Believe it or not, Clemson and UNC have more in common this season than you’d think: both teams have lost to Notre Dame, lost to their respective rivals, have banged up defensive backs, and now both teams will go into the ACC Championship game with offenses that are looking to bounce back and perform to their high standards. Sure, there’s obvious differences in talent between Drake Maye and DJ Uiagalelei when comparing offenses, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Clemson is averaging 34.1 points per game going into this one, which is less than three points shy of UNC’s average (37.1).
Because of this, it’s interesting to see that betting odds are in favor of the Tigers. According to Draftkings.com, Clemson is the 7.5-point favorite going into this game despite UNC arguably having the more talented offense. However, we all know where the issue lies, and it’s UNC’s defense. For what it’s worth, the defense has had some good moments, and even managed to hold six teams under 30 points. Considering how well the offense was for most of the season, that should be enough, but then there’s games like the one against Georgia Tech. That’s all I need to say, right?
I digress, let’s talk about what makes Clemson a dangerous team this season. Sophomore running back Will Shipley has been a very important player for the Tigers, especially since the passing game hasn’t been particularly great. Shipley as of right now is averaging 1,092 yards on the ground, 5.9 yards per carry, and has scored 14 touchdowns. Mission number one for the Tar Heels will be to keep Shipley from taking over the game, which is probably asking a lot considering UNC has allowed opponents to rush for an average of 169.7 yards per game. I wouldn’t dare discount Clemson as a one-dimensional team, but if I were Mack Brown and Gene Chizik, I’d put a lot of emphasis on stopping the run this Saturday.
Moving on to DJ Uiagalelei, he is having a much better season than he did in 2021, but Dabo Swinney still hasn’t gotten the same firepower out of him that Trevor Lawrence had. So far this season he has thrown for 2,511 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. The interesting thing is that he hasn’t thrown for many more yards than last season (2,246), but what he’s done is he has minimized the amount of mistakes that he was making. There’s one of two ways to look at how big of a threat he will be: his wide receiving corp leaves a lot to be desired, but on the flip side, UNC’s secondary is banged up, and that could pose a pretty big problem. This could end up being a deceitfully good game for Uiagalelei, but it all depends on how healthy the Heels defense is going into this game.
When it comes to the Tigers’ defense, they are currently allowing 20 points per game, an average of 218 yards passing, and 188.3 yards rushing. Their worst performances were in their win against Wake Forest, their loss to Notre Dame, and their loss to South Carolina. All three of these teams have been tough teams to deal with offensively, especially the Gamecocks, who hung 63 on #5 Tennessee a week before playing the Tigers. One could argue that holding Spencer Rattler & Co. to 31 points was an achievement and not a letdown, but it also could mean that Drake Maye’s squad could do a lot of damage against this defense. That is, of course, if they play as well as they were before the Georgia Tech game.
UNC has always had a really tough time dealing with Clemson, and it’s really hard to see anything different happening in Charlotte. Do I think they have a chance to win? Absolutely, and honestly it may be the best chance they’ve had to win in years. However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re in for another “we were one play short” type game, and I can practically hear the screams of agony traveling from Franklin Street. Consider this your warning: the ending to this game may be very, very frustrating.
Prediction: Clemson 35, UNC 31