North Carolina Preview and Prediction

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

Football

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

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Clemson travels to North Carolina for 3:30 kickoff looking for their first ACC win of the year.

The Series: 

Saturday’s meeting between Clemson and North Carolina will be just the 55th meeting for the two ACC teams.  Clemson leads the overall series 34-18-2.  The Tigers lead the series at North Carolina 15-10-1.  Clemson won the last meeting in 2006 52-7 in Death Valley.  The Tigers also won the last meeting at North Carolina 42-12 in 2002.

Tiger’s Offense vs Heel’s Defense: 

The Heels will have both of their starting safeties back for the first time all year  when the Tigers arrive.  Clemson will bring the ACC’s leading rusher to town.  Andre Ellington leads the ACC averaging 95 yards per game.  The Tigers will need to rush the ball to win the game.  North Carolina is ninth in the ACC in rushing defense giving up 171 yards per  game.  Sturdivant is questionable for  the Heels.  If he can’t go that should help the Tigers ability to run the ball. 

The Tigers also made another change this week as they plan to  get more carries for Ellington.  With his seven yards per carry average that can only help the running game.

Kyle Parker struggled against Miami in the first half, but came back with a strong performance in the second half.  The Tigers will need Kyle’s A game in order to get the road victory.  North Carolina is 4th in the ACC in passing defense and with the return of Deunta Williams they should be even better.  After the Miami loss coach Swinney decided to give the majority of the reps at receiver to DeAndre Hopkins, BrYce McNeal, Jaron Brown and Marquan Jones.  There performance could  be the key to victory for the Tigers.  Hopkins injured his groin this week in practice but is expected to be ready to play against the Heels.

The strength of the Heels defense is at linebacker.  Bruce Carter could be the best linebacker in the nation.  If the Heels had all of their defensive players available the advantage would definitely go to North Carolina.  Coples has been dominant this year  for the Heels averaging six tackles per game and already with three sacks. 

If Kyle is back to his normal level of performance and the Tigers can run the ball the advantage here goes to the Tigers.  Of course if the Tigers turn the ball over again they will have a hard time leaving with a victory.

Edge:  Tigers 

Tiger’s Defense vs Heels’s Offense: 

North Carolina will be the biggest challenge yet for the Tigers defense.  The bad news is the Clemson defense failed the last two tests.  For North Carolina it all starts with T.J. Yates who is having an outstanding season.  Yates is completing 68 percent of his passes and has 7 touchdowns with only 1 interception. 

The Heels have two talented running backs in  Johnny White and Shaun Draughn.  White has rushed 51 times for 318 yards for a 6.2 average per carry.  Draughn hs rushed 41 times for 214 yards for a 5.2 average per carry.  The first challenge for the Tigers will be to stop the running game of North Carolina.  If Clemson can’t stop the run it will be a long afternoon for the Tigers.

Clemson will face the best set of receivers they have faced all year.  The Tigers must contain tight end Zack Pianalto.  Pianolto already has 26 catches on the year and is second in the ACC in receptions per game, averaging 6.5.  Jheranie Boyd is the deep threat for the Heels.  Boyd, who at one point favored the Tigers during his recruiting, is averaging 28.3 yards per catch.  Dwight Jones who was once committed to the Tigers has 11 catches, while  Erik Highsmith has  ten catches for 135 yards. 

The Clemson defense has been outstanding at times this year, but mental mistakes in the secondary were big factors in the losses to Miami and Auburn.  For the  second straight week the players and coaches said they know what the problems are and how to correct them.  The Heels love to throw deep so we will find out quickly if the Tigers have fixed the problems. 

The Tigers have yet  to play dominant defense for four quarters.  That will be needed if the Tigers expect to get their first ACC win.

Edge:  Heels 

Special Teams:

One of the biggest concerns going into the Miami game was whether the Tigers special teams could stop the high powered return game of the Canes.  Clemson’s special teams played outstanding.  Marcus Gilchrist almost had his first touchdown on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter.  Gilchrist is currently third in the ACC in kickoff returns with a 27.7 average.  North Carolina doesn’t have anyone ranked in the top ten in the league.  Marcus is also second in the ACC in punt returns with a  17.1 average.
 
Dawson Zimmerman continues to lead the ACC in punting with an average of 46.5.  Junior Casey Barth is perfect on his extra points for the Heels and 3-4 on field goals on the year.  Chandler Catanzaro only has the one miss this season, the overtime miss in the Miami game.
 
We expect this to be a close game and in close games special teams play a critical role.  The Tigers appear to have the advantage on special teams based on their performances the first four games.

Edge:  Clemson

Overall Analysis:

This should be another game where the Tigers have a chance to win he game in the second half.  The big question is can they make the plays down the stretch to get the victory.

This is close to a must win for the Tigers if they hope to win the Atlantic.  A win and they are still very much in control of their own destiny.  A loss and they no longer control their destiny after only two ACC games.

Coach Swinney has been right all season when he says ‘It is all about us’ as the Tigers have shown they have the talent to win every game they have played so far.  North Carolina is a talented team, but with the players they have out because of the investigations Clemson is clearly the more talented team right now.  Once again this week it will be all about Clemson and can they play their game.

Monday night on The Tiger Blitz radio show my prediction was for the Tigers to lose a close game to the Heels.  During the week I have gone back and forth on this prediction.

This Clemson team makes predictions very difficult, because they can’t play consistent football for four quarters.  North Carolina comes in with a two game winning streak and when it’s all over Saturday that streak will push to three, which the Tigers will be riding a three game losing streak.  Until the Tigers prove they can play for four quarters it is difficult to predict them to win a road game against a quality ACC opponent.

North Carolina 31  Clemson 27

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