Clemson vs. NC State score, takeaways: DJ Uiagaleli stars as Tigers trample Wolfpack in top-10 showdown

The biggest ACC game of the season to this point turned out to be the stage for a massive statement being made by No. 5 Clemson as the Tigers topped No. 10 NC State 30-20 in Death Valley on Saturday. Star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was tremendous for coach Dabo Swinney's crew, completing 21 of 30 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. He also added 73 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground. 

The game started as a field goal fest, but Uiagalelei took control when he led the Tigers on a furious two-minute drive to end the first half, giving Clemson much-needed momentum after a very sloppy 30 minutes. He got great protection on a 26-yard pass to running back Will Shipley out of the backfield to set the Tigers up at the 1-yard line, and Uiagalelei took it in from there to give Clemson a 13-10 lead. 

The offensive line kept that momentum in the second half as the Tigers scored quickly to make it a two score-game and demoralize a Wolfpack team that couldn't get going on the ground. Held to just 34 rushing yards, NC State. allowed the Clemson front seven to tee off on quarterback Devin Leary in the second half. Leary finished the game 28 of 47 for 245 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The win pushes Clemson to 3-0 in the ACC, with two of those wins coming over ranked division opponents. Does that mean Clemson is "back" as a national power? That remains to be seen. But there's no doubt that two wins over division and conference title contenders will not only give Swinney's crew confidence, but also give the Tigers the inside track toward a return to the ACC Championship Game. 

What are the biggest takeaways from the game?

The new and improved DJU

Swinney and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter clearly made an effort to get Uiagalelei involved in the ground game with designed runs against the Wolfpack, which is something they touted going into the season. Uiagalelei had a big 38-yard run on the Tigers' first possession of the second half where he took off up the middle and broke it outside down the left sideline. That set up for a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jake Briningstool two plays later to make it 20-10. 

Uiagalelei's legs are clearly a part of the game plan now more than ever, too. He had 308 yards on the ground and averaged 2.93 yards per carry in 13 games last year. Through five games this year, he's already at 169 yards and averaging 4.12 yards per carry. Teams are going to be forced to factor that element into their defensive game prep every week, which is going to open up passing windows deep downfield. 

Clemson is at its best when the quarterback is a big part of the rushing attack. Uiagalelei is rapidly becoming just that.

The Clemson defense is back

The Tigers were without star defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, who did not play due to a non-football medical condition. His teammates in the front seven picked up the slack ... and then some. 

The Tigers stopped NC State behind the line os scrimmage seven times, holding the Wolfpack to 1.6 yards per rush and 5 of 14 on third-down conversions. Defensive lineman Myles Murphy was credited with 1.5 sacks, Tyler Davis had 1.5 tackles for loss and K.J. Henry had a tackle for loss and pass breakup on the evening.

It was a tremendous rebound from last week's double-overtime track meet against Wake Forest in which the defense let the Demon Deacons rack up 6.57 yards per play. There was some concern whether new defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin could keep the identity in place after former coordinator Brent Venables moved on to take the Oklahoma coaching job. Saturday's performance shows that it might be a new year with a new look, but this is the same ol' elite Clemson defense that's ready to lead a charge back to ACC prominence -- and potentially the College Football Playoff.

NC State is a pretender

Saturday marked the first time in program history that NC State played a top-10 team as a top-10 team. However, it proved that it has a long way to go in order to be a contender on the national stage. 

It was hard not to feel bad for Leary. Clemson was teeing off on the veteran quarterback because it felt no threat from the Wolfpack rushing attack for essentially the entire game. One-dimensional teams don't win championships, they get exposed. That's exactly what happened to NC State. 

It shouldn't have been a shock. NC State entered the game ninth in the ACC in rushing at 157.5 yards per game, and eighth in average yards per rush at 4.38. Until coach Dave Doeren fixes that, it's going to be hard to trust that offense on a consistent basis. 

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October 2, 2022, 2:53 AM
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Back to a one-score game

9:06 Q3: No. 5 Clemson, No. 10 NC State 13

Christopher Dunn put an end to some of Clemson's momentum with a 49-yard field goal to make it a one-score game again. The Wolfpack got to the Clemson 32-yard line, but quarterback Devin Leary didn't come up big in a big moment, throwing three straight incompletions to end the drive. It'll be interesting to see what NC State does here. Its front seven got blown off the ball last drive, which was one of the first times all game that has happened.

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October 2, 2022, 1:57 AM
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Clemson goes up double digits

11:36 Q3: No. 5 Clemson 20, No. 10 NC State 10

Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei found Jake Briningstool for a 7-yard touchdown after a fantastic drive on their first possession of the second half. That drive included a 38-yard scamper by the star quarterback to set the offense up in the red zone. Uiagalelei showed off two things on that drive that should be very encouraging to Clemson fans. He showed the willingness to take off on designed runs and the touch on his passes -- specifically the touchdown pass -- that can make him the superstar he was touted to be coming into the season.

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October 2, 2022, 1:42 AM
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Clemson takes the lead

0:33 Q2: No. 5 Clemson 13, No. 10 NC State 10

DJ Uiagalelei cashed in a tremendous drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. That came one play after he found running back Will Shipley down the sideline for 26 yards. It was one of the first plays of the game in which NC State struggled to get pressure, and Uiagalelei went to his safety valve to get in scoring position. It'll be interesting to see if the Tigers offensive staff builds off of that momentum, especially now that the offensive line has confidence.

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