Harmon leading No. 20 Wolfpack's improved wide receiver play
By AARON BEARD
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State's Kelvin Harmon is changing the 20th-ranked Wolfpack's passing game.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore is on pace for the program's best receiving season in more than a decade entering Saturday's game against No. 6 Clemson. He's providing quarterback Ryan Finley with a big and strong downfield target, one that N.C. State didn't really have in its first four seasons under coach Dave Doeren.
"I'm really focusing on the details a lot," Harmon said. "I'm taking a lot of coaching from (receivers coach George McDonald). I just have a better chemistry with Finley, so everything is just rolling in."
Harmon has 43 catches for 644 yards and three touchdowns, ranking fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference by averaging 80.5 yards per game. That puts him on pace for a 1,000-yard season with a bowl game, which would make him the first Wolfpack player to reach that mark since Jerricho Cotchery (1,369 yards) in 2003.
But Harmon's impact goes well beyond statistics. His one-handed touchdown catch at Notre Dame last weekend is an example how his strength helps him make contested catches.
"He's a big body that has really good ability to track the football, and he's got strong hands," Doeren said. "He's a hard guy to climb, he's really strong. People are on his back and he just holds them off and catches the ball."
In past years, North Carolina State (6-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 20 CFP) had to lean heavily on its backs to help its passing game. H-back Jaylen Samuels led the team in catches the past two seasons while lining up at running back, receiver and tight end. And departed top running back Matt Dayes had 56 catches the past two seasons, too.
The versatile Samuels still leads the team in catches this year, but he doesn't carry the burden for the passing offense as Harmon grows into a go-to role. Harmon now has four 100-yard receiving games this year and came within three yards of his fifth in the loss to the Fighting Irish.
"I believe we're taking more shots down the field," Harmon said. "It's Year 2 with Finley so he feels a lot more comfortable putting it up there for us. And we're making the plays, so he's just going to keep throwing it for us."
While Harmon averages 5.4 catches per game, he's also getting help from an improved receiving group that brings size on the outside to compete against the Tigers (7-1, 5-1, No. 4 CFP).
Stephen Louis, a 6-2 junior, led the team with 644 yards last year and is on pace for more with 27 catches for 408 yards so far. And Jakobi Meyers, a 6-2 converted quarterback, has provided some big-play spark with 340 yards receiving, including a 71-yard touchdown at Florida State.
That group will need to have a big performance Saturday in a home game that could all but decide the ACC's Atlantic Division race.
"I think this week will be a true testament to our secondary," Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel said. "Not only our defense, but our secondary because (N.C. State) has multiple playmakers on the outsides."
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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Updated November 2, 2017