North Carolina Preview

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North Carolina Preview

It doesn't get much bigger than this.

The Tar Heels are 11-1 and are riding an 11-game winning streak after dropping their season opener to South Carolina. They went 8-0 in the ACC and enter the game as one of the hottest teams in the country. However, the schedule has been a concern. North Carolina did not play a team that was ranked when they played them or is in the current top 25. In fact, the only teams UNC beat that had winning records are Pittsburgh, Miami and NC State.

Offensively, North Carolina is balanced and dangerous. UNC averages 495.7 yards per game which is 16th in the country. They score 41.3 points per game which is 11th in the nation. The Heels averaged 229.67 yards per game on the ground which ranks 18th in the country. They average 266 yards per game passing which is 33rd in the nation.

Senior quarterback Marquise Williams (6-2, 225) is a dual-threat quarterback that was a second-team All-ACC selection. For the season, Williams has completed 185 of 287 passes for 2,601 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Williams has a deep group of receivers that include second-team All-ACC choice Mack Hollins who has 26 receptions for 670 yards and eight touchdowns. Hollins averages 25 yards per catch. Ryan Switzer burned the Tigers last season and has 48 receptions for 623 yards and four scores. Gaffney native Quinshad Davis has caught 46 balls for 505 yards and four scores. Bug Howard has 25 receptions for 435 yards and three scores. Switzer and Davis were third team All-ACC selections.

The Tar Heels have run the ball very effectively this season. All-ACC power back Elijah Hood has 192 carries for 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns. Williams has 786 yards and ten scores on 124 carries. Big-play back T.J. Logan has 60 carries for 372 yards and five touchdowns.

North Carolina is led on the offensive line by first-team All-ACC pick Landon Turner at guard and second-team All-ACC selections Jon Heck at tackle and Caleb Peterson at guard. Center Lucas Crowley is a third-team All-ACC performer.

Defensively, the Tar Heels are much improved. They allow 20.8 points per game which is 19th in the country. UNC gives up 394.9 yards a game which ranks 65th in the nation. The weakness is rushing defense where opponents average 208 yards a game which ranks 106th of 128 FBS schools. They have held opponents to 186 yards passing per game which is 19th.

The best defender up front is third-team defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. The top linebackers are third-team all-conference choice Shakeel Rashad and senior Jeff Schoettmer. The secondary is led by M.J. Stewart, a second-team All-ACC pick at cornerback, and safety Donnie Miles.

These teams have five common opponents. Both beat NC State, Georgia Tech, Miami and Wake Forest. Clemson beat South Carolina but the Gamecocks upended the Tar Heels. Of those five common opponents, Clemson had a better margin of victory against every other opponent, other than Wake Forest. The Tigers offense had more yards than UNC against all five opponents and the only team to have more yards against Clemson than North Carolina was South Carolina.

There are several keys to this game Saturday. First will be turnovers. Clemson has been so much better than most opponents this season that the Tigers have been able to overcome turnovers. Saturday night that will not be the case.

Second is the running game. The team that runs the ball better will have a great chance to win the ACC title game.

Third is the mental aspect. Clemson has not had the chip on its shoulder in recent weeks. The Tigers have entered their last three games as double-digit favorites and have had big leads in all three games. North Carolina should have Clemson's attention.

Another factor is experience. Clemson has played in a lot of big games in recent years. Some have called this the biggest game in Tar Heel football history. How will North Carolina handle the big stage?

Two top ten teams competing for a conference title with national championship hopes on the line is exactly what these teams and the ACC have been looking for.

The Brad Hughes All-State Insurance Agency

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