Clemson University

One's got to give

Clemson running back James Davis (1) will have a chance to show what he can do against the ACC's worst run defense.
Clemson running back James Davis (1) will have a chance to show what he can do against the ACC's worst run defense.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tom O'Brien has a knack for knocking off Clemson, even if his new team doesn't.

The coach who led Boston College to consecutive overtime victories over Tommy Bowden's team hopes to continue his mastery Saturday when North Carolina State faces the 15th-ranked Tigers.

"He knows how to win," Bowden said. "He knows how to get his guys' attention. Every indication shows that he'll be successful."

That's something the woebegone Wolfpack (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) haven't been in a while. They've lost three straight to their Atlantic Division rivals, and haven't beaten the Tigers (3-0, 1-0) since quarterback Philip Rivers was a senior in 2003.

N.C. State also opens a three-game stretch against big-name teams with the "Textile Bowl," a game so named to honor both schools' contribution to the industry.

"We're in a pretty good stretch now," O'Brien said. "We're going to see how we compare to Top 20 teams. Maybe we're not Top 20, but by the end of the year we might be a heck of a football team."

They'll have plenty of chances to prove it, with Louisville and Florida State next on the schedule.

N.C. State hasn't beaten a team from the Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) in nearly a year, is coming off a 38-17 win over Wofford and is seeking its first victory of note under O'Brien.

"Can't look past them (Clemson) guys," running back Andre Brown said. "We're going to have to knock them down one at a time and just go out here and believe."

The Tigers are bracing for their first road game and quarterback Cullen Harper's first start away from Death Valley, so they hope to get their ground game going against an N.C. State defense that is the ACC's worst against the run.

James Davis and C.J. Spiller have just one 100-yard performance between them -- Davis rushed for 102 in the opener against Florida State. Spiller is coming off a minus-1-yard showing against Furman that was the second-worst of his career and could find relief against the Wolfpack, who last year allowed him to run for a then-career-best 154 yards.

"He's not running much different than he was this time last year," Bowden said. "We need to improve our running game in terms of production."

During the offseason, N.C. State has added a wrinkle to its defense: coordinator Mike Archer, who called the defensive plays at Kentucky and helped the Wildcats bottle up Clemson's one-two punch of runners in winning last season's Music City Bowl.

"The base defense is very similar, but he is doing some different things at N.C. State," Bowden said. "He's inherited (fired coach Chuck) Amato's defensive players, but there are a lot of similarities. They challenge the ball really well. They've got some good ends that can rush well. They have some linebackers that are very physical. They have some really talented defensive players."