The top ranked Tigers make their first visit to Chapel Hill since 2010, a 21-13 loss in Dabo Swinney’s second full season at the helm. UNC’s Kenan Stadium is just one of two ACC venues that Swinney has yet to win in. The other is Pitt, where Clemson has yet to play.
Clemson is currently a 26.5 point favorite over the Heels, and it doesn’t take much studying to see why. That offensive line is absolutely terrible. They’re missing Charlie Heck and Nick Polino, the two best players they had along the O Line, and it is causing the group to struggle mightily. Already, they have allowed 16 sacks and even the conventional pass plays have become hard to execute.
With the Clemson D coming to town, look for offensive coordinator Phil Longo to go with more of a quick passing game, using the run game to set it up. They like to run zone, power, and counter, as well as a lot of QB draw, attempting to set up the multitude of RPO’s they like to incorporate into the system.
Last week, Charlotte RB Benny LeMay had some success running the ball in the first half, mostly between the tackles, forcing the Tigers into going back to a 4 man front at times in order to slow it down. LeMay is a legit talent at RB, and the Heels have two guys as good, or better in JaVonte Williams and Michael Carter. They like to use freshman QB Sam Howell’s legs as well, and the D will need to account for him.
The Tigers have been giving up less than 100 yards per game on the ground, and they’ll want to stop the early down runs and force the Heels into 3rd and long situations. They’ve not been very good in that department, converting just 28% of their 3rd downs so far.
On the other side of the ball, Mack Brown went out and hired Jay Bateman away from Army to run the defense. During his stint in West Point, Bateman grew into one of the more respected coordinators in the nation. He generally likes running a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-6 look, and likes to try and get pressure without having to send more than one “extra” blitzer.
Like the four opponents the Tigers have already seen, the Heels will likely key on not letting Travis Etienne gash them all afternoon. That means there will be some one on one opportunities in the passing game. Bateman generally doesn’t send multiple blitzers at the same time, instead he prefers making opposing QBs guess where the extra rusher is coming from in an effort to confuse him.
Speaking of pressure, that is something Trevor Lawrence hasn’t felt much of thus far in the young season. The Tigers offensive line has been as good as any in the nation, allowing just three sacks through the first four games. The UNC defense has been giving up over 175 yards a game on the ground, so expect the Tigers to establish the ground game, then try and hit some big plays down the field on some of those one on one matchups, knowing Lawrence will have plenty of time for the plays to develop.
There is a sizable talent gap when comparing these two programs, and that alone should be enough to get the Tigers an easy win. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any intriguing things to watch, or there is nothing to be learned. Both of these coordinators from UNC are good enough at scheming to cause some isolated issues.
One example would be, how effective can the Heels be running the ball, and if so, can they have success inside the red zone. The red zone is an area the Heels have struggled with as far as scoring TDs and the Tiger D is great at stiffening up inside the 20, even when teams have been able to run some between the 20’s.
One of the biggest edges the Tigers have however, is Brent Venables. As noted, UNC has a true freshman QB and BV is the best in the business. The former 5 star QB could be in store for a long, tough afternoon with the numerous looks he will get in this one. The coverages will be disguised and blitzers will come from every angle.
The Tigers win, but Dabo won’t embarrass close friend and colleague Mack Brown. UNC has been a strong 4th quarter team and by then the Clemson staff will have emptied the bench. With those things in mind there’s a good chance the Heels cover the spread…..
Clemson 42 UNC 17
Here are a few more predictions from our fellow Junkies over on the Clemson Tiger Junkies Facebook page. And once again, no one picks the opponent. Surprise, surprise.
Ron Burley, 57-6
Bubba Brown, 42-10
Carl Oberg, 42-14
Mary Beth Walters, 35-6
Donnie Starnes, 45-10
Kerry Shealy, 35-20
Linda Cleary, 52-10
Joel Ellenburg, 31-3
Wesley Folsom, 35-17
Ann Cabaniss, 48-10
Tom Russell, 45-15
And fellow head Junkie Brad Porter says….
Clemson 171 and The Cheating, Wine and Cheese, Argyle Sweater Wearing Goats 3!!
Speaking of argyle….. yikes!