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UNC vs. Clemson: Three Things Learned

The wheels are beginning to fall off.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

It was another frustrating performance on Saturday afternoon as the Clemson Tigers picked apart the North Carolina Tar Heels and defeated them 31-20. Time is ticking on this UNC season, and at this point, we know the personnel, the strengths, and the goal in mind for this team, but it just about never lives up to what should make sense when the Tar Heels take the field. This contest was another weird one, and we continue to learn things about this Carolina team. This episode, though, was not one where these things were positive.

Pressure can rattle Drake Maye

Drake Maye is a superstar quarterback with an incredibly bright future. He has also made some ridiculous throws under pressure this year. With that being said, Clemson came after him all night, and it was clear that he struggled because of it. The game script and the offensive line did him no favors, but a large part of the 45% completion percentage was due to that Tigers pass rush.

There were a handful of uncharacteristic misses from Maye, as well as a dwindling poise in the pocket as the game went on, coming from all of the pressure and lots of orange jerseys in his face all afternoon. He was sacked four times.

Also, there seemed to be an uncertainty from Drake about whether to use his legs, throw it away, or try to keep the play alive. He finished the day 16/36 with 209 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. It was not his best showing personally, and there was little rhythm with any part of the offensive attack. Throws were high, low, and everywhere in between. Just wasn’t enough, and the Clemson pressure was a huge part of it.

There is no response to adversity

If you have followed closely this year, there have been signs that crumbling under adversity was an identity of this team. Well, today’s performance just about screamed that narrative with flying colors. North Carolina was dominant on both sides of the ball in the first quarter, statistically. The only issue: two Omarion Hampton fumbles inside the 10-yard line. It could have realistically been a three-possession lead for the Tar Heels in just a handful of minutes, but instead, it was just a touchdown lead when the second quarter began.

The fumbles were critical and uncharacteristic, but the whole game flipped after missing those two TD opportunities. The underdog juice was gone, the edge was lost, and truthfully, it was a Clemson domination from then on out.

This was the primary example of the disastrous snowball after something went wrong for UNC, but there were smaller examples of it, as well. Three offensive penalties on one drive, lying down after a Clemson TD, or just the overall morale from a team when they faced a deficit. It is sad to see and frustrating to analyze because it’s just so telling of where this team is really at.

Attention to detail is at an all-time low

Just weeks ago, Mack Brown told a story about ‘poisoned cheese’ to motivate the then (6-0) Tar Heels to approach every game with caution and hunger. It may have sounded stupid, and, ironically, it didn’t work, but that was a team that cared about the little things. If you have yet to realize, we no longer have that team.

Today was a beautiful display of an undisciplined team, and it shows in the more minuscule details that can win or lose football games. Here are a few examples:

Arm tackles don’t work! Clemson found so much success on the ground, and many of those yards came on plays where early contact wasn’t enough, and it was a lot of green grass after that initial breakthrough.

The snap-call miscommunications led to five or six false starts, illegal motions, etc., from the offensive line. I know it’s loud at Memorial Stadium, but those small mistakes are so critical when points are hard to come by, and the Tar Heels continued to make them.

Going for it on 4th and 6 at the Clemson 42 in a one-possession game early in the second half? Calling a timeout after giving up a sack late in the first half? Not being set, calling a timeout, and then failing to convert a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter? Man, I know Mack Brown and his staff know a lot more than me, but these in-the-moment coaching decisions are killing the Tar Heels, whether you agree with them or not.

Clock management and timeout usage have been head-scratching all year, and this disappointing letdown against the Tigers is just another page of that chapter where coaching decisions sometimes made zero sense.