When you play Clemson, it's pick your poison defensively.
"They stretch you at all levels," NCSU head coach Tom O'Brien noted during his Monday press conference.
Consider that sophomore wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the ACC preseason player of the year, yet this year he's not even the Tigers' best wide out. Watkins is still very dangerous, catching 42 passes for 561 yards in just seven games, but junior DeAndre Hopkins has 66 catches for 1,096 yards and 14 touchdowns this year.
NCSU cannot focus on the passing attack led by All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd, a junior who has thrown 28 touchdowns with just nine picks this season. Senior running back Andre Ellington is second in the ACC with 835 rushing yards on 164 carries with eight touchdowns. Boyd is also a rushing threat, keeping 122 times for 363 yards and five scores.
"You can't force them to be one-dimensional because of [Ellington's] abilities running the football," O'Brien stated. "You have to be worried about the run, and you get fooled into the play action pass and they throw the ball because they have all those great wide receivers. When you have playmakers at every spot, then it really stretches your defense, and that's the situation you have when you play a team like Clemson."
Saturday will be a rematch of when NCSU stunned then No. 7 Clemson 37-13 in Raleigh last year in the next-to-last regular season game for both teams. That's history as far as O'Brien is concerned.
"It's different teams, different people, different matchups," he pointed out.
But O'Brien is pleased with how his team responded last Saturday against Wake Forest, demolishing the Deacons 37-6 in what may have been State's most complete game of the season.
"Even looking at the tape, you could tell there was a different feel for what they were doing and the way they were reacting, their body language and everything else from a week ago," O'Brien said. "It's something to build on, and it's something that was good for us, and we're going to need everything we can get to even have a chance in Death Valley on Saturday."
Perhaps because of Saturday's win over WFU or State's two-game winning streak against teams ranked in the top 10, O'Brien though is confident the Pack will get a good effort at least.
"I don't think this team will be intimidated or afraid to let everything go in this football game," he said. "We've got a lot to play for."
- There is a chance that former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, a former O'Brien/offensive coordinator Dana Bible protégé, could be the NFL MVP this year.
Could there be a chance that NCSU fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon is the next Matt Ryan? O'Brien said that you cannot compare a college quarterback with a proven NFL star, but he has never shied away from comparing the two based on similar stages of their college career.
"He has a lot of similar qualities that Matt had as far as talent, as far as studying the game, as far as preparation goes, as far as competing, as far as things being important to him, yeah there are a lot of similar traits that he has with Matt," O'Brien acknowledged.
Glennon has completed 239 of 417 passes for 2,910 yards and 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions this year, numbers that would have been significantly better had it not been for a plague of drops in recent weeks.
"I don't think it affects [Glennon]," O'Brien said about the drops. "We would've seen it by now because there would have been multiple opportunities for him to be frustrated. We came out, and a couple of guys that had the drops made the good catches early last week.
"It seems like, and I said this to two of our guys on the sideline, 'You guys drop the easy balls. You make hard catches, so we're just going to have to get you in tough position cause your concentration level must be higher.'
- O'Brien credited the high level of quarterback play in the ACC for the main reasons why offenses are currently thriving in the conference. His response to some of the high scoring games like Virginia's 41-40 win over Miami and Georgia Tech's mind-boggling 68-50 win at North Carolina?
"Just glad I wasn't there with them," O'Brien joked.