Division champion Tigers travel to face Wolfpack

BY foxsports • November 18, 2011

North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien has guided his team to late-season surges before. He knows his current team is almost out of chances to put together another one.

With seventh-ranked Clemson coming in Saturday, N.C. State must win its final two games to become bowl eligible for the third time in four seasons. The Wolfpack might've caught a break since the Tigers arrive in Raleigh with a division title and spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game already wrapped up, though Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he wants his team to maintain the same edge it's had all season.

Either way, it'll be a tough task for the Wolfpack.

''We've got to win this game,'' O'Brien said. ''As I said to them, we dug ourselves a big hole again. We found a way out of it before. We're going to have to find a way to get out of this one.''

A week earlier, N.C. State (5-5, 2-4 ACC) looked ready to make a bowl push after a shutout victory against rival North Carolina. But a trip to two-win Boston College resulted in a 14-10 loss that eliminated the Wolfpack's last margin for error.

Now N.C. State must beat the Tigers (9-1, 6-1) then beat Maryland at home next weekend. The Wolfpack must win seven games for bowl eligibility because two came against Championship Subdivision teams.

''Anyone is beatable in the ACC,'' receiver T.J. Graham said. ''You just have to show up and play. ... All we've got to do is execute and we'll be fine.''

But that hasn't worked too well against the Tigers, who have won seven straight meetings - the longest streak by either team in the 79-game series history. In addition, the Tigers' last three wins at Carter-Finley Stadium have come by 20, 22 and 21 points.

The Tigers wrapped up the league's Atlantic Division title with last week's home win against Wake Forest, but Swinney won't let his players slide through to the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 3. He's using Michael Jordan and the basketball great's intensity to always be the best as an example for his players.

A win Saturday would give Clemson its first 10-win season since 1990, not to mention keep it highly placed in the BCS standings.

''There's plenty on the table out there for these guys,'' Swinney said. ''We're the best in the division, but there's more out there. We're trying to go from good to great. Every win is critical from a big-picture standpoint. We're trying to have the best finish we can have.''

Perhaps the biggest thing Swinney can point to is the way his offense has struggled for the past two games to find the same explosiveness from its 8-0 start.

Four of quarterback Tajh Boyd's seven interceptions this season have come in the last two games against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Both opponents limited Clemson's rushing game and forced more burden on Boyd to throw the ball, though Boyd responded by leading the drive for the game-winning field goal as time expired against the Demon Deacons.

The Tigers are ending the regular season with two straight road games. After going to N.C. State, they travel to face rival South Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend.

''There's a lot for us to play for,'' tight end Dwayne Allen said. ''N.C. State is a pretty good team. We're playing on national television, so (it's) really to get back on track and showcase our team. We want to gain some momentum.''

N.C. State is looking to regain some scoring punch in its offense, too. The Wolfpack averaged 371 yards through the first seven games, but failed to reach 300 total yards in any of the next three games. Florida State shut out the Wolfpack on Oct. 29, then N.C. State needed just 13 points in a play-it-safe offensive showing against the Tar Heels before managing just 10 points last week at BC.

Those struggles have overshadowed the improved play of N.C. State's defense, which allowed 165 yards to the Tar Heels and 190 yards to the Eagles.

In addition, sophomore cornerback David Amerson leads the nation with 10 interceptions in a secondary that will be tested by Boyd and star freshman receiver Sammy Watkins (1,034 yards, 10 touchdowns).

''The season's winding down. Their goals are out there,'' O'Brien said. ''They know what they have to achieve and it starts this Saturday here at home against Clemson.''


AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, S.C., and Joedy McCreary in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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