State bet the house on Clemson’s first third down, and the gamble paid off. They brought everyone up near the line of scrimmage and played a cover two shell while rushing Kelly Bryant. Bryant rolled to his right and overthrew Hunter Renfrow on a curl, landing right in the hands of sophomore safety Tim Kidd-Glass.
On State’s subsequent third down, they gambled and won again to go up 7-0. Finley stood strong in the pressure of the Clemson pass rush to throw a score to Kelvin Harmon, whom outran cornerback Amir Trapp downfield. This was the first time that Clemson gave up a touchdown off of a field goal this year.
Drives later on third down, Ryan Finley caught his own batted down pass but State was still forced to punt.
AJ Cole launched a 57-yard punt, but Ray Ray McCloud returned the punt for 77 yards and a score. This was Clemson’s first punt return for a score since October 2014 (70 yards, Adam Humphries) and the longest since 2009 (77 yards, CJ Spiller). This completes Ray Ray’s quest for a punt return touchdown that started when he fumbled the return against Troy for a touchback.
Alex Spence’s kickoff was out of bounds, having State start at the 35. Jaylen Samuels led the Wolfpack downfield on a 12 play, 65-yard drive, running a direct snap wildcat play one yard in for the score to go up 14-7 with 2:18 in the first. The score put Jaylen Samuels at 2nd in State history for touchdowns (42).
Deon Cain saved the next drive with a seven yard diving catch on 3rd and 8 that Kelly Bryant converted on the fourth and 1 read option. Bryant also threw a 15-yard dig route to Cain, but also overthrew a fade that was redeemed by the PI call.
Kelly Bryant covered the final ten yards the next play on a draw play, fumbling the ball after he was 5 yards deep in the end zone. The call originally was a touchdown, and the booth agreed with the field refs – tying the game at 14 all at 14:04 in the second quarter.
NC State responded by using three bouts of trickery to move down the field.
The first example started out as a normal jet sweep, then the runner tossed it to a standing receiver whom tossed it to Ryan Finley, and Finley threw the 21 yard pass to Jakobi Myers.
The second play was a fake handoff to the running back, but Finley spun around and ran to the weak side for a 12-yard gain.
The third was a direct snap to Jaylen Samuels that he ran inside the red zone to the eight-yard line. On third and goal from the seven, Ryan Finley threw a pass to Jaylen Samuels (split in the slot) to gain another seven-point lead on Clemson.
Five plays into the next drive, Kelly Bryant faked a handoff to Etienne, dropped back a step, and then shovel tossed it to Etienne for a 10-yard gain. Mike Stevens committed DPI and shortly thereafter Bradley Chubb’s roughing the passer penalty negated a third down drop by Cain.
Kelly Bryant couldn’t throw the ball into the end zone, but Alex Spence nailed the 26-yard field goal to make the score 21-17 State with 5:15 in the half.
State gashed Clemson’s defense with chunk runs and passes, and Finley’s first incompletion of the night came with 3:11 in the first half (14 straight completions for 150 yards).
NC State stalled in the red zone – with a too early Trayvon Mullen hit on State’s receiver that was not deemed a penalty. Carson Wise then missed the 34-yard field goal from the left hash with 1:42 left in the half.
Clemson’s two-minute drive to end the half featured five timeouts in 23 seconds, with the Tigers driving 58 yards down the field to the 22-yard line. NC State iced Alex Spence twice – one ice being a non-kick and the other barely going in the right upright. After the two ices, Spence missed the actual attempt wide right to keep the score 21-17 NC State at the half.
The Wolfpack’s two offensive stars are off to great starts. NC State is able to pick Clemson’s secondary apart due to injuries to cornerbacks Marcus Edmond and Mark Fields. Clemson’s pass rush didn’t hurry or sack Finley once in the first half and the secondary is unable to hold up with the defensive line struggling.
Kelly Bryant is struggling offensively, going 13/27 for 102 yards and a pick, while adding 43 yards on the ground. He is missing throws, escaping the pocket too early, and missing open players.
The rushing game is not much better, with Clemson rushing for 69 yards on 14 attempts (4.9 a carry) – and Bryant is the leading rusher. Feaster and Etienne combined have nine touches this half.
Ryan Finley is 15 for 18 with two scores, 154 passing yards, and 24 rushing yards. Jaylen Samuels leads the Wolfpack with 37 rushing yards on 11 carries, while catching two passes for ten yards and a score.
The prediction that Clemson would need to play their best game of the year to win is holding true, except Clemson is struggling in all facets of the game. The Tigers need to find something to exploit on offense, while containing Ryan Finley via the pass rush on defense. Clemson can do this, but the question is if they will.