Keys to North Carolina vs. Clemson

by - Correspondent -
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The UNC match-up is the type of game Clemson needs right now. The Tarheels have struggled to a 1-6 record while giving up a ton of yards along the way. The 38-3 homecoming loss they handed to Clemson two years ago still has some Tigers experiencing a bad taste. A revenge game against a downtrodden opponent sounds like a lot of fun.

Likewise, the UNC match-up is also the type of game that can really kill Clemson. Coming off a heart breaking loss only to face an opponent you are supposed to beat can sometimes spell disaster. That is especially true when the opponent may not be as bad as some think.

North Carolina’s record may be somewhat misleading. Their six losses have come against well-respected programs: FSU, Syracuse, Wisconsin, N.C. State, UVA, and Arizona State. Those teams are a combined 29-14 this season and they all have winning records. The Syracuse loss occurred after three overtimes and Arizona St. scored on the last play of the game to eke out a two-point victory.

The outcome of this game rests in Clemson’s hands. It all depends on which team shows up. If it is the Tigers that have fought hard the last few weeks and improved every game since UGA, there is no doubt they should win. If it is the team that has come out in the past only to struggle after a big win or tough loss, the Tar heels could easily shock everyone.

North Carolina is not as bad as they appear. Their biggest issues may concern talent. The quality of players has seemingly decreased every year since the departure of Mack Brown. Twelve true freshmen have already played this year with a few of them starting. Either the talent in place when John Bunting took over was that bad or he has begun to bring in some real studs…maybe a little of both.

Clemson appears to be a more talented team that has played better all around football throughout the season. There is still a lot left to accomplish for the Tigers and a good finish is not out of the question. Like all conference games this one is important. With the exception of FSU, the teams ahead of Clemson all have at least one conference loss and some very tough games remaining. A top three finish is still very possible but they must not falter this week.


Looking at the numbers UNC opponents have put up this year has to have the Clemson offensive players licking their chops. The Tar heels are currently giving up just under 500 yards per game, as they are the 116th ranked defense out of 117 teams. Considering they are allowing 207 yards rushing, 291 passing, and 37 points per game, keeping things balanced should not be a problem.

A lack of consistency has hurt this unit the most. They have had a different starting lineup for 19 consecutive games. One of the starting cornerbacks was lost against NCSU and two of the starting linebackers are true freshmen. One of the few guys that can be counted on week in and week out is FS Dexter Reid. The senior is averaging 12.2 tackles per game and has had 10 or more in 19 of the last 21. He is the leading active tackler in the ACC with over 400 his career.

Clemson has found a groove the last couple of weeks in the running and should look to continue the same against the boys in blue. Yusef Kelly will in all likelihood be sidelined by an ankle injury. Chad Jasmin will take his spot and team with Duane Coleman to offer a nice one-two punch out of the backfield. Coleman is still learning how to play on this level and is progressing slowly but surely. His threat as a receiver has been a nice surprise. Jasmin is the guy that will be asked to get the tough yards, as he’ll do a majority of his running between the tackles.

The wide receivers may or may not be without the services of Airese Currie for a second straight week. His condition was downgraded to questionable from probable on Thursday. Without a doubt, he is Clemson’s deep threat and his loss weakens the potency of the passing attack.

The rest of the group has to pick up the slack. Derrick Hamilton arguably had the worst game of his career last week. If he is not able to put it behind him and perform, he may end up watching a majority of the game from the sidelines.

The tight ends finally got into the mix last week with six catches. Bobby Williamson had five and Ben Hall pulled in one. Hall may a very tough grab on a 4th down play and Williamson had a big gainer on the TD drive. Williamson suffered a back injury on that catch and may be limited this week. If so, it will present Hall with an audition for why he should be playing more.

Charlie looked like a young QB against NCSU. At times, he was brilliant. Then there were the instances when he looked a little confused. He knows he made mistakes and he is just as upset about them as anyone. There is no question he watched a lot of film from the game and is working on getting better.

If for no other reason than his confidence, he needs to have a good game against UNC. Another good week in the running game would help take some pressure off of him to do everything. This is a great opportunity for him.

The offensive line finally appears to be coming together. They are playing better each week and giving Whitehurst more time than many think. Chip Myrick and Roman Fry both started for the first time last week and racked up 24 snaps. Dustin Fry notched 21 snaps at center and was in on the TD drive. Most of his playing time came in the final quarter. A total of 10 linemen played against the Wolfpack.

Myrick and R. Fry will start again this week and D. Fry should see even more playing time. If the offense has the type of day others have had against UNC, Brandon Pilgrim and Marion Dukes should log a lot of snaps. It should not be surprising to see anywhere from two to four freshmen and one sophomore in there at once.


Without a doubt, the defense is the biggest surprise through seven games for the Tigers. They are currently ranked 22nd in the nation in total defense. They are giving up 312 yards per game, which is the best number at Clemson since 1991. They have not allowed opponents to score off of the six turnovers committed since the UGA game. They limited NCSU to less than 300 yards of total offense and came up pretty big in some key situations.

Donnell Washington is leading the front four and quietly coming into his own. His biggest impact has not been in the number of tackles but, rather, in freeing up others to make tackles. He has faced double teams more and more. Despite the added attention, he did tie a Clemson single game record in the last game with seven QB pressures.

Moe Fountain has handled the transition to starter in place of J.J. Howard very nicely. He turned in a very nice game in Raleigh as he racked up 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and 6 QB pressures. He is not quite the athlete J.J. Howard was but there has not been much of a drop off.

Fountain, Khaleed Vaughn, and Vontrell Jamison should continue to play well against the Tar heels. Their biggest challenge will be keeping Darian Durant contained and forcing him to stand in pocket.

Leroy Hill now leads the nations in tackles for loss with 18 and an average of 2.57 per game. He has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the team. He and John Leake have continually gotten better and have become a very solid duo. The will have to help Lionel Richardson along this week as he replaces Eric Sampson.

The one thing the unit needs to work on is their drops in pass coverage. As noted last week by the ESPN crew, they often do not get deep enough on third and long situations that are certain passing downs. A normal drop may have them 10-12 yards off the line of scrimmage depending upon the coverage. If it is 3rd-and-18, getting an extra five or so yards deeper should not hurt. It keeps them between the first down and the short routes while making it tougher to complete the intermediate routes at the marker.

The secondary will be tested, as UNC likes to go to the air. Tye Hill made a big mistake in coverage last week that resulted in a TD. He is still a work in progress but the move to defense looks like it will be a good one. Fudge has played exceptionally well while showing time and again that he is capable of laying a big hit. Statistically, it appears Miller is struggling but he is actually having a pretty good season. Pugh has been solid at safety and should be okay after getting a little banged up against State.

The UNC offense has been their lone bright spot. They are averaging 378 yards per game and just over 25 points. QB Darian Durant is the leader and their version of Woody Dantzler.

The junior from Florence needs only 256 yards of total offense to become UNC’s all-time leader in that category. Through seven games, he has thrown for 1495 yards and 10 TDs with only 3 interceptions. The interceptions came in the first three games. He has since gone 130 pass attempts without one. He also leads the team in rushing with 229 yards and 3 TDs. All told, he is responsible for over 65% of their total offense.

Their rushing attack has been horrendous for most of the season but has come on strong the last two games. During that time they have averaged 176 yards. Granted, they came against a very bad ECU team and in a shootout with Arizona State but they are finding some success. Part of that has to do with the development of true freshman Ronnie McGill. He now appears to be their number one back.

Wide receiver Jawarski Pollock leads the ACC and is seventh in the nation with an average of seven catches per game. He is the other leader of the offense and a guy they turn to in tight situations. He and Durant can be a very explosive combination.

UNC has the capability of scoring a lot of points.


UNC now leads the ACC and is fourth in the nation in kickoff returns. They began the game against Wisconsin with a 97-yarder for a touchdown. They are also first in the ACC in punt returns with an average of 12.8. Clemson is as good on kickoff returns but ranks last in the conference and 114th in the country in punt returns.

Kicker Dan Orner is one of the tops in the country. He is 3-of-4 from 50-plus yards this year. He set an NCAA record last year with 3 from that distance in one game (Syracuse). Aaron Hunt got back on track last week for the Tigers when he made all three of his attempts.

Both teams are average in net punting. Clemson enters the contest with a 37-yard average while UNC comes in with a 35-yard average. The punting game, or lack thereof, could play an important role in the field position battle and outcome.

Both teams have good return men who have the ability to break one at any time. They could provide a lot of fireworks. Clemson must continue to have good coverage on punts and hope that Jad Dean can maintain the ability to reach the end zone that he regained last week.


There is no question that Clemson should win this game. They have better talent, more depth, and have played better ball up to this point. Recovering from a tough loss will be one obstacle that stands in the way of a sure victory. The other is the fact that UNC only has one win and they are looking to do whatever it takes to double that total.

Offensively, Clemson should have success moving the ball as long as they execute. Last year’s game was the only time during the season the Tigers had two 100 yard rushers. The same is not likely to happen this week with Kelly being out but there is no reason to think Clemson cannot get close to the 200-yard mark.

The linemen should continue to have a good rotation and many of the younger guys will get to play because they have earned the right to get on the field.

The passing game may look to go over the middle a little more with either the backs or tight ends because of the inexperienced UNC linebackers. Going deep may be a problem with Currie being out and Davis back deep manning center field. Hamilton will likely have some balls thrown to him early as a means of either building up his confidence or seeing if he is in some type of slump.

UNC’s woeful running game should allow Clemson to blitz a little more in hopes of containing and pressuring Durant. If he can be stopped, the Tar heels do not have much of a chance of moving the ball.

The possibility of more blitzing means the secondary has to step up to the plate and play solid pass defense. They should not have to worry as much about the run and, therefore, should not get caught cheating up on a deep ball.

As West Virginia proved against Virginia Tech, humiliating upsets can happen. Clemson losing to UNC would be a very embarrassing defeat and one that would likely send the Tigers into a free fall the rest of the season.

Fortunately, many of them understand the importance of this game. Revenge and a shot at finishing near the top of the conference should be all this group needs to make this game just as important to them as any other. Look for a motivated bunch on Saturday afternoon.

Charlie gets back on track and the defense has another stellar performance as the Tigers roll 35-23.

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