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NC State at Clemson: 5 Things to Watch For

Five storylines to follow as No. 5 Clemson welcomes No. 10 NC State to Death Valley for a primetime matchup with the Tigers looking to avenge last season's double-overtime loss in Raleigh.
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The nation's eyes will be focused on Clemson Saturday night.

The No. 5 Tigers are set to host No. 10 NC State, with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand for what is arguably the biggest game on the docket this weekend. 

For the first time in the history of the long-running Textile Bowl, both the Tigers and the Wolfpack are ranked inside of the Top 10, as the two teams battle for supremacy in the ACC Atlantic. NC State also comes in looking to win consecutive games in the series for the first time since 2002-03.

5 Things to Watch For

1. The Revenge Factor: This game seems to have a little bit of everything. Two Top 10 teams. The first Top 10 matchup in the history of the Wolfpack program. Control of the ACC Atlantic is also possibly up for grabs, as is Clemson's 36-game home winning streak on the line. It just has that big game feel to it. Not to mention, NC State looking to win in Death Valley for the first time in almost two decades.

The Tigers are also looking to avenge last season's double-overtime loss in Raleigh, and that adds a whole other layer of intrigue. Sure, Clemson treats every opponent the same, treating the next game on the schedule as the biggest, no matter who that team is. However, it would probably be a little naive to think the players in that Clemson locker room haven't had this game circled for quite some time. No way they want to see that home-winning streak snapped by the Wolfpack.

2. Can Clemson's Secondary Rebound: Missing Andrew Mukuba, Sheridan Jones and Malcolm Greene, the backend of the Tigers' defense got exposed last weekend in Winston-Salem. NC State QB Devin Leary, much like Wake's Sam Hartman, is a savvy veteran and has probably been licking his chops for an opportunity to throw on a Clemson secondary that ranks next to last in the ACC, giving up 267 yards per game.

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This is not the first time the Gamecocks got a big win prior to playing the Tigers. Last year, they took down Auburn the week before and also had a recent rout of Florida before the Tigers shut them out 30-0 in Columbia.

The Tigers can ill-afford to have a repeat performance against the Wolfpack. The hope is that Clemson will get at least a couple of those players back this weekend, but Dabo Swinney didn't tip his hand at all over the past week. It won't be known who's back and who isn't until shortly before kickoff when the availability report comes out. Either way, the Tigers need to get better play in the secondary.

3. Can Either Team Run the Ball Successfully: These are two very good defenses when it comes to defending the run. NC State comes in allowing just 82 rushing YPG and 3.3 YPC. Clemson comes in allowing just 79 YPG and 2.6 YPC. While both teams feature a bevy of talent at running back, rushing yards could be at a premium. Which one runs it best could have a decided advantage.

4. 3rd Down Success: Clemson comes in converting 55% of its third down opportunities. NC State is allowing just 25%. A big part of the Tigers' success has been the resurgence of DJ Uiagalelei. The junior quarterback ranks sixth in the country in passing efficiency on third down and he also leads the nation with 473 passing yards on third down. Whether or not this Clemson offense can continue that success in crucial situations could be a determining factor on Saturday night.

5. Dabo vs. Dave: Over the past several years, this has evolved into a fairly heated rivalry. There was an NC State assistant shoving Deshaun Watson in 2015. Doeren seemingly boasted about knocking RB Wayne Gallman out of a game in 2016, then accused Clemson of cheating due to having a laptop on the sideline in 2017. The following season, the Tigers trolled the Wolfpack by having a picture of a laptop on one of their play cards. There was also "Towel-Gate" in 2017 when DL Bradley Chubb kept stealing QB Kelly Bryant's hand towels. We had the "frosty handshake" in 2019, then Doeren firing up a cigar, while drinking from a red solo cup on the ACC Network following his first-ever victory over the Tigers last season. 

Let's face it, these two teams don't much care for one another. Add in the implications of this being a Top 10 matchup between two unbeaten teams, with College GameDay in town, and there's bound to be another layer added to this rivalry on Saturday night.

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