Clemson vs. North Carolina Prediction: Two old friends, rivals do battle


by - Senior Writer -
Clemson takes on UNC at 3:30 Saturday (ABC)
Clemson takes on UNC at 3:30 Saturday (ABC)

Two old friends, two old rivals, and the chance to go 5-0.

Clemson travels to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina in Kenan Stadium Saturday. The old ACC rivals have faced off just four times since 2006 (the last time in the ACC Championship Game in 2015), and both head coaches consider the other a friend.

Can the Tar Heels pull off the upset?

NO. 1/1 CLEMSON (4-0, 2-0 ACC) at NORTH CAROLINA (2-2, 1-0 ACC)

WHEN: SATURDAY, SEPT. 28, 3:30 P.M. ET

WHERE: KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM (50,500), CHAPEL HILL, N.C.

TV: ABC: Dave Pasch, play-by-play; Greg McElroy, analyst; Tom Luginbill, sideline

RADIO: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, Tajh Boyd, Tim Bourret, Reggie Merriweather)

**Sirius XM 81** RADIO: Compass Media Networks (Gregg Daniels, Steve Beuerlein)

SERIES HISTORY

OVERALL: Clemson leads, 37-19-1

HOME: Clemson leads, 20-8

ROAD: Clemson leads, 15-11-1

NEUTRAL: Clemson leads, 2-0

LAST MEETING: Dec. 5, 2015 (45-37 W)

STREAK: Clemson, Won 3

NOTABLE

*Clemson enters the contest averaging 524.8 yards per game, the second-best mark in the ACC and just shy of last year's school-record pace of 527.2 yards per game. Last week, Clemson posted 466 yards in the midst of playing a school-record 111 players.

*Through four games this season, Clemson has accrued 2,099 yards of offense, the team’s most through the first four games of a season, surpassing the 2,054 posted by the 2017 squad through four weeks. With 493 yards this week, Clemson can break the 2013 squad's mark for the most yardage through the first five games of a season during the ACC era.

*Clemson enters this week with an all-time record of 748-459-45. With two more wins, Clemson can become the 15th FBS team in history to reach 750 all-time wins. Clemson would be the first ACC program to reach the milestone.

*It has been 73 years since a major college football team recorded 15 consecutive wins of 14 points or more (21 by Army from 1944-46, and 15 by Georgia from 1945-46). On Saturday, Clemson can end that seven-plus-decade drought and tie for the second-longest streak of 14-point wins in the AP Poll era.

*Through four games, Clemson has already scored six touchdowns covering 50 yards or more (three passing, two rushing and one via interception return). In only 16 quarters of play, that already ranks tied for 14th-most in a season by Clemson since 1950.

*Clemson enters the contest having scored 59, 50 and 49 points in its last three meetings against UNC, dating back to 2011. Another 40-point performance would represent the first time Clemson has scored at least 40 points in four-straight games in a series with an ACC opponent.

*Clemson is attempting to win its ninth-straight true road game. Clemson is in the midst of its fourth road winning streak of eight games or more all-time, including eight-game streaks from 1947-48 and 1978- 79 as well as the school-record 12-game streak from 2015-17.

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL

The running game will play a big role in this contest. Travis Etienne has gained 395 yards on 53 carries, found the end zone four times, and is averaging 7.5 yards per carry so far this season in what has been limited duty. Backup Lyn-J Dixon has 33 carries for 220 yards and an average of 6.7 YPC. He also has three touchdowns. Those two backs have combined for a total of 86 carries, 615 yards, 7 touchdowns, and an average of 7.1 YPC. That doesn’t bode well for the Heels, who rank 96th in total rushing yards allowed (690), 95th in yards allowed per carry (4.57), 85th in total rushing yards per game (172.5), and are tied for 89th in rushing touchdowns allowed (7). The Heels also have only forced one fumble and have recovered any fumbles. This matchup does not favor North Carolina in any way.

The Tar Heel defense generated seven sacks during the season’s first two games, taking advantage of the porous offensive lines of South Carolina and Miami. Against Wake Forest and Appalachian State they recorded just three sacks, and Clemson’s offensive line is the best they will have faced this season.

Give Trevor Lawrence time? Allow the running backs to succeed? It could be a long day for the UNC defense.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

WHEN UNC HAS THE BALL

UNC quarterback Sam Howell was a Clemson target, and he’s produced early in the season, leading the Heels to comeback wins in the first two games. He’s completing nearly 65% of his passes with nine touchdowns and just two picks on the year. Running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have combined to average more than five yards per touch with over 100 combined carries. The Heels are also dangerous at receiver with Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Carolina has shown the ability to stretch the field vertically on offense by tying for the ACC lead with 25 plays of 20 or more yards through four games. That figure is tied for 12th nationally with Wake Forest. Sixteen of those plays have come through the air with nine on the ground.

What does that all mean? It means the Heels can put up points and yards on offense and will make a big play or two or three. What they don’t have is an experienced offensive line – they could start three sophomores and two freshmen Saturday due to injury. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has brought pressure from all over the field during the season’s first four weeks and the Tigers have 16 sacks so far. That’s good for sixth in the nation.

The Heels have allowed the same number of sacks this season – 16 – which is ranked 126th nationally. They will have to run the ball to be successful, and a lot of that will depend on the score. If Clemson gets out front early and can tee off, watch out.

ADVANTAGE: CLEMSON

SPECIAL TEAMS

Newsome is the Tar Heels’ main threat at returner. Freshman punter Ben Kiernan has been decent but not great, averaging 41.26 yards per punt so far. Kicker Noah Ruggles made a career-long 49-yard FG at Wake Forest, was 2-of-3 against Miami and converted a pair of extra points and made 3-of-4 field goals and a pair of extra points in the win over South Carolina.

Clemson’s special teams have been the same – the coverage has been good, the kickoffs under B.T.Potter have been great, punting has been average and Potter has hit 5-of-7 field goals and all 20 extra points. The Tigers have just six kickoff returns for an average of 17 yards per return.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

North Carolina is well-coached and they have talent at spots all over the field. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told us Wednesday night that North Carolina is a team capable of beating the Tigers, especially if Clemson is looking ahead to the open date. Two years ago Clemson played an away ACC game before an open date and was upset by Syracuse. Last season, the Tigers played at Wake Forest the week before and open date and cruised 63-3.

North Carolina will have a few wrinkles and will use the running game to keep it close early, but the Tigers will affect Howell with pressure and the Clemson running game will keep the Carolina defense off-balance. As we’ve said so many, many times before – the Tigers begin to gradually pull away.

FINAL SCORE: CLEMSON 45, UNC 13

Mickey Plyler - 6-9 AM on WCCP 105.5FM - 52-17 Clemson

Tony Crumpton - Associate Editor - 38-13 Clemson

Nikki Hood - Staff writer - 47-10 Clemson

Brandon Rink - Staff writer - 45-10 Clemson

Pigskin Prophet - 48-13 Clemson

Game Actual David Hood Mickey Plyler Tony Crumpton Nikki Hood Brandon Rink Pigskin Prophet
Georgia Tech 52-14 CU 44-13 CU 52-17 CU 45-13 CU 42-17 CU 48-13 CU 47-9 CU
Texas A&M 24-10 CU 41-27 CU 37-20 CU 38-24 CU 38-27 CU 45-27 CU 31-23 CU
Syracuse 41-6 CU 40-16 CU 41-17 CU 42-13 CU 42-17 CU 45-13 CU 37-13 CU
Charlotte 52-10 CU 44-13 CU 59-10 CU 49-10 CU 42-17 CU 55-13 CU 49-10 CU
Points - 4 6 8 4 4 8

* Points: 3 pts for best prediction of the week (tiebreaker is Clemson score), 2 pts for picking score exactly, 1 pt for picking the correct winner

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