CLEMSON, S.C. — ESPN’s College GameDay is in town. There is a primetime game in Clemson.
It’s DJ Uiagalelei against NC State’s nationally ranked defense. It’s Devin Leary against Clemson’s secondary. It’s Clemson’s third down offense against NC State’s third down defense.
Those are things everyone is going to talk about in Saturday’s top 10 matchup between No. 10 NC State and No. 5 Clemson at Memorial Stadium.
But the matchup to watch in this ACC Atlantic Showdown is Clemson’s tight ends against NC State’s linebackers.
When these two teams met last year, Clemson tight ends Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool were non-factors in the passing game. Because of the offensive line’s issues, Allen’s blocking skills were needed more.
The Tigers targeted Allen twice in NC State’s double overtime win in Raleigh last year and neither one was a catch. Briningstool did not even play.
NC State linebackers did not even have to worry about the tight ends. They could play the run and help the secondary in coverage. That’s one reason why the Tigers totaled just 214 yards, including double overtime.
But this is a different Clemson offense this time around, and this is a different kind of matchup.
NC State’s Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore and Payton Wilson make up one of the best linebacking corps in college football, but Clemson will bring a set of tight ends they have not seen yet.
In last week’s double overtime win at Wake Forest, Uiagalelei targeted Briningstool eight times. The sophomore caught six passes for 72 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown on the Tigers’ opening drive.
Allen was targeted four times. He caught all four passes, including a third-quarter touchdown from three yards out, and then a 21-yard strike from Uiagalelei in the second overtime that turned out to be the game-winner.
Both of Clemson’s tight ends stand at 6-foot-6, that is six inches taller than Thomas and four inches taller than Moore. Even Wilson, who is 6-foot-4, has to look up to them.
Also, consider this. Clemson does not always use their tight ends in a traditional sense. Because Clemson’s offensive line has been taking care of its business, it has allowed offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter to be creative with his talented tight ends.
Last week, on multiple occasions, Allen and Briningstool lined up in each of the slot positions on the same play. It forced NC State’s linebackers and safeties to make a choice, and if one or two of the line backers have to drop out of the running game to help on the tight ends, that could open things up for running backs Will Shipley, Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah.
–photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications