Wolfpack can be troublesome at times

Wolfpack can be troublesome at times

Clemson has controlled its series with N.C. State, starting with a win back in 1899. Overall, Clemson leads the series 52-28-1 and has been dominant at times.

But like a little brother who follows along and pesters an older brother, the Wolfpack have had their moments through the years.

The highlight was a six-game winning streak from 1971 to 1976, which was part of the Wolfpack winning eight of 10 in the series from 1971 to 1980.

But the older brother stepped in, straightened things out and regained control of the series with Clemson winning 22 of the 32 meetings since the loss in 1980.

N.C. State's program was at its high point with Dick Sheridan as its head coach in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Sheridan was familiar to Clemson fans after he built an NCAA Division I-AA powerhouse at Furman. He immediately made N.C. State a legitimate threat when he took over the Wolfpack program in 1986 and produced an eight-win team. That team also started a three-game winning streak over Clemson with a 27-3 win in Raleigh.

The game the next year is one of the most memorable at Clemson for what might have been. The Tigers, who ended up with a 10-win season and a No. 12 ranking in The Associated Press poll, had their most head-scratching loss of the season to the Wolfpack, who finished with just four wins. The Tigers came out flat in front of a stunned Memorial Stadium crowd and went into halftime facing a huge deficit. Clemson, which featured mostly a running offense at the time, came out in the second half and threw the ball all over the field (Tajh Boyd would have approved) and came up just short of pulling off the greatest comeback in Clemson history.

Sitting in the stadium that day, it was a strange feeling. At halftime, there was a disbelieving silence about what had just happened. Things went berserk in the second half as it appeared Clemson might pull off the unlikely rally. When it didn't happen, the silence returned and the Tigers tumbled out of the top 10 in the AP poll.

A 10-3 N.C. State win the next year continued the Wolfpack's streak to three games, but since that year, Clemson has won 17 of the 24 meetings. The Tigers have won eight of the past nine meetings, but that one loss was another head-scratcher – probably Clemson's worst performance since Dabo Swinney took over as the head coach in 2008. Just like the 1987 meeting, Clemson entered the game ranked seventh in the AP poll, but it stumbled to a 37-13 loss in a game that was out of control from the very start because of turnovers and mistakes that young teams make on the road.

That loss was part of the Tigers' end-of-the-year tumble as they went from 8-0 to 10-4, and it took a lot of the air out of what could have been a truly special season (although it was an ACC championship season).

A similar performance Thursday would do the same this season.

Clemson has a lot on the line Thursday night in a nationally televised game. The Tigers are 2-0, including an impressive performance against Georgia in the opener, and they are ranked third in the AP poll. Clemson's schedule looks manageable with a couple of big games – vs. Florida State and at South Carolina – left on the schedule.

But the Tigers have to take care of games like Thursday's to allow the season to be special. And they should. This is a different Clemson team than the one that last went to Raleigh. That team was filled with freshmen and sophomores, and many of those players are now veteran, experienced leaders. And the experience of that loss two years ago doesn't sit well with them.

The Wolfpack are 2-0 in Dave Doeren's first season, but they haven't been impressive and needed some luck to beat FCS team Richmond with a last-second field goal.

There is a lot of excitement about the team in its first real showcase game of the season, but if Clemson takes care of all the little things, it should be able to handle the Wolfpack … just like a big brother should.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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