In Week 12, Mercurial Wolfpack Still Seeking Consistency

NC State (6-4, 3-3) at No. 11 Clemson (9-1, 6-1), 3:30 PM, ABC/ESPN2)

Last year, on the heels of a bad loss at Boston College, NC State thumped No. 7 Clemson 37-13 at home.

NC State senior quarterback Mike Glennon is able to fit passes through seemingly non-existent holes in the defense, but his wide receivers have dropped a lot of passes in the last three games and much of the season.

Glennon has insisted that the drops don’t bother him, and he can’t let it – as his head coach Tom O’Brien said, if he doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly, he’ll get killed. He doesn’t have time to wonder if a guy is going to catch the ball; he just has to let it go.

“A couple guys who had the drops made some good catches early (against Wake Forest),” O’Brien said. “I said this to two of the guys on the sidelines: ‘You guys drop the easy balls and you make hard catches, so we’re just going to have to get you in tough positions because your concentration level must be higher’.”

O’Brien won’t admit it, but he has to feel that way on some level about his team in general the last three seasons, particularly this one. The Wolfpack will drop a ball that’s right in their hands (the Virginia game at home with the Atlantic Division still up for grabs), but then make a Randy Moss-like grab in triple coverage (like beating Florida State).

Under O’Brien, NC State is 8-5 against top-25 teams (2-0 against the top 10) and 31-29 in all other games against unranked foes. The Wolfpack started out 4-4 last year but went 4-1 in its final five games with wins over North Carolina, Clemson and Maryland. And even in that Maryland game, it wasn’t easy: they had to overcome a huge deficit.

But his team, like his wide-receiving corps, thrives when things aren’t easy. And going to Death Valley to face an uber-talented Clemson team is far from it. “I don’t think that this team will be intimidated or afraid to go let everything go in this football game,” O’Brien said. “We’re in a situation, we’ve got a lot to play for, and you always want to be challenged. Challenge yourself and if Clemson’s the best or near the best in the conference, let’s go see what we can do.”

NC State’s dismantling of Wake Forest last week only seemed to make the 33-6 loss to Virginia the previous week that much more frustrating for the players. Even they seem to recognize that seemingly different teams show up from game to game, and they never seem to know which one is coming.

“Last week, we had a great team win and everything but we want to be able to do that consistently, week in and week out,” cornerback Dontae Johnson said. “Our next opponent is Clemson and hopefully, the NC State team that showed up last week will be ready to play again this week.”

Even from quarter to quarter, the Wolfpack can look like a different team. NC State has given up 97 first-quarter points and 126 in the other three quarters combined this year. At times, the first-quarter holes have been too deep.

“We can’t be the two different teams like we’ve been showing. We’ve go to be able to play consistently all four quarters. We can’t come out hot, then die in the second quarter and then come play in the third quarter,” left guard R.J. Mattes said. “We’ve got to play a straight four quarters. We can’t let the foot of the gas if we’re ahead and we can’t give up if we’re behind. We’ve just got to keep playing our game and executing our offense and defense the way it’s drawn up.”

The protean Wolfpack does seem to consistently show up against ranked opponents; they’ve beaten four of the last five top 25 teams they’ve faced. But none of those games have been on the road. The only top-25 road game NC State has won under O’Brien was at No. 25 North Carolina in 2008.

Clemson is more than capable of beating NC State on talent alone, even if the best possible NC State squad shows up in Death Valley on Saturday. But Mattes and the Wolfpack know that squad has to make the trip, or else they’ll be in danger of getting blown out. And they’ve still just won one division road game under O’Brien, a narrow win at Maryland this year.

“When we’re playing a top-25 team like Clemson, we’re always going to come out ready. It’s motivation because you can’t come out dead against a team like that, otherwise you’ll just get stomped,” Mattes said. “So we’ve got to come out ready like we did against Florida State and hopefully play good on all cylinders and win the game.”

Moments in NC State-Clemson history: Every year since 1971, the schools have met in the Textile Bowl (it has a trophy and everything), but the series dates back to 1899. Clemson had won seven in a row – the longest streak by either team – before NC State snapped that last year with a 37-13 win at home.  Clemson leads the all-time series 51-28-1 (22-11 at home). The Tigers have won 12 straight home games dating back to last season, which is a school record for consecutive home wins.

Tobais Palmer scores a 43-yard touchdown to put NC State up 37-6 on Clemson last year.

Our very own Jeff Gravley of WRAL did this classic 80’s montage of the 1987 NC State-Clemson game (State won, 30-28). “WE PLAY FOR KEEPS!”

Look who’s in town, you guys! It’s Clemson Tom! “Your stadium’s gray, like your soul.”

In the name of equal time, this is Clemson Tom a year ago after the loss to NC State.

This is what Dabo Swinney said after the 2009 win over NC State. Tweet that.

Prediction: NC State, 41-34. Because I just don’t know anymore.

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