A former Clemson offensive lineman (2011-2015) and current studio analyst on The Huddle for ACC Network, Eric Mac Lain spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s ACC Championship Game between Clemson and North Carolina.
Before the Tigers and Tar Heels go head-to-head, the North Carolina native shared his perspective on the matchup. In recent weeks, North Carolina’s early season momentum has seemed to hit a lull, but quarterback Drake Maye is a strong force leading the Tar Heels’ offense, and the talent of Maye will be quite the test for the Clemson defense.
“When you look at it, Clemson had the one game and they were really hot for a couple after that Notre Dame loss,” Mac Lain said. “North Carolina has really been fading these last two. How do you figure that out? Who’s going to really rise up? When your back is against the wall, you’re in a championship-type game, you expect players to really rise up and play at a whole new level.
“So, I think people have wanted to make out of it all week, who’s hotter, who’s feeling better. I think you throw all that away. I don’t think the experience matters for Clemson. I know a bunch of these people have played in this game. I don’t think it matters. I really don’t. I think throw everything out — it’s a championship game, you’re going against the (ACC) Player of the Year Drake Maye, and you better bring it.”
The analyst also discussed Clemson’s recent turnover bug. The continual loss of the turnover margin finally caught up to the Tigers last week in the loss to South Carolina, and this is going to be something the team will have to avoid against a talented and confident North Carolina team.
“I think 2013 is the last time we saw this,” he said. “Being a part of that team, it’s interesting. Because when I played, there was such an emphasis on ball security, from the offensive side, but also taking it away defensively. So, for Clemson to be minus two is fascinating, and really it’s your main guys doing this — it’s DJ (Uiagalelei), it’s (Will) Shipley, putting the ball on the ground. Something that this opportunistic defense of North Carolina, you give them a couple extra possessions, you give Drake Maye a short field, look out, it could be a track meet real quick.”
After the loss to South Carolina last week, Clemson’s playoff hopes dissipated, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers don’t have something to prove out on the field this Saturday.
Much of that sentiment was reiterated by Mac Lain, who emphasized that an Orange Bowl appearance represents a huge accomplishment for any team. He believes the desire from both teams to make it to the Orange Bowl will result in a fourth-quarter battle this weekend.
“I think a lot of people ask if there’s some juice that’s left this game, and I think the obvious answer is yes,” he said. “There’s no playoff implication, but at the end of the day, Clemson wasn’t here last year. North Carolina hasn’t been here since 2015, this matters. This game is very important. Winning this conference is very important. There’s also a potential Orange Bowl berth on the line. Back in the day, that was something that was incredible to go play in that, and still is for the New Year’s Six bowl.
“So, a lot on the line, and I expect we see really great effort on both sides, and who can go to the fourth quarter, who can get it in a heavyweight bout, where they’re ready and they’re rolling.”
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