No. 3 Clemson hopes big plays continue against N.C. State

BY foxsports • October 11, 2016

Clemson's big-play capabilities are finally showing up in games.

After just one 40-yard play in the first five games of the season, the Tigers had three plays longer than 40 yards in the first quarter of last week's 56-10 victory over Boston College and the Eagles' top-ranked defense.

Running back Wayne Gallman scored on a 59-yard run, receiver Mike Williams had a 50-yard reception and tight end Jordan Leggett had a 56-yard touchdown catch in an eight-minute span of the first quarter.

"We dominated in big plays and those are something we take a lot of pride in," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

There could be plenty of fireworks this week, too, when the No. 3 Tigers (6-0, 3-0 ACC) take on North Carolina State (4-1, 1-0 ACC) at noon ET Saturday (ABC) at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

In last year's 56-41 victory at N.C. State, Clemson had scoring plays of 24, 57, 42, 40, 35, and 36 yards.

"Explosive plays -- that's what we want to do," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "You don't want to always have to drive 85 yards in 10 plays to score. It's hurting our plays per game, but we'll take the one-play scores. It's nice to get those.

"There's no doubt it was an element we wanted to improve on. We have all the pieces. We just didn't connect in the first five games. Friday night we did connect."

Clemson appears to be hitting on all cylinders at the season's midpoint and a key point in the schedule. After playing N.C. State the Tigers will have a bye week before hitting the road to face Florida State on Oct. 29.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson is rounding into midseason form. He has nine touchdown passes in the past two games and has a history of big games against N.C. State.

"We control our own destiny," Watson said. "Everything is out in front of us that we want. We've got some big games ahead."

Sophomore wide receiver Deon Cain has emerged as a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Cain has only 13 receptions, which is fourth-best on the team, but six have resulted in touchdowns, including two scores in each of the past two games. He also had a 40-yard touchdown reception at N.C. State last season.

Barring an upset, the Tigers should be favored in each of their final six games and are firmly entrenched in the driver's seat in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Florida State already has two league losses and the Tigers hold the tiebreaker with Louisville by virtue of their victory on Oct. 1.

But the Tigers can't be caught looking past N.C. State, which is coming off a waterlogged 10-3 victory against Notre Dame and won its only ACC outing 33-16 over then-unbeaten Wake Forest.

"Both of us are undefeated in our conference and right now we're tied for first place," Swinney said. "And we want to try to break that tie and have it in our favor when it's over on Sunday. It's a big game, and I look forward to getting back at it."

Defense has been a key for the Wolfpack. Notre Dame converted just one of 15 third-down situations and just two of four fourth downs last week, which coach Dave Doeren said was what pleased him most about the win.

The Wolfpack got their only touchdown against the Irish on safety Dexter Wright's return of a blocked punt.

For the season the Demon Deacons have allowed their opponents to convert only 20 of 71 third-down situations. That works out to just 28.1 percent success, 12th best in the country.

Offensively, the Wolfpack managed only 198 yards in total offense against the Irish in the wind and rain. Running back Matt Dayes, however, did manage to rush for 126 yards against the Irish, giving him 563 for the season. He might have a little extra incentive because he suffered what became a season-ending injury during last October's game against Clemson.

Quarterback Ryan Finley has shown an ability to take care of the football. He has gone 128 passes without throwing an interception in the five games this season. But he is coming off a game with only 27 passing yards in large part because of the messy conditions for the Notre Dame game.

"I'm not really worried about yardage because of the field conditions," Doeren said.

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