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UNC vs. Clemson: Three Things Learned

The Heels took Clemson down to the wire in what turned out to be a really exciting game.

Clemson v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Going into yesterday’s game against Clemson, it’s safe to say that many people had decided that the Tigers would leave Kenan Stadium victorious. While this was true by the time it was all said and done, nobody could’ve predicted how they’d win, much less how close they came to getting upset by an unranked opponent. Carolina put up the type of fight that fans have wanted to see from them for a couple of years now, and one can only imagine that the team has to feel pretty good, outcome aside, about what they were able to accomplish.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from this game, and how the Heels can take what happened yesterday and use it as fuel against the rest of the ACC.

The defense is tough as nails

It’s no secret by now that the Tar Heels have some serious attrition issues at various spots of the defense. Myles Wolfolk is out indefinitely with a lower body injury, the linebackers are thin in numbers, and so far the “next man up” mantra has been a way of life. The good news is that these issues haven’t stopped them from doing things like they did yesterday, as they shut out the Tigers for two quarters, and held them to just seven points in the fourth.

Jay Bateman’s game plan against Clemson was about as good as it gets. Their offense seemed confused the entire game, and it caused the offensive line to jump before the snap multiple times. This was largely due to their inability to figure out who was going to blitz and who was going to drop back into coverage. It also didn’t help that the secondary did a pretty good job on Clemson’s receivers, and Trevor Lawrence had to use his legs multiple times to save drives.

Looking at the stats, holding the number one team in the country to 331 yards when your team is in the college version of “rebuild” mode is nothing to sneeze at. This is especially true when you factor in the fact that Travis Etienne was held to just 67 yards on the ground, with a long of 13 yards. If UNC’s defense keeps performing like this, there’s no telling what this team will be able to do the rest of the season.

The offense took a step forward

While the defense certainly deserves a ton of praise for their performance yesterday, the offense deserves some credit for what they were able to accomplish as well. It wasn’t as pretty as what Bateman’s squad did, but consider this: the Heels scored 14 points in the first quarter alone against one of the nation’s top defenses, and perhaps even more impressive is the fact that they didn’t turn over the ball once the entire game. The icing on the cake? They converted 7 of their 17 third-down plays, which may be the best they’ve done so far this season.

Sam Howell had another good game, completing 15 of his 27 pass attempts for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. After lighting it up through the air in the first quarter, things got a bit conservative again, but this time Michael Carter and Javonte Williams were able to answer the call. Carter and Williams finished with 99 and 49 rushing yards respectively, and Williams was able to find his way into the end zone as well. All things considered, the offensive game plan was good enough to hang with Clemson, but there were plenty of “what if” moments that were created that will make us wonder if they could’ve put the game away before the two-point conversion attempt even happened.

Speaking of the two-point conversion attempt, that particular play caused a lot of conversation following the game. Mack Brown stated that it was their best chance to win, and while this is true, the play that was called was a bit questionable. When looking back at the play, it looked like Javonte Williams had a one-on-one on the option play and Sam Howell simply made the wrong read. These things happen, especially with a freshman quarterback, but one would hope it wouldn’t be the final offensive play of what could’ve been the biggest in for the program in years.

Regardless, the offense showed some growth against the Tigers. Let’s hope that they can use their progress to take down Georgia Tech.

Chazz Surratt is becoming a beast

When it was announced that Chazz Surratt would move from the quarterback position to linebacker, I personally didn’t think we would see a great deal from him in year one in his new role. Would he make some tackles? Sure. Get a sack or two? It’s possible. What we would actually learn, however, is that Surratt needed little to no time to become one of the better defensive players this season, which is a story that was told by his team-high seven tackles and one sack in the loss against Clemson.

Throughout the game it felt like Surratt was everyone on the field, and that undoubtedly frustrated Trevor Lawrence & Co. He is becoming a sizable part of what Jay Bateman wants to do in his defensive scheme, and it’s really exciting to see a player that stuck with the program following the exodus of Larry Fedora finding some success in his new role.

To wrap things up, yesterday’s game showed that this year’s version of the Tar Heels really could do some great things the rest of the season if they play the way that they did against Clemson. That’s not to say they will sweep the rest of their schedule, but the potential to win the Coastal is absolutely there. The Heels now have an opportunity to increase their Coastal record to 2-0 this Saturday when they go to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. I don’t know about all of you, but I feel pretty good about their chances.