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Opponent Preview: Clemson

A week after a trip to Greenville the Heels are once more on the road to open ACC play in a tough game in Death Valley at Clemson. The Heels open up ACC play against a good Clemson team that will test the Heels in different ways.

Ronald Martinez

Clemson is the best team that Heels will have played so far this season. The Tigers have more talent than ECU and San Diego State and will come after the Heels. Fans of the Heels know that Clemson is good and are expecting the trip to Death Valley to be a difficult one. This is a good time to catch the Tigers at home, Clemson have just come back from a hard, exhausting game at Florida State. Clemson has also had a murderous start to the season in terms of scheduling, facing a good Georgia team on the road and being forced to travel to Tallahassee. Due to the schedule Clemson has not the luxury to figure out their new personnel against lesser teams.

Last season the Tigers had two of the best offensive players in College Football in Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd. Replacing those two players has proved to be very difficult for Clemson so far. Cole Stoudt was originally named the start but has not really impressed so far, throwing only one touchdown and one interception. The backup quarterback, Deshaun Watson, has impressed and arguably outplayed Stoudt. Watson's performance at Florida State in the Tigers' OT loss to the Seminoles permitted him to successfully wrestle the starting job from Stoudt.

Clemson leans heavily on their passing game to produce on offense, the Tigers produce nearly two-thirds of their total yards by throwing. This is a very important game for the UNC defensive line. The Heels must be able to generate pressure on the quarterback in this game and that needs to come from the defensive line. If the defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback then the Heels can drop more men into the secondary and contain the Clemson passing attack. Limiting the Tiger's ability to throw the ball effectively will be critical to the Heel's success in this game.

The Clemson running game poses a greater threat to the Carolina defense. Through the beginning of the season the Heels have had difficulties in stopping the run. Clemson's offensive line is much better than any that the Heels have faced so far this year and the Tigers will attempt to bully the Heels off the line of scrimmage. Dabo Swinney prefers to run the ball on more plays than they throw, and if the UNC defense gets gashed for five and six yard gains on every down then this game could be repeat of last Saturday. Clemson has had difficulties running the ball against good teams, they only average 2.0 yards per carry against Georgia, and how the Heels perform against the run in this game could show how the Heels compare to top tier college football talent.

The Tiger defense and special teams is where the Heels can exploit the weaknesses of Clemson. Georgia pulverized this team and throughout the second half of that game the Tigers looked helpless to prevent Georgia scores. There will be openings for Marquise Williams to throw the ball into and he must hit the plays that are available. The Heels need to assert their passing attack early to set up the run. If the Heels can sustain possessions for long amounts of time and keep the Tiger offense off the field, the Heels could win this game comfortably. In addition, the way that Todd Gurley tore up the Tiger defense should be a clear signal to Larry Fedora to hit the Tigers with as much Ryan Switzer as possible especially in the return game. So far this season, Switzer has not been the predominate kickoff returner. Against Clemson, a team with a demonstrated weakness in special teams coverage, Switzer should be in on as many plays as possible, returning every kick and punt.

This game will boil down to how well the Heels can execute on offense. The Tar Heel defense has been so circumspect in the beginning of the season that they can not be relied on to win the game for the Heels. The offense will need to control the clock as well as use a heavy dose of Ryan Switzer to win the game for the Heels.

The Weekly Assignment:

1) Control the game clock, the key to preventing the Tigers from getting a win would be to keep their offense off the field. The Heels need to stay on the field on offense and limit the Tiger's time of possession.

2) The defensive line needs to rush the passer. The Tigers rely heavily on their passing offense to generate yards and scores, with a quality pass rush, the Heels can further limit the potent Clemson offense.

3) Use Ryan Switzer. Clemson have showed their weakness to dynamic players in that Todd Gurley shredded the team in week one. The Heels should look at this as an example and give Switzer as many touches as possible.