Sammy Watkins #2 of the Clemson Tigers returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Byrd Stadium.
So here's where UNC stands. Officially out of the running for the Coastal Division title – you may laugh, but I'm always optimistic about that sort of thing – the Heels can do nothing but play spoiler and jockey for bowl position. They get the perfect opportunity to play both today, as they travel to Death Valley to play the undefeated and ACC-leading Clemson Tigers.
The Tigers emerged to dominate the ACC by developing into an offensive juggernaut. Only Virginia Tech has held them to under 35 points, and they trail only Georgia Tech in scoring and total offense. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the sophomore I was skeptical about back in August, has blossomed by connecting with freshman receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins has 728 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns, and if you saw last weekend's Maryland game you saw him do everything. Watkins set the school record for total yards, adding a 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a second, 70-yard return to 105 yards receiving and two TD receptions. Expect Clemson to test the weakened UNC secondary often with him. Boyd has other targets – he leads the ACC with 2012 yards passing – but none are as explosive as Watkins. Three have receptions of over fifty yards though, including TE Dwayne Allen, the second biggest threat.
Of course, Clemson doesn't need to rely on the pass alone. Andre Ellington has already surpassed last season's rushing total with 740 yards. He's can break away for long touchdown runs, with a 74-yarder against Wofford and one for 44 to sea the win at Maryland; his freshman partner in the backfield Mike Bellamy is showing flashes of greatness himself, with 218 yards, and Boyd is pretty mobile for a quarterback if not to Georgia Tech's standards, with 157 yards on the ground. Carolina has been pretty effective at stopping the run, as their play against Miami and Lamar Miller showed, but has more trouble containing the quarterback, so that's a concern. The Tigers also use Sammy Watkins on the occasional running play like UNC uses its own wideouts.
But for how great their offense is, their defense can be shockingly poor. They gave up 468 yards and 45 points to Maryland, who had only twice scored more than 30. Wofford scored 27 points on them when the game still mattered, and Auburn put up 435 yards and 24 points themselves. They're particularly weak against the run, with only Miami and Maryland giving up more yards on the ground. One beast of defensive end, Andre Branch accounts for over half of the Tigers' thirteen sacks, less than UNC's anemic totals. So Bryn Renner should have a little more time to throw if the offensive line holds. Clemson does have seven interceptions, so Renner has to be careful with his passes, but UNC's experienced receiving corps should have a decent afternoon.
This is a classic trap game for Clemson. They face ranked Georgia Tech next week, are coming off an exhausting game at Maryland last week, and don't expect much from a UNC team that sits 1-2 in the ACC. If the Tar Heels want to leave a mark on this season, this is the place to do it. Win here and they're taken seriously for the rest of the season. Lose, and it's a trip to one of those middling bowls in mid-December you've never heard of.