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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Spiller and Tigers knock Wolfpack from bowl eligibility

Posted by on Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 9:19 PM

CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH -- The Clemson Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) came into town hot, riding a four-game winning streak, and hungry, looking to win the game that could deliver them the Atlantic Division title.  The North Carolina State Wolfpack (4-6, 1-4 ACC) came into the game looking to remain bowl eligible by winning the remaining games on the schedule.

The Tigers also arrived as a potential match up nightmare for the passing habits of the Wolfpack since the Clemson secondary has picked off 19 passes this year.  This is all without mentioning the Tigers' all-star running back/return man C.J. Spiller.  Spiller proved indeed to be worth the price of admission, whether he was running, catching, passing or being avoided in the kicking game.

C.J. Spiller had a hand in three separate touchdowns against the Wolfpack,throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Xavier Dye on an option play in the second quarter, rushing for a 16-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and receiving a 34-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.  On the rushing touchdown the Wolfpack defended the play perfectly, filling the hole created by the offensive line.  However, Spiller would not be denied and quickly cut left, taking the play to the outside and outrunning every N.C. State pursuer in the process.

Spiller set several Clemson records becoming the first Tiger ever to run, catch and throw a touchdown in one game and to score a touchdown five different ways in one season.  He also set the Clemson single season all-purpose yardage record with 1890 total yards, a number that is sure to grow over the next few weeks.

Even when Spiller didn't have the ball he was altering the game.  N. C. State made it obvious that they were not going to let Spiller the return man beat them.  In doing so State gave Clemson excellent starting field position all game.  On the four possessions that began following Wolfpack kickoffs, Clemson's average field position was their own 36, and they scored touchdowns on three of the four possessions.  Until the last possession of the first half, Clemson had only run 3 plays inside their own 40.  Already playing a more talented team and giving up more than 20 yards of starting field position proved to be too much for the Wolfpack to overcome.

The matchup disadvantages didn't help N.C. State's chances, either.  Quarterback Russell Wilson was held to 183 yards on 31 attempts, 12 completions, and two touchdowns.  The running game couldn't pitch in either, with only 138 yards on 41 carries divided amongst Toney Baker (19), Jamelle Eugene (15) and Wilson (7).  The Wolfpack seemed hesitant to pass the ball, especially when on their own end of the field, likely not wanting to give the Tigers any easy points.  This is a good strategy in theory but limited N.C. State's play calling to runs and longer passes into the middle of the field.  The ideal way to beat a team like Clemson is to run the ball well, keep the ball away from the opposing offense and only give them long fields.  N.C. State was unable to do any of those things and suffered a loss that eliminated them from bowl contention.

Looking back at Joe Schwartz's keys to the game from Friday, Clemson did everything they needed to get the win.  They ran the ball with Spiller (18 carries, 101 yards, one touchdown) and kept Wilson contained both in the air (183 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and on the ground (25 yards, seven carries).  Meanwhile, N.C. State was unable to significantly control the time of possession (33:13 N.C. State to 26:47 Clemson) mainly due to a lackluster run game (138 yards on 41 carries).

From here NC State must look forward to next season.  They no longer have a shot to become bowl eligible and must play spoiler in upcoming games, traveling to Virginia Tech and hosting North Carolina in the season finale.

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