On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for optimism with this Clemson team.
The passing game has continuously regressed since the Syracuse game, resulting in what we saw last week in the loss to South Carolina. DJ Uiagalelei threw for less than 100 yards and hit on less than 30% of his passes. The Gamecocks were basically giving Clemson the passing game in that second half, and the result was 14 passing yards after halftime.
With the Tigers now facing North Carolina and Drake Maye, there are obvious questions surrounding whether Clemson can muster enough offense to keep up. The Tar Heels have the most explosive offense the Tigers have seen, featuring the eighth-best passing attack in the nation.
Digging a little deeper though, this is a North Carolina team that has really struggled in consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. Maybe they’ve just run out of gas. Both teams have at times made Maye look like the first-year starter that he is. And that defense, well, it’s just not very good.
The Tar Heels allow 30.3 points per game, ranking next to last in the ACC. Their 169.7 rushing yards allowed is also next to last and the 273 passing yards allowed is dead last in the league. That means even Clemson’s less than stellar offense should be able to find some weaknesses to exploit.
Clemson stopped leaning on a successful running game last week and for the second time ever under Dabo Swinney lost a game in which they ran for more than 200 yards. South Carolina never was able to really stop Will Shipley, who averaged close to nine yards per carry. The coaches admitted after the loss that in hindsight they probably should have run it more down the stretch.
Expect the Tigers to establish the running game early in this one, and this time not abandon it. The more success they have on the ground, the less time Maye and that offense has on the field.
If the Tigers can stop the run, they win. That’s priority number one. The Tar Heels set up that dynamic passing attack with what they do on the ground. Priority number two, pressure Maye, but with a disciplined pass rush. The defensive front must keep him contained and not allow him outside of the pocket where he is extremely dangerous.
I fully expect those two things to happen. It won’t all be pretty, but I fully expect Clemson to leave Charlotte with a win, and clinch a berth in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson 27 North Carolina 21
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