Tigers Survive Scare from Tar Heels
Darian Durant's fumble at the goalline sealed the victory for the Tigers.
CLEMSON - On an afternoon its defense finally had a bad day, Clemson's offense came riding to the rescue.
The Tigers rolled up 528 total yards Saturday afternoon en route to a 36-28 victory over North Carolina in Death Valley. The victory improves Clemson to 5-3 overall and, at 3-2 in the ACC, allows them to keep pace with the logjam of teams fighting for second place in the conference.
"One thing about the team here in Clemson is (we) have not quit," said Tigers' head coach Tommy Bowden. "We've played a bunch of 60-minute games and have given a great effort. We didn't play our best game defensively, but we won. When we can play not as good on our most important side of the ball, and still win the game, it says a lot about our team."
Even with the huge output on offense, it took a late defensive play by the Tigers before the announced crowd of 75,000 could exhale and go home happy.
Needing a touchdown and two-point conversion inside the final three minutes to tie the game, North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant led his team on a drive which seemed destined to do just that. Beginning at his own 29, Durant completed three quick passes that moved the Tar Heels to the Clemson 47.
Three plays later he saved the drive by scrambling for 21 yards on a fourth-and-four play, setting up UNC (1-7, 0-4) at the Clemson 20.
After a six-yard pass to tight end Bobby Blizzard moved the ball to the 14, Durant scrambled to his left on the ensuing play and appeared headed for a touchdown. But as he fell toward the goal line, Durant was hit by Clemson's Jamaal Fudge, lost control of the ball, and watched helplessly as Tiger linebacker David Dunham emerged from a pile in the end zone with the ball.
Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst took a knee on the next two plays to run out the clock.
"Our offensive line is talented and we have a quarterback who is very good," said UNC coach John Bunting. "I thought we did a great job of running the ball, but we had a few execution problems. We tried to force some plays that we shouldn't have, and ended up turning the ball over."
The defensive play of the game wrapped up a second half which began with four touchdowns scored on the first four possessions of the third quarter.
The Tar Heels started the onslaught, getting a Ronnie McGill seven-yard scoring run on period's first possession, capping off an 80-yard drive and giving his team a 21-16 lead. Clemson responded with an 80-yard drive of its own - kept alive by a 30-yard completion from Whitehurst to Derrick Hamilton on a fourth-and-seven play from the 31. Whitehurst then dove over the top for a 23-21 lead.
Undaunted, UNC responded with Durant's 63-yard keeper to reclaim the lead, 28-23. But the celebration would be brief, thanks to Hamilton's 100-yard touchdown return of the ensuing kickoff.
Clemson led 28-23 after Hamilton's heroics, and added a pair of Hunt field goals in the fourth quarter to wrap up the scoring.
"It's always good when your offensive guys respond to a score by the opponent," Bowden said. "It was the opposite of last week (17-15 loss at N.C. State) where the offense didn't play as well, but the defense had a good game."
Despite occasional problems with his accuracy, Whitehurst still finished the game with 309 passing yards (18-of-34, TD, int.). Hamilton added 102 receiving yards and eight yards in punt returns to his long kickoff score, finishing the day with 210 all-purpose yards.
The Tigers also had their best day of the year rushing the football, rolling up 219 yards and averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Duane Coleman became Clemson's first back this season to crack the 100-yard barrier, finishing with 111 on just 13 carries (8.9). Chad Jasmin added another 81 yards and a first-half scoring run.
Meanwhile, the one bright spot for a defense which surrendered 495 total yards was turnovers. Clemson collected four, including intercepting Durant three times to go along with the dramatic late fumble.
"We gave up a lot of yards, but kept working hard and forcing turnovers," said cornerback Justin Miller, who finally came up with his first interception of the season. "That was our strategy on defense today. We wanted to create turnovers. The final turnover was a big one...we really needed that."
"I think that's one of the worst game's I've had all year," Whitehurst said. "Our defense kept us in it by making plays."
Clemson jumped out to an early 13-0 lead in the first quarter on a 69-yard scoring pass from Whitehurst to Hamilton and, later, a one-yard scoring plunge by Jasmin (the kick failed).
North Carolina quickly rebounded to take the lead, 14-13, getting a 21-yard TD pass from Durant to Adarius Bowman and a three-yard scoring run by Jacque Lewis.
The Tigers took a 16-14 lead into the break on Hunt's 41-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter.
Clemson 7, UNC 0
Scoring Drive: 3 plays, 93 yards in :51.
Scoring Play: Whitehurst's 69-yard pass to Hamilton at 9:26.
Key Play: Scoring Play.
Clemson 13, UNC 0
Scoring Drive: 4 plays, 76 yards in 1:32.
Scoring Play: Jasmin's 1-yard run at 5:40 (kick failed).
Key Play: Coleman's 50-yard run to the UNC 26.
Clemson 13, UNC 7
Scoring Drive: 3 plays, 68 yards in :53.
Scoring Play: Durant's 21-yard pass to Bowman at 13:09.
Key Play: Lewis' 48-yard run to the Clemson 20.
UNC 14, Clemson 13
Scoring Drive: 3 plays, 42 yards in :37.
Scoring Play: Lewis' 3-yard run at 6:39.
Key Play: Durant's 26-yard completion to Pollock to the Clemson 26.
Clemson 16, UNC 14
Scoring Drive: 7 plays, 64 yards in 1:02.
Scoring Play: Hunt's 41-yard field goal at :00.
Key Play: Whitehurst's 17-yard completion to Coleman to the UNC 25.
UNC 21, Clemson 16
Scoring Drive: 10 plays, 80 yards in 4:23.
Scoring Play: McGill's 7-yard run at 10:37.
Key Play: McGill's 18-yard run to the Clemson 7.
Clemson 23, UNC 21
Scoring Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards in 2:39.
Scoring Play: Whitehurst's 1-yard run at 7:58.
Key Play: On fourth-and-7, Whitehurst completes 30 yards to Hamilton to the UNC 1-yard line.
Clemson 30, UNC 28
Scoring Play: Hamilton's 100-yard kickoff return at 6:28.
Clemson 33, UNC 28
Scoring Drive: 9 plays, 70 yards in 3:47.
Scoring Play: Hunt's 27-yard field goal at 10:49.
Key Play: Whitehurst's 39-yard pass to Currie into UNC territory.
Clemson 36, UNC 28
Scoring Drive: 12 plays, 72 yards in 6:04.
Scoring Play: Hunt's 23-yard field goal at 3:10.
Key Play: Pass interference penalty on UNC which nullified an interception, giving Clemson the ball at the Tar Heel 14.