Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Saturday, October 2, 3:30 PM
Records: UNC 2-2, 0-1 ACC; Clemson 2-2, 0-1 ACC
See update at bottom of post.
Hey, who knew Clemson was still in the ACC?
Carolina fans can be forgiven for not remembering the Tigers, since UNC and Clemson have not played since 2006, and the Tigers have not visited Chapel Hill since 2002. But these two teams meet with identical records but seemingly headed in opposite directions.
Clemson began the season 2-0 by feasting on two cupcakes and held a comfortable lead at Auburn before the wheels came off the bus. Then last week the Tigers were leading Miami 14-7 before being outscored 23-7 over the last 2 1/2 quarters to end the game. Carolina, meanwhile, has put on second-half surges to post two wins against Rutgers and East Carolina.
Clemson has not exactly shined on defense, giving up nearly 400 yards per game and over 180 yards per game on the ground. But the Tiger defense may be the biggest and most physical the Tar Heels have faced all year, and the offensive line will have to work hard for all 60 minutes to open up the kinds of holes for the running game that happened in the second half last week.
On offense, hard-throwing QB Kyle Parker gave up about $800,000 from the Colorado Rockies to come back to Clemson and play football but has not had a lot of cooperation from his receivers. Coach Dabo Swinney replaced his starting receivers with four new players this week, hoping to jump start the Tigers' aerial attack. But the Tigers have been getting it done on the ground, as RB Andre Ellington is the ACC's leading rusher at nearly 100 yards per game.
For the Tar Heels, the defense continues to improve from week to week as the young players grow and develop and another player returns from suspension, this time in the form of safety Deunta Williams. Last week UNC grounded the high-flying ECU offense but face another week with starting linebacker Quan Sturdivant on the questionable list.
And speaking of things you can hardly remember, who would have ever thought the Carolina offense would have played so well through four games? Last week UNC produced two 100+ yard rushers in Shaun Draughn and Johnny White, and QB T.J. Yates continues to make good decisions with the football.
The loser of this game will fall to 0-2 in the ACC and will be hard-pressed to make up ground in the divisional race. It will be interesting to see which team plays with a greater sense of urgency.
Yet again this week, strength plays to strength and weakness to weakness. UNC's offense at full strength will have to move the ball against Clemson's physical defense, while Clemson's struggling passing game will have to try to find success against UNC's patchwork defense. But Carolina has played well on offense of late, and White and Draughn should be able to attack the Tigers' porous run defense. Meanwhile, the return of Deunta Williams completes at least half of the secondary and will make passing against the Heels that much harder, not to mention Parker having to throw to an all-new receiving corps. Slight advantage on all counts plus home field to UNC.
UNC 27, Clemson 21
[UPDATE] Wait, it's not Thursday, but a near game-time bombshell has been dropped as fullback Devon Ramsey has now been withheld as part of the NCAA investigation. Also released before the game was the news that backup safety Jonathan Smith, who was among the previously withheld group of players, will not play this season but will have a season of eligibility remaining. More on this as it develops.