By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON – The Clemson Tigers will take on the North Carolina Tarheels in Death Valley Saturday. The Clemson Insider previews the Tigers’ offense against the Tarheels’ defense in this week’s Offensive Preview.
Last Week in Review: Clemson Offense
Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense’s slow start didn’t last long in College Park last week. Against Maryland, the Tigers put up a staggering 576 yards of total offense that resulted in 49 points.
Boyd started slow and was way off on the majority of his throws, one of which resulted in an interception returned by Maryland for a touchdown. But as the game progressed, so did #10. After throwing the interception, Boyd finished the game by completing 11 of his last 12 pass attempts for 270 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Most impressive from a week ago was freshman phenom Sammy Watkins. Watkins racked up 345 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns. His two touchdown grabs in the second half were essential to Clemson’s comeback win.
Andre Ellington and the Tigers’ offensive line were also impressive last week, leading the offense with 306 yards on the ground. Ellington was responsible for 212 of those yards and ran for 2 touchdowns.
Last Week in Review: North Carolina Defense
The Tarheels had their own comeback against Miami a week ago. Unfortunately for the Heels, they were not successful, as the Hurricanes won 30-24.
The Carolina defense was unable to stop Jacory Harris and the Miami offense in the first half of play and gave up 27 points in the first two quarters alone. However, after the break, the Hurricanes wouldn’t score again until there were 2 minutes left in the game. Their final score came on a 28-yard field goal.
The Heels allowed the most yards through the air last Saturday. The Hurricanes threw for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns and only rushed for 44 yards. North Carolina was able to provide plenty of pressure on Jacory Harris, despite his success, and sacked him 4 times.
-Sammy Watkins versus North Carolina’s Secondary
Sammy is proving over and over again that nobody can shut him down. In fact, Watkins will break the ACC’s single season record for receiving yards and touchdowns on Saturday if he has a game like he did a week ago. North Carolina’s secondary has been bad this season, as their passing defense ranks 92nd in the country. Expect Watkins – and the rest of the Tigers receivers – to have a big game catching and running with the ball on Saturday.
-Clemson’s O-Line versus North Carolina’s D-Line
Clemson’s line has improved drastically as the season has progressed. But are they ready for North Carolina’s talented front? Head Coach Dabo Swinney noted this week that this will be the most impressive front his team has seen all year. He says so with good reason. The Tarheels’ defensive line has recorded 15 sacks this season and has its defense ranked 26th in the nation in rushing defense. Nothing will be given to the Tigers on Saturday, and if the Tarheels’ front four are able to create pressure, it could cause problems for Clemson both running and passing.
North Carolina is not a bad team. They have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Although Clemson’s talent level offensively may be more impressive, I won’t be surprised to see the Tarheels make big plays on defense.
This game – as most others – will be determined up front. If the Tigers’ offensive line can give quarterback Tajh Boyd time to throw, Clemson could have another 300+ yard game through the air. However, if the Heels’ line is able to create consistent pressure on Boyd, they could potentially take away the Tigers’ strength and force them to run the ball.
North Carolina’s run defense has been impressive, unlike their passing defense. Can Clemson’s offensive line create a push up front for the running game? Are the last two games evidence of Andre Ellington’s return as a playmaking runner? The way these questions are answered could hold the key to which team wins Saturday.
Hypotheticals aside, in reality, Clemson’s offense is yet to be stopped. Chad Morris continues to impress in the ways he uses his playmakers on offense. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Dwayne Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, etc. – there are just too many athletes North Carolina will have to account for Saturday.
In the end, they don’t have the manpower in the secondary to slow down Clemson’s passing game, regardless of how much pressure their defensive line is able to create. Expect Clemson to have another big day on offense.