By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- The Shock the World tour continues this weekend in Death Valley where our Clemson Tigers will host the UNC Tarheels in their 5th conference game of the season. Sitting at 7-0, the Tigers faced a scare last weekend in Byrd Stadium coming back from an 18 point deficit twice in order to fight off the pesky Maryland Terrapins who wouldn’t go away without a fight.
Although the Tigers have a 34-19-1 record in their series against the Tarheels which dates back to 1897, this is a team that came away with a victory against the Tigers last season, when Clemson struggled on the road.
The Tigers have beaten the Tarheels in their last five of seven meetings, and if the Tarheels are unable to stop Clemson’s explosive offense, then I don’t see this game being any different.
One of the main factors of this game will most likely be its location, Death Valley, SC. I have said it time and time again that Death Valley is one of the most difficult places to play in college football especially for first year starting quarterbacks like UNC’s Bryn Renner.
“North Carolina is a very complete football team, probably as good as anybody we’ve played,” Dabo Swinney said during a weekly ACC Teleconference on Wednesday. “I think they’re just a play or two away from being 7-0. Coach Withers and his staff do a tremendous job with their program.”
North Carolina on Offense-
The Tarheels are led by their quarterback Bryn Renner who is leading the ACC in pass efficiency, as he has completed 120-170 passes throughout 7 games for 1593 yards, 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He hasn’t thrown an interception in four of his last five games, including three straight. North Carolina also has a weapon in redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard, who has carried the ball 130 times throughout 7 games this season for 767 yards and 9 touchdowns.
At receiver, the Tarheels have Dwight Jones who is tied for first among ACC receivers with eight touchdowns on the season. Jones ranks 4th in the ACC and 26th in the country with 98.1 receiving yards per game. Another notable target of Renner’s is wide receiver Erik Highsmith who ranks third on the team with 23 receptions for 343 yards and 1 touchdown.
Junior receiver Jheranie Boyd is another playmaker to look out for on UNC’s offense. Although he only has 6 receptions on the year, 2 of his receptions were for touchdowns and he is seen as the fastest player on UNC’s 2011 team.
“Offensively, North Carolina is very balanced,” Swinney said. “They’ve got a good running game and passing game. They’re an NFL style team that likes to have control of the ball. Last season that’s what hurt us because they had the ball for 13:04 of the fourth quarter, so they like to keep the ball away from you if they can. They do a lot of shifts, motions, and trades, trying to get you out of rhythm so defensively we’ve got to stay in our gaps and be on the same page at all times.”
North Carolina’s Week 7 Performance on Offense-
In their 30-24 loss last weekend to Miami, the Tarheels got off to a slow start against the Hurricanes, turning the ball over on a kickoff return almost immediately. Bernard had a career high of 27 carries against Miami, making the game his fifth straight 100 yard game as he posted 110 yards.
Overall the Tarheels had 429 total yards, which was the 5th time in seven games that they accumulated over 400 yards, with this game being UNC’s season high against an ACC opponent.
Carolina’s top receiver Dwight Jones had a mediocre day against Miami as he caught 9 passes for 65 yards. Erik Highsmith ended the game with five receptions for 74 yards.
Renner set career highs for pass completions, attempts, and yards against the Hurricanes as he completed 29 of 37 passes for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns. He completed 20 of 22 for 214 yards in the second half of the game alone.
Advantages for North Carolina-
One advantage for the Tarheels coming into Saturday’s contest is that their quarterback is getting into a groove, going four out of the last five games without throwing an interception. Being the most efficient quarterback in the ACC at the moment, Renner may be very effective against Clemson’s secondary in the passing attack Saturday.
Another advantage for Carolina could be that Clemson just came off of a game that took a lot of energy out of them. The Tigers had to come back from an 18 point deficit twice throughout the game in order to eventually win by 11. Therefore Clemson may be coming into this weekend a little sore and beat up from their scrappy battle with the Terrapins last weekend.
Another advantage for the Tarheels is that Clemson is undefeated, which gives them more motivation coming into this game to try and get the upset. UNC is a team that has had a few tough breaks this season, and like Coach Swinney said if it weren’t for two or three plays, they could be sitting at 7-0 right now too. This being said, they have a lot to prove coming into Death Valley Saturday so look for them to be focused and hungry coming of their loss last weekend.
Clemson’s Week 7 Performance on Defense-
Well what can I say, Clemson’s defense has taken three steps forward over the past few weeks only to take a few steps back against the Terrapins Saturday as they allowed 45 points and over 400 yards of total offense. In their defense, the zone read ran by the Terrapins offense was a unique style, and CJ Brown, Maryland’s first time starting quarterback had speed similar to that of another CJ we all know and love.
The highlight of Clemson’s defensive performance which gave the Tigers the momentum to come back and win the game was the interception by cornerback Bashaud Breeland. After that interception, the Tigers held the Terrapins to only 10 points in the second half and made a few critical stops to put the game away.
Advantages for Clemson-
Their poor showing against the Terrapins was very uncharacteristic of the Clemson defense that we’ve watched over the past few weeks so I believe that they’ll come out on Saturday looking to redeem themselves and play the way we know them to play. That can be seen as a definite advantage for the Tigers because it adds extra fuel to the fire and importance to the game. When Clemson’s defense is at its best, it’s difficult for any team to score on them, just ask Virginia Tech.
Another advantage to Clemson will be playing the Tarheels on their home turf. Although I know that our players don’t read websites or listen to anything said outside of their program, there have been some statements made by UNC players this week that may give our Tigers and Tigernation as a whole more motivation to show up and be loud and proud Saturday and I’m sure our players have heard them. For instance, UNC’s quarterback Bryn Renner made a statement earlier this week that he wasn’t worried about playing in Death Valley, said it couldn’t be worse than playing at East Carolina’s stadium. Also senior receiver Dwight Jones made a comment this week during a television interview that he believed that he was the best receiver in the ACC, and that he thought he was a better receiver than Sammy Watkins. I expect these statements to motivate our fans to make sure that the Tarheels never forget the day that they played in Death Valley, and for Sammy to have yet another stellar performance.
A third advantage is that Clemson is coming off of a game in which they left a lot of yards on the field after their slow start in the first half. Because of the fact that Maryland led the Tigers for the majority of Saturday night’s game, our Tigers have been brought down a peg as they realize that any game can be lost, they have a team mindset though that they can compete with and beat any team they face and instead of giving up Saturday they believed in their teammates and themselves knowing that it was a winnable game and they went out there and did what they had to do to win. Clemson this year is a team that may be down during a game, as they were against Troy, Auburn, and Maryland but you can never count them out which is something that I haven’t been able to say about a Clemson team in a while.
Lastly, the Tarheels’ main offensive weapon is a redshirt freshman, and although he has put up some outstanding numbers this season, he has yet to play in an atmosphere like Death Valley. Although it’s a noon game, I can bet that Tigernation will be out in full force, loud and proud and the Tarheels offense may start off the game a little shaky because of Clemson’s 12th man on defense.
The Tarheels are coming into Death Valley after a loss, so they will be hungry and try their hardest not to lose their 3rd ACC game. However, I’m not sure Bryn Renner and the Tarheels realize what’s in store for them in Death Valley. Although their defensive front is one of the better one’s we’ll see this season, they allowed Miami to take a 14-0 lead on them almost instantaneously last weekend. They’ve heard over and over that Clemson’s offense is explosive and can score at any time, however they have yet to see it first hand and if they aren’t careful they will. Clemson’s running game is getting on track after two solid outings against Boston College and Maryland, so if Clemson’s running game is successful against the Tarheels, look for Coach Morris to open up his playbook even more and be creative.
Defensively, Clemson didn’t have a good outing last weekend against the Terrapins and therefore descended nationally statistic-wise. They are hoping that this game will be a chance for them to redeem themselves, being at home and going up against a first year starting quarterback if the Tigers can get some pressure on Renner early, and stop Bernard’s run attack then Clemson has a good shot at going 8-0 for the first time since 2000.