Tigers’ next show­down for con­trol of ACC At­lantic

Rome News-Tribune - - SPORTS - By Pete Ia­co­belli

CLEM­SON, S.C. — Another week, another show­down for No. 6 Clem­son.

The Tigers (7-1, 5-1 At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence) play Satur­day at No. 20 North Carolina State (62, 4-0), their fourth con­test — and third road game — against a ranked op­po­nent this sea­son. The win­ner grabs con­trol of the ACC At­lantic, while a loss by Clem­son likely ends its chance of de­fend­ing its na­tional ti­tle.

Clem­son has been in this spot sev­eral times the past few sea­sons and most al­ways has come out on top.

“I feel like over th­ese games we’ve fig­ured out what kind of team we are,” sopho­more line­backer Tre La­mar said. “We’re con­fi­dent in the team we have and we’re con­fi­dent in the pieces we have.”

The Tigers had a Septem­ber to re­mem­ber with wins over three top15 teams at the time in Auburn, Louisville and Vir­ginia Tech. They won games at Louisville and Vir­ginia Tech by a com­bined score of 78-48 and turned ex­pected show­downs into ru­n­aways by the third quar­ter.

N.C. State is the only un­de­feated team in ACC play in the At­lantic Di­vi­sion. Clem­son has one loss, Syra­cuse has two and the other four have three or more.

Clem­son has won five straight against the Wolf­pack, who may still feel the sting af­ter nearly de­rail­ing the Tigers’ na­tional cham­pi­onship run last year with a game they lost at in over­time at Death Val­ley.

Now, it’s N.C. State with the up­per hand on the sea­son, per­fect through half its ACC sched­ule and ea­ger to show its strong start is no fluke.

“This is play­off foot­ball right here,” Clem­son coach Dabo Swin­ney said. “It’s Novem­ber and you’re just try­ing to win and move for­ward if you want to stay in the hunt.”

Tigers re­ceivers coach and co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jeff Scott said there’s plenty that comes from be­ing bat­tle-tested and per­form­ing strongly in big sit­u­a­tions as Clem­son has the past three sea­sons. The Tigers are 35-3 since the start of the 2015 sea­son, in­clud­ing a 12-1 mark against ranked op­po­nents. The one loss, of course, was to No. 2 Alabama in the 2015 na­tional ti­tle game, a de­feat the Tigers avenged last Jan­uary in a 35-31 win over the top-ranked Crim­son Tide.

The Wolf­pack had that same chance to make a mark last sea­son and po­ten­tially cap­ture the ACC At­lantic when it out­played Clem­son much of the way. It forced four turnovers, three in the red zone, to slow down the Tigers’ high-pow­ered of­fense.

Still, it was tied at 17-all with Kyle Bam­bard lin­ing up a 33-yard field goal at the end of reg­u­la­tion. Bam­bard’s kick sailed right and the Tigers pre­vailed, 24-17, in OT.

N.C. State coach Dave Do­eren said those who played last year will draw mo­ti­va­tion from the de­feat. His team is also aware what’s at stake Satur­day. “We want to con­trol where we go,” he said.

The Tigers gained con­fi­dence from last year’s win over the Wolf­pack through the rest of the sea­son and into this one. Their in­vin­ci­bil­ity took a dent ear­lier this month when Syra­cuse stunned the sec­ond-ranked Tigers, 27-24, and threw their ti­tle de­fense into doubt.

But Clem­son an­swered on Satur­day night with a 24-10 de­feat of Geor­gia Tech that marked the re­turn of quar­ter­back Kelly Bryant, who was knocked out of his pre­vi­ous two games be­cause of a sprained left an­kle against Wake For­est and a con­cus­sion at Syra­cuse.

File, John Baze­more / The As­so­ci­ated Press

Clem­son play­ers hud­dle on the field be­fore the Tigers’ game against Geor­gia Tech in Clem­son, S.C.

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