CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - A year ago North Carolina embarrassed Clemson on
homecoming at Death Valley, 38-3, with one of the more dominant defensive
performances in recent memory.
Such memories are all the Tar Heels have left in 2002. Decimated by losses to
graduation and early entry to the NFL, North Carolina is giving up over 450
yards per game through nine outings this season. Not surprisingly the Tar
Heels are 2-7 in those nine games and losers of five straight.
What's more, UNC (0-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has yet to win a game on its
home field. Today's matchup with Clemson (5-4, 3-3) represents the last
opportunity for John Bunting's team to win one at Kenan Stadium.
"A lot of our seniors are playing their last game here. I've got mixed
emotions coming up here. It's been a tough season, particularly tough at
home, particularly the last game," Bunting said. "Here's our last game, at
home, coming up now... I know they would love to close with a win, and so
would I. I'd love to give our fans at win at home."
Clemson, of course, would much rather see UNC's next home victory come
sometime in 2003.
In order to make that happen, Tommy Bowden's team must attack the Tar Heels
not only through the air, but on the ground with some effectiveness. North
Carolina allows 235 rushing yards per game, yet Clemson could manage just 59
net yards on 33 carries a week ago at Duke.
But changes in the lineup - Tommy Sharpe replaces Jermyn Chester at center,
and speedy Tye Hill subbing for the injured Yusef Kelly at tailback - may
help shake up the Tigers running game.
It should. Because if Clemson can't run against North Carolina, moving the
ball on the ground the next two weeks vs. Maryland and South Carolina will be
next to impossible.
"Their free safety has 120 tackles and the next closest guy has 66," Bowden
said. "Their safety is a very active player and you can tell a couple of
things by those statistics. They are getting him involved in the running
game... They are up there with a linebacker mentality so that means blitz and
they bring a lot of people up to stop the run.
"It's very unusual to have a team that has a safety leading the team in
tackles by double the margin."
Of course, such an aggressive mentality means plenty of one-on-one coverage
on the wide receivers, meaning Whitehurst should get opportunities to make
big plays. His presence in the pocket proved to be a huge factor in the Duke
victory, Whitehurst waiting and waiting - sometimes too long - for a receiver
to come free.
If North Carolina chooses to use the aggressive approach, rather than adopt
the rush three, drop eight Clemson has seen in recent weeks, Whitehurst and
Co. could be primed for another big day.
"Charlie hung in there this past week and hit Hamilton and Youngblood on
touchdown passes against the blitz," Bowden said. "Now it wasn't press man,
but it was man coverage where Charlie had to make a quick decision. (Whether
to press) is a decision that (UNC) will have to make."