NC State could not hang around with Clemson in a shootout at Death Valley, falling 62-48. Now it's time for a final look at the contest with some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State had stunned Clemson with a hard counterpunch, roaring back from a quick 13-0 deficit to lead 21-13 when redshirt freshman corner Juston Burris intercepted a pass from Clemson redshirt junior quarterback Tajh Boyd and returned it to the Clemson 30.
On the last play of the first quarter, freshman running back Shadrach Thornton ran for six yards to the Clemson 14, setting up third and four. When action resumed in the second quarter, State gambled with a toss to Thornton to the left, which resulted in a loss of a yard.
Sophomore Niklas Sade made a field goal to put the Pack up 24-13, but that was the first in a string of missed opportunities for State to stay in the game. The Pack on its next three possessions crossed midfield but failed to convert a fourth and one at the Clemson 41; took an intentional grounding penalty on third and eight and the Clemson 31 that backed the Pack up nine yards and out of field goal range; and then threw an interception in the end zone.
By that point Clemson had rallied for a 34-24 lead, and fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon fumbled on a sack to set up one more Clemson score before halftime, putting the Tigers up 41-24.
Three things that worked:
The fifth-year senior gets the first mentioned on something that worked because Palmer had one of if not the greatest single-game performance in NC State history. He caught seven passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns and returned eight kickoffs for a total of 277 yards, including a long of 81, en route to a staggering 496 all-purpose yards, a new ACC record.
2. Offensive output
The offense's performance was not flawless as they wasted a few opportunities, but the bottom-line is 597 yards of total offense and 48 points ought to be enough to win most games though. It's a testament to the offense that Clemson tried, successfully, to run out the clock with 7:35 to go.
This team could have folded when it got down quickly 13-0, but instead they came back. Conversely, they could have quit again when they gave up 42 straight points to fall behind 55-31, but they closed the deficit again to within two touchdowns and had an opportunity to bring it even closer.
Three things that did not work:
1. Defending Tajh Boyd
The redshirt junior Clemson quarter torched NC State. He completed 30 of 44 passes for 426 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions and ran 18 times for another 103 yards and three more scores. That's 529 total yards and eight touchdowns, in one game.
2. Defending everything else on Clemson
Senior running back Andre Ellington ran 22 times for 124 yards, sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins caught 11 passes for 110 yards and a score, senior tight end Brandon Ford made a big-play with a 69-yard touchdown when State had cut the lead to 55-38 and junior wide out DeAndre Hopkins had his own 62-yard touchdown reception when he beat Wolfpack junior corner David Amerson on a double-move. Clemson ran a staggering 102 plays for 754 total yards.
3. Taking advantage of every opportunity
As mentioned in the key moment of the game, NC State had chances to hang around with Clemson in this game. The failure to convert four drives into Clemson territory into touchdowns would be the difference in this game.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Clemson's front seven
Clemson did get four sacks, but that was on 57 pass plays, and almost all of Clemson' pressure came on heavy-blitz situations. Thornton also had a big rushing game with 114 yards. Overall it was a solid effort from NC State's offensive line.
NC State's front seven vs. Clemson's OL
The most underrated aspect of Clemson's offense is their offensive line. The Clemson front dominated this matchup all game. It may have been the biggest mismatch of the contest.
NC State's WR vs. Clemson's DB
Clemson tried multiple corners to slow down the NC State big plays until they decided their best chance to was to aggressively blitz. Palmer alone won this matchup for NC State.
NC State's DB vs. Clemson's WR
Aside from the big play, Amerson did a very good job on Hopkins, but Watkins got his touches and more, and there were more than a few big plays in the Clemson passing game. Overall a win for the Clemson wide outs.
Glennon was very good, again. He completed 29 of 53 passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception. However, while Boyd threw two picks, it seemed like Glennon's mistakes hurt NC State a little more. His two turnovers opened the floodgates late in the second quarter for Clemson, and his ill-advised intentional grounding was a blow as well. Thus Boyd gets the edge in this matchup.
Both Ellington and Thornton were very good. Ellington had 171 total yards while Thornton had 167 total yards. Both had 25 touches as well. This was an even matchup at the top, but Clemson backup Roderick McDowell, a junior, rushed 12 times for 83 yards, a spark that NC State did not have from its reserves. Thus the edge goes to Clemson.
Ford had the one pig play, but NC State fifth-year senior Mario Carter was great as well. He caught seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and when you factor in redshirt junior Asa Watson catching two passes for 25 yards, it was a better afternoon for the Wolfpack tight ends.
Clemson blocked a field goal, but overall this was a win for NC State on the strength of Palmer's big afternoon.