PLAYERS TO WATCH
–QB Tajh Boyd had a tough game in his last visit to N.C. State, as the then-sophomore was intercepted twice in a 37-13 defeat. But he rebounded in a big way against the Wolfpack last season, accounting for eight touchdowns and amassing 529 yards of offense, 426 passing and 103 rushing. He could put up similar numbers against an N.C. State defense that is breaking in three new starters at linebacker and three new starters in the secondary.
–WR Adam Humphries will replace Charone Peake in Clemson’s lineup after Peake was lost for the season with a torn ACL. It will be just the sixth career start for the junior, who coincidentally is a former high school teammate of Peake’s. Humphries is a proven commodity after making 41 receptions for 280 yards and a touchdown last season and also has an impressive track record in games against N.C. State, with 10 catches against the Wolfpack the previous two seasons. “Adam is just a consistent player,” Boyd said. “You know what you’re getting when he’s out there. There’s no wavering.”
–LB Spencer Shuey should play a prominent role against N.C. State. Shuey had a career-high 10 solo stops against the Wolfpack last season, and with the Tigers once again facing an N.C. State team intent on establishing the run, Shuey could match or exceed that number this week. The Tigers’ leading tackler has emerged as a potential All-ACC candidate. “He’s willed himself into the player he is now,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
–Senior K Chandler Catanzaro is just eight points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Clemson history. Catanzaro has 56 career field goals 154 extra points for his 322 career points, which is second behind K Aaron Hunt in the Clemson record book. Catanzaro has made 56 of 70 field goals in his career, good for a .800 success rate, and has been particularly accurate over the last 21 games, making 28 of his last 29 attempts.
–QB Pete Thomas will be aiming to show improvement after his first start with the Wolfpack. He’ll be facing a Clemson defense that kept the Wolfpack in check last season.
–DE Art Norman has been a force along the front and the Wolfpack has been counting on him as one of their experienced players. He’s coming off a game in which he did so much against Richmond that he shared the ACC’s weekly honor for Defensive Lineman of the Week. He has played a team-high 45 snaps per game among players along the Wolfpack’s defensive front.
–K Niklas Sade has been a weapon for the Wolfpack in a variety of ways. Not only has he made all seven of his field-goal attempts, but 13 of his 15 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.
TO THE GAME
When Clemson kicks off its Atlantic Coast Conference season on Thursday in a nationally televised game on ESPN, the Tigers will do so with plenty of confidence — they’re unbeaten (2-0), ranked No. 3 in the nation and are set up for a potential run at a national championship.
But the Tigers also have a memory, and this week their minds have been quick to recall the 37-13 shellacking they absorbed against an unranked N.C. State squad in Raleigh, N.C., just two short years ago.
“That was about as miserable of a game as I’ve ever been through — they kicked our butt,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We weren’t ready. We executed a plan to lose. We had four turnovers, and you can’t win that way. Hopefully we grew through that experience and will put our best foot forward this time.”
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had a career day in a shootout victory against N.C. State last season at Clemson, accounting for eight touchdowns and 529 yards, but Swinney isn’t convinced that the Wolfpack — which is 2-0 under first-year coach Dave Doeren — will surrender yardage so readily this time around.
“I think N.C. State is going to prove to be one of the better teams in the conference,” Swinney said. “Every single week is going to be a challenge, so we can’t overlook anybody.”
The biggest question facing Clemson this week is how the Tigers will respond to losing receiver Charone Peake for the rest of the season courtesy of a torn ACL. Peake was the team’s second-leading receiver this season with eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown before suffering his injury in practice in a simple non-contact drill on Sept. 10.
“This is a big loss,” Swinney said. “He was having a great year and was going to have a great year. We are thin at receiver with just six scholarship players now.”
Junior Adam Humphries — Peake’s former high school teammate — has moved into the starting role, but the Tigers will need to get more production from Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant as well as freshmen Mike Williams and T.J. Green.
Still, most teams would be happy to trade places with the Tigers, who after facing the Wolfpack will take on Wake Forest, Syracuse and Boston College — three teams with a combined 4-5 record that includes three wins against FCS teams — before hosting Florida State in mid-October.
“We’re in a good position, but we’re just kind of getting into that first curve,” Swinney said. “Everybody is jockeying, and that’s what makes college football fun. Every game is like a playoff game.
“Just look at the history of college football — it’s hard to go undefeated. That’s our goal, but it’s hard to do and not many teams pull it off.”
The Wolfpack is embracing an underdog role going into the matchup with third-ranked Clemson because there’s really no other choice. But it’s not a bad label for the Wolfpack, which has knocked off Top 10 teams the past two seasons at home.
“With the crowd behind us, you never know,” Doeren said.
N.C. State defeated a Top 10-ranked Florida State team last year at home and dismantled Clemson in 2011, so the setting could be right with an amped-up crowd expected to be on hand.
“Everybody who plays here knows that you do (have a chance),” Doeren said. “At least there are guys in the room who were here for that.”