Two late drives critical for defense in loss to UNC

by - Senior Writer -
The defense gave up just 255 yards of total offense to the Tar Heels, but UNC converted all four fourth down opportunities.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A look at the numbers for the Clemson defense show a unit that played well enough to win.

Except for two drives.

The defense gave up just 255 yards of total offense to the Tar Heels, and just 91 net rushing yards on 32 carries. The Heels were only 3-of-14 on third down, but did convert all four of their fourth down opportunities, and Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said the numbers obviously don’t tell the whole story.

“Give North Carolina credit, they got more points than we got,” Steele said. “You look at the numbers and you think we are going out of here with a victory. But hats off to North Carolina.”

The Tigers had just missed a field goal – on the second play of the fourth quarter – but Clemson had held North Carolina scoreless and without much offensive success to that point in the second half when the Tar Heels put together the key drive of the game.

North Carolina ran off 14 plays for 76 yards and took nearly eight minutes off of the game clock, scoring a touchdown that gave them a 21-10 lead. The Heels deserve credit for making plays, but on three separate occasions on the drive Clemson penalties kept the drive alive.

The first penalty followed a Marcus Gilchrist interception, with Xavier Brewer called for pass interference to negate the turnover. Three plays later, a Byron Maxwell holding penalty on third down kept the drive alive. On fourth-and-nine later in the drive, defensive end Da’Quan Bowers jumped offsides and the Heels were able to convert on their second chance.

The Tigers answered with a touchdown of their own, but North Carolina kept the ball until just 13 seconds remained on the game clock, converting for three first downs on the drive.

“Of course, it’s frustrating,” Bowers said. “We have to get off the field more, and get the offense the ball. They had two or three drives in which they had 13 or 14 plays, and we can’t afford that. I am not sure what the reason is, but I am sure Coach Steele and the other coaches will evaluate the game film and point out our mistakes and miscues.”

Bowers said the final drive – and the inability to get the Tar Heel offense off the field – hurt the most.

“I had total faith at that point that we would get the stop,” said Bowers, who finished with two sacks. “We just weren’t able to come away with it. I am not sure what happened. We just have to go back to the drawing board. We needed a stop right there and couldn’t do it.”

Bowers was told that head coach Dabo Swinney was taking full blame for the loss, and he responded by saying the coaches don’t play the game.

“I had two crucial plays that cost us,” he said. “I had a missed sack on a third down, and then I had the offsides play. The coaches aren’t playing. We are. The coaches are putting us in the best situations they can for us to make plays and we aren’t executing.”

Brewer agreed with Bowers and said now is the time for the players to step up.

“We just have to come out next week and go hard in practice and learn from it,” Brewer said. “All year long, it’s been nothing they [the opponents] were doing, it’s been what we were doing. It’s all on us. We have to go fix it now. I can’t put my finger [on what’s wrong], but its mental things. We know what we have to do, we just haven’t been doing it. It’s all on us. We just have to get it fixed.”

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