That actually didn't end up being so bad the 50 points and 500+ yards not withstanding. That's where UNC is at, carving out quasi-moral victories from 15 point losses on the road.
The defense ended up being sort of a mixed bag. The bulk of the damage done by Clemson in this game came from dissecting the UNC secondary. Actually, dissecting might not be right word. Hitting wide open receivers due to blown coverages isn't exactly surgical. The first series of the game saw UNC blitz the corner and then have the safety leave the slot receiver to run free down the middle of the field. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson hit Germone Hopper for a 74-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 7-0. From there, Clemson did what it wanted on offense extending the lead to 20-0 and doing so mostly by gashing the Tar Heel pass defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, UNC struggled early. Clemson's speed played havoc with UNC's ability to successfully execute screen and perimeter passes. Two of UNC's first five drives resulted in negative yardage. The "best" drive in that span was 33 yards with Mitch Trubisky at the helm. Clemson shredded UNC's offensive line early and gave the Tar Heel QBs little or no time to make decisions. It was not until the second quarter that the Tar Heels were able to engineer a scoring drive. Elijah Hood had three carries for 22 yards and Marquise Williams went 5-6 including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins. The use of Hood cannot be overstated. He ended the game with 13 carries for 71 yards and a 5.5 ypa average. Eight of those carries came in the first half and establishing the run did appear to at least give pause to the Clemson pass rush.
UNC managed to make it a 22-14 game early in the second half after the Heels pressured Watson into an interception. Williams found T.J. Thorpe on a tunnel screen and the senior wide receiver used his speed to go 41-yards for the touchdown. Clemson responded with another passing fueled touchdown drive to go up 29-14 then following a UNC punt scored again through the air for a 36-14 advantage. The Heels answered on the following possession with a 67-yard pass from Williams to Eric Albright on play action. Williams found Quinshad Davis in the back of the end zone on 4th and 2 cutting the Clemson lead to 36-21.
Unfortunately for UNC, it was now a game of trading points. Clemson scored on another touchdown pass to make it 43-21. Williams hit Ryan Switzer on a screen pass that the sophomore's blazing speed turned into a 75-yard touchdown reception. One of UNC's best chances to cut into the two score lead came after forcing a Clemson punt. Switzer got a good return and despite a holding penalty the Heels were in business with good field position. Clemson's defense stiffened pushing the Heels backwards and forcing another Tommy Hibbard punt. Watson then led the Tigers on an 84-yard drive for Clemson's sixth touchdown of the evening.
The game felt over at this point except UNC scored quickly to draw within 15 points. On the next Clemson possession, now backup QB Cole Stoudt came on and promptly went three and out giving UNC the ball back with plenty of time to make things interesting. Williams drove UNC into Clemson territory but forced a pass to Switzer in the end zone which was intercepted effectively ending the game.
Despite the points and yardage, the defense showed some actual improvement over last week. The run defense was strong holding Clemson to 92 yards rushing for the game. The tackling was much improved with a significant reduction in the number of outright missed tackles. UNC players did a much better job getting to the ball, recorded three sacks and seven tackles for a loss. The play in the front seven was sufficiently disruptive to the Clemson offense.
The problem lay with the secondary which continues to have all sorts of issues with coverage whether it be in individual match-ups or execution which led to wide open receivers. The shortcomings in the back end made it very difficult for UNC to do anything well. When UNC tried to blitzed leaving the defensive backs in man coverage. That coverage was insufficient as Clemson receivers were just open enough for Watson to find them. If UNC backed off the pressure and went with a zone look, Watson had too much time and picked the secondary apart. Ultimately the defensive backs' inability to keep the Clemson receivers in check compromised the defense as a whole with predictable results. Couple a suspect secondary with UNC seeing quarterbacks in consecutive weeks who can consistently make good reads and great throws it becomes a deluge of yards and points.
Speaking of deluge, UNC saw a flood of yellow flags all game including three personal fouls, two for late hits out of bounds. Even punter Tommy Hibbard got into the act drawing one of the late hits on a Clemson punt return after a missed tackled early in the play forced Hibbard to try and force the returner out of bounds. For the game UNC committed a whopping 15 penalties for 130 yards. The penalty situation has become so outrageous I am guessing Doc has run out of ways to discuss then in the GBU Report.
On one hand, UNC isn't that far off schedule in terms of win-loss record. Losing to ECU was always a possibility and a loss at Clemson was expected. The problem thus far had been the way UNC had played. The defense had been awful and the offense slightly less so. Tonight there were moderate improvements in both though the secondary issues on defense are very much a fatal wound at times. The offense, which hadn't been great, found something both running the ball and making use of Hood. T.J. Logan did not record a single carry in this game but did return kicks. Romar Morris started and saw some work with Khris Francis making an appearance late in the game. Mainly it was Hood whose power as a runner compensates for some of the poor offensive line play. Williams had a slow start but warmed up to finish the game 24-38 for 345 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
The point here is UNC has dealt with two very powerful offenses in as many weeks. That changes next week when Virginia Tech rolls into town. Simply put, what UNC's defense could really use right now is to see a quarterback less capable than the two seen on the other side over the past two weekends. Yes, it has come down to hoping the opposing quarterbacks aren't very good to get the defense a break.