Staff photo by Ethan Hyman
CLEMSON, S.C. — N.C. State just didn't have enough big-play ability to match Clemson on Saturday in a 27-9 loss at Death Valley.
The Wolfpack managed just one play of more than 20 yards on offense. Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford had three by himself.
Nate Irving's 33-yard interception return on the first play from scrimmage got N.C. State out to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Wolfpack's speed couldn't match Clemson's.
Couple the Tigers' big gainers by Ford, Aaron Kelly and C.J. Spiller with N.C. State's special teams miscues, and Clemson managed a double-digit victory.
N.C. State suffered a blocked extra point after Irving's touchdown and a missed 25-yard field goal attempt by Josh Czajkowski. Bradley Pierson shanked punts of 17 and 22 yards.
The Wolfpack still trailed just 17-9 early in the final quarter, but
couldn't add to its point total. Quarterback Russell Wilson drove N.C. State across midfield in the fourth quarter, but was intercepted by cornerback Crezdon Butler on a desperate, deep throw on a third-and-7.
Clemson took possession at its 4-yard line after that interception with 9:28 remaining and ran 8:07 off the clock before Spiller scored the clinching touchdown on a 12-yard run.
Harrison Beck came into the game for the final drive and had a certain touchdown pass dropped by Steven Howard. Beck was intercepted on a desperation pass on the final play.
Tiger quarterback Cullen Harper was 20-for-28 passing for 262 yards.
N.C. State was led by Andre Brown, who rushed 14 times for 64 yards and caught four passes for 51 yards. Brown had the Wolfpack's lone play of more than 20 yards, a 30-yard reception in the third quarter.
THIRD QUARTER: N.C. State finally got a big play in the passing game from Russell Wilson and running back Andre Brown on the opening drive of the second half.
Wilson hit Brown for a 30-yard gain to convert a third-and-5, then drove N.C. State into position for a 25-yard field goal attempt with the help of a questionable late hit call on Clemson.
But Josh Czajkowski's kick was wide left.
Czajkowski got another chance later in the third quarter after Wilson drove the Wolfpack to the 5-yard line. Cjazkowski's 22-yard field goal with 1:01 remaining in the quarter broke an 11-quarter scoreless streak for N.C. State's offense against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.
The Wolfpack's defense did score a touchdown in the first quarter against Clemson and also held the Tigers scoreless in the third quarter as N.C. State crept back within 17-9.
SECOND QUARTER: You had to figure that at some point, Clemson's high-powered skill players on offense were going to take over against N.C. State.
They did that in the second quarter Saturday at Clemson.
Cullen Harper hit Jacoby Ford for 28 yards to set up a Tiger field goal for a 10-6 Clemson lead. On its next possession, Clemson went 59 yards in two quick plays.
N.C. State cornerback DeAndre Morgan couldn't stop Aaron Kelly on a post route he caught for a 31-yard gain. Then Harper made a pretty fake of an out pattern to T.J. Grisham before lofting a 28-yard pass to C.J. Spiller for a touchdown and a 17-6 lead.
At halftime, N.C. State trailed 17-6 and had yet to score on offense. In fact, it's been 11 quarters since the Wolfpack has scored on offense against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is moving the team for a few first downs on runs and short passes, but N.C. State's biggest problem is its lack of a downfield passing game. As of halftime, N.C. State's longest completed pass was for 7 yards.
Some of that is Wilson's problem. Some of that can be traced to the wide receivers not getting open, and the lack of protection for pass plays to develop downfield.
Backup Harrison Beck, who passed for 246 yards in a little over two quarters last week with Wilson hurt, made a brief second-quarter appearance for a series, leading N.C. State to two first downs.
But when N.C. State tried one of the same takeoff routes that worked last week against William & Mary's less athletic secondary, Beck didn't have much luck. Clemson's more talented defensive backs were in good position. Beck threw into double coverage and was fortunate not to get intercepted.
At any rate, for the second half and the foreseeable future, N.C. State needs to find a way to get the kind of big plays college teams need to be successful.
North Carolina got a ton of those against Rutgers on Thursday night, particularly from wide receiver Brandon Tate. Trailing by 11 at halftime, N.C. State desperately needed a player like Tate to step forward at Clemson.
As a side note, the Wolfpack's special teams could use some work, too. Josh Czajkowski's extra-point attempt was blocked in the first quarter, and Bradley Pierson shanked punts of 17 and 22 yards.
FIRST QUARTER: N.C. State linebacker Nate Irving has done a lot of impressive things this season.
Add silencing nearly 80,000 fans at Clemson to the list.
Irving entered Saturday's game tied for the ACC lead with 11.5 tackles per game. He'd also made two interceptions and a fumble recovery in N.C. State's first two games.
On the first play from scrimmage Saturday, Irving jumped a Clemson slant route to intercept Cullen Harper. Irving hustled toward the sideline and sprinted 33 yards into the end zone.
It was the last thing Clemson fans still restless from the Aug. 30, season-opening debacle wanted to see. But the Tigers recovered quickly. They lead 7-6 after the first quarter.
Jarvis Jenkins blocked Josh Czajkowski's extra point attempt to keep the score at 6-0. On Clemson's next possession a 30-yard gain on a reverse by Jacoby Ford set up a touchdown. Harper atoned for his mistake by hittin Ford in the middle of the field for 16 yards and a 7-6 lead with the extra point.
N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson had a successful return after the concussion he suffered Aug. 28 at South Carolina. Wilson scrambled for two first downs on N.C. State's first drive and led the Wolfpack off the goal line on the Wolfpack's second drive, though he didn't produce any points in
the first quarter.
Wilson also showed no ill effects from the Aug. 28 concussion Saturday after a jarring hit by Clemson cornerback Crezdon Butler knocked his helmet off.
Wilson came off the field briefly, replaced by Harrison Beck, but N.C. State spokesman Pat Norris reported that Wilson just had an equipment problem.
He got his minor helmet problem fixed and sprinted back on the field in seconds.