Clemson dropped three spots in the AP Poll on Sunday, falling to No. 9.
That's not something the Tigers can control. Getting better and fixing mistakes made in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech that was way too close for comfort at the end is something they can handle.
"We are going to have to play a lot better this week to have a chance to win in Raleigh," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday.
The Tigers (2-1, 1-0 ACC) head to N.C. State (2-1, 0-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for their first true road game of the season. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on before another conference showdown:
1. Do something different on offense: It's been three weeks of wondering why Clemson's scoring attack looks like anything but prolific. The Tigers are dead last in the ACC in total yards, yards per play and explosive plays. They're a solid 50 percent on third-down conversions. So what gives? Nobody, including Swinney, have easy answers.
But Clemson needs to figure out how to dominate more in the run game, whether that's switching up the offensive linemen or getting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei more involved in running earlier in the game. That can at least let him settle in and force the defense to be more reactive instead of dictating what the Tigers are doing.
Preview and Prediction: Clemson at Syracuse
After a much-needed week of rest and recovery, Clemson will return to action this week when it travels to face the Syracuse Orange on Friday, Oct. 15. Kickoff at the Carrier Dome is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET
Odds and Ends: Clemson Can't Be Trusted in Road Spot at Syracuse
With Clemson a 13.5-point favorite on the road Friday night against Syracuse and a point total of 45, what's the best bet this week?
Dabo Swinney: Many People Will Be 'Eating Their Words' in Regards to D.J. Uiagalelei
Head coach Dabo Swinney is convinced that D.J. Uiagalelei is just having a bad start to his career as the Tigers full-time starter and is fully confident the quarterback will go on to have a stellar career at Clemson.
2. Get used to the defensive scheme: Swinney summed up what his offense saw from Georgia Tech, which dropped eight defenders into coverage and only rushed three linemen: "You best believe we'll work on that because we'll see it again."
There's no question about that. If the smaller, less talented Yellow Jackets can make it work, the bigger, more physical Wolfpack will likely use some variation as well. It'll be interesting to see what the Tigers do better to combat it next time.
3. Injury concerns: Even though LaVonta Bentley looked really good filling in for injured linebacker Baylon Spector, the Tigers still need one of their most veteran presences on the field. Spector had inflammation in his knee that popped up Thursday, according to Swinney, and he wasn't able to play Saturday.
This week's opponent will be tough to stop on the ground, so the Tigers need all hands on deck against the Wolfpack, who average an impressive 5.68 yards per carry. Star defensive tackle Bryan Bresee is still nursing a shoulder injury that he's playing through, but he'll need to take it easy in practice to be full-go. Tigers really need center Mason Trotter back.
4. Will this N.C. State team end the streak?: Clemson has lost just once to the Wolfpack since 2003. N.C. State crushed the Tigers 37-13 in Raleigh in 2011. Since then, Clemson has won eight consecutive meetings. Only two of those were decided by a touchdown.
This Wolfpack team began the season looking like one that could challenge for at least second in the ACC Atlantic with two stellar running backs and quarterback Devin Leary returning, but after an easy win over USF in the opener, Doeren's squad took a step back in a 24-10 loss at Mississippi State, where the Wolfpack lost star linebacker Payton Wilson to injury. They still have that backfield of Ricky Person and Bam Knight, and with Clemson's struggles on offense, they'll get a chance to pull off the upset.
5. Icey reunion: The annual Textile Bowl between Clemson and N.C. State didn't take place last year because the ACC switched up the schedule when COVID-19 changed everything. These teams had met every year since 1971.
It also meant there was no postgame handshake between Swinney and N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren. In 2019, there was little conversation after the Tigers laid a 55-10 beatdown on the Wolfpack, and Swinney didn't like being asked about an "icey handshake" after the game. It'll be interesting to see the reception between the two coaches this year and if either is asked about any potential controversy.