RALEIGH — The Textile Bowl won’t have the same stakes as the past few seasons, but it’s still an important game for both NC State and Clemson.
For the Tigers (4-3, 2-3 ACC), it’s about trying to stay in the upper echelon of the ACC. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack (4-3, 1-2 ACC) are trying to prove they can learn and build from a disappointing start.
“We have a five-week season coming up starting with Clemson at 2 o’clock on Saturday,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren. “Excited for the opportunities and challenges that are in front of our football team. I look forward to competing and helping these guys. Each day you come into the building, it’s about finding ways to get better and overcoming things that are a challenge.”
Saturday’s matchup at Carter-Finley Stadium will also be a showdown of two young quarterbacks facing tough defenses.
After benching graduate transfer Brennan Armstrong following Week 5, Doeren turned to sophomore quarterback MJ Morris. Morris has thrown for 458 yards in two starts, but he’s also had five turnovers, throwing four interceptions and fumbling once.
On the other side, Clemson’s Cade Klubnik has had a strong statistical start to the season with 1,684 yards, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but he has also battled inconsistency.
“Last week, their quarterback played really well in their loss to Miami,” Doeren said. “I thought he looked comfortable, he had good poise in the pocket, he used his legs when he needed to, had some good throws on the run, threw the deep ball with touch, and so you can see that he’s improving.”
NC State had an extra week to prepare for Klubnik and the Tigers after suffering a disheartening 24-3 loss to Duke on Oct. 14.
“They were embarrassed after the game,” Doeren said of his offense following the loss to the Blue Devils. “There were a lot of heartfelt conversations about stepping up, and guys know that they need to be better.”
The Wolfpack have relied almost exclusively on wide receiver KC Concepcion to carry the offense, and he’s been the only consistent source of explosive plays. The freshman has 37 receptions for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
“I felt like we had answered the bell there in the Marshall game and then took a step back in the Duke game with just self-inflicted things,” Doeren said. “Pre-snap or post-snap, whether it’s a false start or a holding penalty, those were issues that we did a great job within the three days we went out and worked. Making routine plays routine. … It’s pretty obvious when you come out of a game like that what you’ve got to do.
“I think it’s everyone just locking in on the little things in every spot that they can do better in and collectively getting better by individually getting better. I think that’s the thing that we’re focusing in on.”
The offense will certainly have a big task in front of them when it faces the Tigers on Saturday.
Clemson’s defense is ranked second in the ACC in yards allowed per game (175.5), fourth in points against per game (19.3) and the Tigers have taken the second fewest penalties in the conference with just 28 calls against them.
“When you play Clemson, they always have a talented football team, and this one’s no different,” Doeren said. “Very well coached and they have tremendous players. … Defensively, very talented. A good defensive line, always aggressive in what they do.”
Overall though, Doeren has been satisfied with the way his team approached the extra week of preparation.
“Bye weeks are about a lot of things,” Doeren said. “It starts with reflection and study. … Also, using the time wisely for recovery, resetting mentally and allowing the guys to have some time. Having a good mix of improving, getting on the field and getting off the field and allowing these guys to reset for the next five weeks.
“The reset is real. You can get really hung up in seven games with where we are at with the good, the bad and the ugly, but what you have left is five games and that’s where the focus has to switch. So giving those guys enough time to just get away and really contemplate their body of work and think about what they want the next five to look like.”