By Aaron Beard
The Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hasn’t forgotten what happened the last time his Tigers carried a top-10 ranking into North Carolina State. He’s focused on ensuring it doesn’t happen again Thursday night.
The third-ranked Tigers (2-0) enter Raleigh with their highest ranking in 25 years and the Atlantic Coast Conference favorite is squarely in the national championship chase. That means they can’t afford a repeat of their inexplicably bad performance two years ago against the Wolfpack (2-0).
Clemson, ranked No. 7 during that last visit, played without injured star receiver Sammy Watkins, gave up 27 second-quarter points and lost 37-13. Swinney called it “one of the most miserable games I’ve ever been a part of,” while Watkins said the Tigers “didn’t deal well with the success we had as a team.”
“My job was to have the team ready, and when they’re not ready, that’s on me,” Swinney said. “We went up there and executed a plan to lose — four turnovers, three of them inside our own 20, against a good football team at their place? You can’t win that way.
“Hopefully these guys on our team have grown through their whole team experience, and will put their best foot forward.”
While that experience is one the Tigers would like to forget, it offers confidence for the Wolfpack and first-year coach Dave Doeren. He inherited a team that followed its upset of Clemson with a come-from-behind win against No. 3 Florida State last year with a last-minute touchdown.
Doeren is hoping that his team, a two-touchdown underdog, can upset a top-10 team for the third straight season. It also marks the Wolfpack’s first ACC game under Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach.
“Those games aren’t going to win this game for us,” Doeren said. “But at least there’s guys in the room that remember. Our young guys are just out there playing. They don’t know any better. For the older guys, I think it’s a source of pride and our fans obviously are a big part of those wins with the noise we can generate on third down and on key moments defensively.”
Tempo:Both teams like to get plenty of snaps in no-huddle schemes. Quarterback Tajh Boyd directs Clemson’s attack, which averaged nearly 86 plays in wins against highly ranked Georgia and South Carolina State. N.C. State averaged about 82 plays in its wins against Louisiana Tech and Richmond. That could lead to some worn-out defenses Thursday night.
Secondary: N.C. State struggled to slow Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 300 yards and two scores on Sept. 7. N.C. State’s secondary, which lost three of its four starters from 2012, will face even more pressure from Boyd and Watkins.