Dabo Swinney, Mack Brown on Clemson's 'quiet X-factor' in ACC title game

Dabo Swinney, Mack Brown on Clemson's 'quiet X-factor' in ACC title game

Football

Dabo Swinney, Mack Brown on Clemson's 'quiet X-factor' in ACC title game

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During his pregame ACC Championship press conference Friday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was asked who he thinks the Tigers’ “quiet X-factor” is for possibly winning Saturday’s conference title game against North Carolina.

Swinney smiled as he thought about the question, then made a little joke.

“My quiet X-factor? Hmm. If I told you, it wouldn’t be quiet. It would get loud. Let’s keep it quiet,” Swinney said.

After mulling the question over some more, Swinney pointed to one of Clemson’s running backs, but not the star in Will Shipley who garners most of the attention and accolades among those in that position group.

Instead, Swinney mentioned sophomore Phil Mafah, the punishing 6-foot-1, 230-pounder who has rushed for 466 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games this season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on his 89 totes.

“I don’t know. Quiet X-factor? Maybe Phil Mafah,” Swinney said. “He’s a guy nobody really talks about a whole lot, but he’s a pretty special player. He’s kind of a quiet guy, but he plays loud. So we’ll go with that.”

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown was asked the same “quiet X-factor” question during his pregame ACC Championship presser Friday.

Before answering the question from the reporter who told Brown that she asked Swinney the same question, Brown asked the reporter who Swinney cited as his team’s quiet X-factor.

“Well, he’s real good, so I can see that,” Brown said after the reporter told him Swinney named Mafah. “Somebody said, are you worried about Shipley. I said, when they take him out they’ve got a 230-pound back they’re going to put in, and you look at what the guy has done. Notre Dame pounded us with a big back, so I know that’s going to be part of what Clemson is looking at tomorrow is just can we stop the run.”

Mafah gained 42 yards on seven carries in Clemson’s loss to South Carolina last week. Two weeks earlier against the Louisville, the Georgia native rushed 10 times for a career-high 106 yards with a 39-yard touchdown run, earning team offensive player of the game after his 10 carries were the fewest by a Clemson 100-yard rusher since the 2020 ACC Championship Game (10 by Travis Etienne).

As for Brown’s X-factor(s) for the Tar Heels?

“When I look at it, who would be our X guy? I think our X guy is (quarterback) Drake Maye,” Brown said. “Drake has to play well for us to have a chance to win, and probably within that group, then you’d say (wide receiver) Antoine Green. Because everybody knows (wide receiver) Josh Downs, and Antoine has been a great player. He’s missed five games because of injury, but when he’s been out there, he’s really helped us.”

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