Fresh off of clinching the state championship against NC State, Carolina has its toughest matchup of the season against No.1 Clemson with a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
Carolina has been on fire recently, winning 11 straight games, including a pair of emotional victories against Virginia Tech and NC State.
Game Score is “a measure of game performance including how well a team controlled the game along with the final result, accounting for site and opponent strength,” according to ESPN.
Carolina’s Game Score in its past five games: 92, 86, 88, 91 and 93
Clemson’s Game Score in its past five games: 93, 91, 81, 75 and 84.
Clemson may be the best team in the nation, but Carolina is coming in red hot.
Carolina boasts the 11th ranked scoring offense in the nation at 41.3 points per game and has prided itself on big plays all years. Junior wide receiver Mack Hollins leads the nation with 25.8 yards per catch.
Last week, Clemson gave up nine plays of 15+ yards to South Carolina. Against NC State, the Tar Heels had nine plays of 15+ yards in the FIRST HALF.
A quick strike offense like Carolina’s presents a potentially bad matchup for the Clemson defense.
Carolina’s Balanced Attack
Clemson will have to defend a Carolina offense with a plethora of weapons. Throughout the season, eight different Tar Heels have led the team in receiving in a single game. If one man is locked down, the next man steps up.
In the rushing attack, the Tar Heels are a disaster matchup for many teams. These are the stat lines for the past three weeks:
Elijah Hood: 55 car, 467 yards, 5 TD
Marquise Williams: 40 car, 228 yards, 4 TD
TJ Logan: 20 car, 180 yards, 3 TD
The trio has combined for almost 900 yards and 10 touchdowns in the past three games, but they will face their toughest defense all year on Saturday night. Clemson only gives up 127.7 yards per game on the ground.
Turnovers may very well decide the Tar Heels’ fate against Clemson. In games decided by less than 7 points, Carolina has a turnover margin of -3, but in games decided by more than 7 points (all victories), Carolina’s turnover margin is +12.
This season, Clemson has a -3 turnover margin including a three fumble fiasco against South Carolina last week, but in games against ranked teams, Clemson is +5 in turnover margin.
Whoever controls the turnover margin will very likely control the game.
Clemson’s offense is led by Heisman candidate and ACC Offensive Player of the Year Deshaun Watson. Watson has run for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Watson has run for 100+ yards in three of his past four games. This is the same quarterback who leads the ACC is passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passing efficiency.
Watson’s dual threat ability poses a matchup problem for a Carolina defense that has struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks. Most notably:
Jacoby Brissett (NC State): 20 Car, 128 yards, 2 TD
Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech): 18 Car, 56 yards, 2 TD
Thomas Sirk (Duke): 8 Car, 74 yards, 2 TD
Carolina may not be able to stop the Heisman candidate, but they must contain him.
The Clemson Running Game
The glaring flaw in the Carolina defense this year has been stopping the run. The run defense has hardly improved from last year as they rank 105th in the nation and give up 208.3 yards per game.
The Tar Heels will have a tough time stopping the 25th ranked rushing attack in the nation led by Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman.
Gallman is commonly over shadowed by Watson, but he has had seven games of more than 100 yards on the ground. Carolina will need to weather the storm and make Clemson throw at their talented corners, MJ Stewart Jr. and Des Lawrence.
With a win, Carolina can set the record for most wins in a season and have a chance at making the College Football Playoff.
With a loss, Carolina would be 11-2, tied for the most wins in school history and most likely be in the Russel Athletic Bowl.
But his game means more than a record, or even a shot at the College Football Playoff. This game could be an even bigger change in the already growing football culture around UNC. For the first time in my life, when someone refers to the top 10 ranked, one loss Carolina team, they have to clarify whether they are talking about basketball or football.