clemson defense

Ray-Ray McCloud (21) of Clemson returns a punt 77-yards for a touchdown.

DONNYKNIGHTPHOTOGRAPHY.SMUGMUG.COM

RALEIGH — The N.C. State Wolfpack threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Clemson defense Saturday night in hopes of knocking off the fourth-ranked Tigers and taking control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

The Tigers were able to weather the storm — allowing 21 points in the first half, eventually settling down and allowing only 10 points over the final 30 minutes of the game.

However, for defensive coordinator Brent Venables, it was the first series of the game that he believes the Tigers must learn from.

“It's the first third down of the game,” Venables said. “We're getting ready to go three-and-out the first series and we got stuck inside. We played quarters coverage there, got beat inside and we're hitting the quarterback as he's throwing the ball. When you go on the road, you've got to play great defense, you gotta get that three-and-out.

“I thought that gave them confidence and got them started off and got us started off on the wrong foot. That's a play we gotta make. We lost our leverage. Stay inside, period. Unacceptable. The rest of the guys are playing really well. Everybody's got a job to do.”

With the Tigers seemingly playing shorthanded all night without cornerbacks Marcus Edmonds and Mark Fields, and with cornerback A.J. Terrell being shaken up in the game, Clemson was forced to play a variety of players at positions they were unfamiliar with — including wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud.

McCloud, who worked at defensive back this fall while nursing a broken bone in his hand, wore No. 21 in Saturday’s game instead of his regular No. 34 and was in on N.C. State’s final drive of the game.

"We were running out of people -- that's what (caused the Tigers to put McCloud in the game),” Venables said. “He's a talented guy. He's practiced over there -- needs a little more work kind of fine tuning some things, but some times you run out of options."

The Tigers gave up 244 total yards in the first half. But after apparently settling down at halftime, Clemson dominated the third quarter, outgaining the Wolfpack 202 yards to 48.

N.C. State outgained Clemson for the game, 491 to 415, and the Tigers gave up 338 yards passing — most of which came on short passes. Even being outgained, Venables was proud of the way his defenders responded throughout the night.

"I thought we were really in control of the second half,” Venables said. “I felt very good about our guys and the matchup. Guys made plays when they had too, so I'm really proud of them, showed a lot of courage, a lot of grit, a lot of toughness. We played a lot of young guys out there, a lot of injured guys and guys stepped up for them. So, it was good.

"I was more discouraged on the very first drive. You gotta start fast the right way, and we did with the exception of just one guy losing his leverage on a post route for a touchdown. So we'll live and learn from that, but I thought our guys adjusted real well in the second half."

On a weekend that saw No. 6 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 21 Stanford and No. 15 Iowa State all lose, you will not find the Tigers complaining about going on the road and getting a win against the 20th-ranked team in the nation.

"Sometimes going on the road and winning and sometimes throughout the course of the season they all don't come easy and you've got to take the bad with the good and the good with the bad,” Venables said. “At the end of the day you've got to find a way to get it done. You don't really think about it too much. You've got to react and adjust and move on."

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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