North Carolina State’s win over Notre Dame last week was a program victory. This week the Wolfpack nearly upset Clemson.
This time was bigger, even though N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren’s team lost 24-17 in overtime to the No. 3 Tigers. That sounds sacrilegious to the football gods watching Saturday’s game from above alongside Knute Rockne, but it’s true.
Any win over Notre Dame is big on paper, but the Irish are having a down year. The game also was marred by heavy rain that afternoon from Hurricane Matthew off the North Carolina coast. It wasn’t so much a football game as a contest of survival.
No asterisk need be applied to N.C. State’s showing at Clemson. All the Wolfpack needed was sophomore Kyle Bambard’s 33-yard field goal as time expired to stay true instead of drifting right of the goal post, and they would have won 20-17.
The missed field goal allowed Clemson an overtime period to escape with unbeaten records of 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the ACC Atlantic. N.C. State dropped to 4-2 and 1-1 in the ACC Atlantic.
If it sounds redundant to label N.C. State’s near-upset of Clemson a moral victory just one day after Duke’s 24-14 loss on Friday night at No. 7 Louisville also was a moral victory, there’s good reason for it.
It shows the improved depth of the ACC.
The ACC claimed Florida’s State’s national title in 2014 and Clemson’s runner-up finish to Alabama in last year’s College Football Playoff championship game, but the league was considered top-heavy.
This year the ACC has more depth. N.C. State and Duke are unranked, but they played on a level high enough to nearly upset two Top-10 ACC teams.
In all, five ACC schools are ranked in the Top 25. Florida State is No. 14, Miami No. 16 and Virginia Tech No. 17. There were six ranked ACC schools, but North Carolina dropped out following its loss to Virginia Tech.
N.C. State nearly beating Clemson generates more conversation for the Wolfpack than defeating Notre Dame. The Notre Dame win discussion includes a “yea, but … ”
Not so with the Clemson loss. That conversation includes mentioning N.C. State should have won if not for a missed field goal.
Doeren, in his fourth season as head coach, is now 0-7 against Top 25 teams, but this was a better performance than past losses to Clemson and Florida State.
Last year Clemson outscored N.C. State 56-41 at Carter-Finley Stadium. Oddly enough, N.C. State lost at home in 2014 to Florida State by the same score.
The Wolfpack ended last year with losses to North Carolina 45-34 and Mississippi State in the bowl game, 51-28.
N.C. State is better well-rounded with improved defense.
One way to measure the impact of N.C. State’s near-upset was the yardstick of recruiting. Clemson true freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence played in N.C. State’s shadow at Wake Forest High. Lawrence, who picked Clemson over N.C. State and Alabama, said on the day he committed the Wolfpack was his second choice.
Maybe the next Dexter Lawrence will take a closer at N.C. State after nearly shocking Miami.
At the beginning of the season, Doeren called N.C. State’s midseason gauntlet against Notre Dame, Clemson and Florida State an opportunity. With a win over Notre Dame and near upset of Clemson, the Wolfpack are responding to it well… even though they didn’t get the result they wanted in Death Valley against the defending ACC champions.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055