It was a loss but a different kind of loss for the NC State Wolfpack last Saturday. There were many questions about how well the team’s 4-0 record reflected their ability to perform against No. 1 Florida State. The answer: remarkably well. The Wolfpack outperformed the Seminoles in the first half maintaining the lead for 42 minutes and running a season-high 87 plays. Now 0-1 in the ACC they face their next conference opponent, Clemson, this Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
NC State junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett has captured the attention of many following his performance last Saturday. Making a handful of Heisman worthy plays, Brissett was arguably the better quarterback on the field that day. He made it known early that he had come to play. On the opening possession he found freshman receiver Bo Hines and threw for a 54-yard touchdown. However it was his second touchdown pass that made eyes widen. Taking a snap at the FSU 8-yard line he spun out of a handle by safety Jalen Ramsey, escaped the grip of linebacker DeMarcus Walker, stayed inbounds and found NC State receiver Jonathan Alston in the back of the end zone.
It’s safe to say Brissett is a key player for the Wolfpack. He threw for 359 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in addition to a series of improvised runs against FSU. Along with Brissett, another key player to be watching in this weekend’s match up against Clemson will be Brissett’s most reliable target, Hines. Hines completed last weekend’s game with eight catches, 103 yards and a touchdown.
The NC State defense faced adversity against Jameis Winston and his offensive line but came out on top in the first half. They limited FSU to one touchdown and zero rushing yards along with a sack of Winston by senior defensive tackle T.Y. McGill that forced a fumble in the first quarter. Sophomore linebacker Jerod Fernandez managed two interceptions against FSU. Fernandez has been a crucial component of the NC State defense this season. He currently leads the team in tackles and will be another player to watch at Clemson.
Although NC State’s defense was less impressive in the second half, they are a better squad than the one Clemson faced last weekend against North Carolina. In order to get points on the board the Tigers will need to take some of their game to the ground. Last weekend’s bout was a heavily dominated passing game, only rushing for 92 yards and 44 attempts.
Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is a force to be reckoned with and presents the Wolfpack with a highly talented quarterback opponent for the second week in a row. Watson recently set a Clemson record for most touchdown passes in his debut performance last Saturday and is the first true freshman to have started for Clemson in 20 years. Pressuring Watson will be key for NC State success. Given the proper amount of time he will find his mark down the field and hit them with precision. Watson threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns last weekend against UNC and is certainly a player to keep your eye on in this weekend’s match up.
Assuming that Clemson will even out their passing and rushing game this weekend, junior running back C.J. Davidson will be another player to watch. Davidson leads the Tigers in rushing attempts so far this season with a total of 36 carries.
Both quarterbacks have caught the public’s attention following last weekend’s games, and keys to NC State and Clemson success rely heavily on the teams’ defensive units. The Tigers will need to contain Brissett, who has proven he has the ability to extend plays and make his way down the field. The Wolfpack will need to pressure Watson and prevent his passing game from succeeding as it did against UNC. Momentum is high for both teams and the bout between NC State and Clemson could be anyone’s game.
*Section Photo credit to AP Photo;Featured Photo (above) credit to Bob Leverone, Associated Press