Clemson vs. NC State: Is This the Usual Game Where the Tigers Trip Up?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2013

It's bound to happen eventually. You know it, and I know it.


It's the moment when Clemson nearly reaches the top of the mountain, only to have the rocks slip away from under its feet as it goes tumbling back down to anonymity.

When will this happen?

There's no time like the present.

No. 3 Clemson will travel to N.C. State on Thursday night to take on the Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on national television. Should the Tigers be on upset alert?

Well, considering the lofty ranking attached to its name, head coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson squad should always be on upset alert. But in this particular instance, it should be on more than just alert. The sirens should be going off all over upstate South Carolina.

No, this isn't the same N.C. State team that upset then-No. 3 Florida State at home last October. Quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson are gone, and first-year head coach Dave Doeren lost starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell to a foot fracture in the first game of the season.

All signs point to a Clemson blowout, right?

Well, yes, which means that the college football world should prepare for the unexpected.

Despite the loss of Mitchell, N.C. State ranks fourth in the ACC in total offense (averaging 493 yards per game), one spot ahead of Clemson (489.5 YPG). Doeren's offense has the capability to put up yardage.

Pete Thomas has been inconsistent at quarterback for the Wolfpack, throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns, but he is completing 67.2 percent of his passes, going 39-of-58.

He's a little bit of a square peg in a round hole in Doeren's system since he doesn't have the wheels to be a threat on the ground. But if he can cut down on the mistakes and the Wolfpack defense can force a key turnover or two, they'll have a chance.

That latter key may be an issue, though. Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss lit up the N.C. State secondary in Week 2 with 300 passing yards and two touchdowns to nearly spring the upset, as the Wolfpack squeaked by the Spiders, 23-21.

Let's be honest: This shouldn't be a game. With Tajh Boyd at quarterback for Clemson, Sammy Watkins outside and offensive coordinator Chad Morris calling the plays, this should be over shortly after halftime.

But these are precisely the games that Clemson loses. When it was ranked No. 7 in 2011, Clemson got run out of Carter-Finley Stadium, 37-13, by a Wolfpack team that finished at 8-5. 

But this is a different Clemson team. Boyd is remarkably consistent, the offense is diverse, and when all else fails, Boyd and running back Roderick McDowell can slow down the game by playing ground-and-pound football.

That's always a smart idea, and it will be the path of least resistance on Thursday night as Clemson will avoid the upset. But because it's Clemson, it's hard to be 100 percent confident in that pick.