s schedule coming into Saturday, provided the right opportunity for a statement from the No. 3 Tigers, who rolled to an impressive 41-7 victory at Memorial Stadium.

“We just felt like we were disrespected,” said Clemson safety K’Von Wallace, who had an interception. “We just wanted to come out and play hard, play for our fans, play for this team.”

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons said the Tigers “took this game personal because all of the things that they were saying this week.”

On the surface, what N.C. State did leading up to this year’s Textile Bowl wasn’t overly brash.

The Wolfpack weren’t happy with the fact that they lost the last two games by a touchdown in each. Clemson didn’t like that N.C. State felt like the Tigers “escaped” with those wins.

“We wanted to make sure none of that was in question (this year),” Simmons said.
Before the game, N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley said if his team executed, it would win. Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said he wanted to put Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence on his back more than he wanted to be. Running back Reggie Gallaspy said his team knew how to quiet the Clemson faithful after the close loss in 2016.

Again, these are things teams always think, and confidence isn’t bad. However, N.C. State backed nothing up with their play.

Meanwhile, the motivated home team was the ready one coming out of their open dates.

“I think they wanted to play this game like Monday,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It was just a matter of keeping them dialed back a little bit.”

An embattled secondary that was being called the “weak link” of Clemson’s defense holding the Wolfpack to 193 passing yards and forcing three turnovers was a statement.

Scoring 31 unanswered points in three quarters against a top-25 team was a statement.

“Knowing that they’re (ranked), it kind of lets us know maybe where we’re at, but you can never judge because it’s a week-by-week thing,” Simmons said. “Every team is going to play you different and come with a different energy.”

That’s true, especially in college football. However, the Tigers are squarely in the driver’s seat in the ACC Atlantic Division after knocking the Wolfpack out of the unbeaten ranks and proved what they can do when the focus is to dominate.

Clemson was favored by more than 17 points in this game. There’s a good chance they’ll be double-digit favorites at Florida State, against Louisville, at Boston College, versus Duke and South Carolina.

“We’ve got to stay focused, stay humble, stay committed,” Swinney said. “We’ve got some more really tough battles coming our way.”

If so, it might say more about the Tigers than their opponents, but if Clemson continues to play like it has its last two games, winning by a combined 94 points against Wake Forest and N.C. State, all of the Tigers’ goals will fall into place.

Saturday’s inspired drubbing of the Wolfpack, however it was manufactured, makes that possible in what might be Clemson’s final chance at a statement game.

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley talks about the Wolfpack loss to the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.

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