NC State football ‘ready for whatever’ at Clemson. What to watch for during ACC showdown

Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

N.C. State has prepared for every contingency for its game Saturday at Clemson.

Charter plane flight or loading up buses for the trip? The Wolfpack was ready.

A quagmire during the game caused by Hurricane Ian? The Wolfpack is ready.

A perfectly pleasant evening at Death Valley? The Wolfpack is ready, although that weather scenario seems unlikely.

The No. 10 Pack has gone through practices this week with water being squirted on footballs and in players’ faces, with “Tiger Rag” blaring on loudspeakers and everything being done to try and simulate possible conditions on Saturday.

“Just adapting to whatever there is to come,” quarterback Devin Leary said Wednesday.

Heavy rains could come. And 50-mph winds. Or the weather system could begin to dissipate by Saturday night and playing conditions could be just a steady drizzle and wet field.

“I think we’re ready for whatever it is,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Thursday. “We’re planning on it being wet and windy and if it’s not, it’s pretty easy to make that kind of adjustment.”

Leary talked about the Pack “stacking days on top of days” in practice, covering all phases of the game plan for taking on the No. 5 Tigers — N.C. State playing its ACC opener, and Clemson already 2-0 in the conference after beating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

No one is underplaying the game. Not Doeren.

“It’s significant for our team, and it’s for our university and our alumni. It’s great,” Doeren said. “We worked really hard to move ourselves up in the national footprint of this sport. It has taken a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears from a lot of people. We’re going to embrace the opportunity of being there.”

Much has been made this week that this is why players come to college and play Division I football at the highest level: to be in the top 10, to be in the big game, to play with a lot of eyes on you and a lot at stake, nationally and within the ACC.

The Wolfpack beat Clemson last year in double overtime. The Tigers remember.

Wolfpack linebacker Isaiah Moore noted “pride” has been the Pack’s “word of the week” in practice. Both programs have it.

“We’ve got two good teams playing for a lot,” Doeren said Thursday. “We’re excited to go down there and compete.”

Things to watch

Third-down conversions. They call it the “money down” and the Tigers lead the ACC offensively with a 54.7% conversion rate. The Pack’s defense has allowed a 25% conversion rate, second in the league behind Virginia Tech.

A year ago, the Wolfpack kept the ball for 42 minutes against Clemson because of third-down success on defense and offense, taking the ball away and keeping it. Said Doeren: “It’s going to be a huge part of the game.”

Contested catches. Call it what you will — 50-50 balls, contact catches, wherever — but the game could be decided on which team makes the most. It’s often a one-on-one contest not only of talent and execution, but want and willpower.

Red-zone efficiency. The Tigers’ numbers are impressive: 24-for-24 in the red zone this season, with 18 touchdowns. Unless it’s a very messy day, field goals likely won’t decide this one.

The Pack has allowed opponents in the red zone five times this season, ranking second nationally.

Running in the rain. The game might be decided on lining up and punching out first downs and playing conservatively if the weather is bad. The Pack’s Demie Sumo-Karngbaye and the Tigers’ Will Shipley can play that game, if need be, but Clemson leads the ACC in rushing defense (79.3 yards a game) and N.C. State is second (81.8).

“You’ve got to prepare for as much as you can,” Wolfpack offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Wednesday. “No one knows for sure what’s going to take place.”

How to watch

The 7:30 p.m. game will be shown by nationally ABC, with Chris Fowler handling the play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit the analysis and Holly Rowe as the sideline reporter.

The game also will be featured on ESPN2 and “CFB Primetime with the Pat McAfee Show.” McAfee has joined the “College GameDay” telecasts this year.

N.C. State injuries

Running back Jordan Houston and nickel Tyler Baker-Williams both missed the Connecticut game last week with injuries. Doeren was asked Thursday about their status for the Clemson game but would not give an update.

Vegas odds, win probability

After Clemson opened as a 7.5-point favorite, some oddsmakers now have the Tigers as a 6.5-point favorite. The ESPN Power Football Index sets the Tigers’ probability of winning at 83.5%.

Pregame reading