WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON vs. NO.20 UNC
- 2023-11-17 14:40:08
Welcome to the Senior Day edition of What We Are Hearing!
It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the final home game of the season. By Clemson standards, the season ended weeks ago for all intents and purposes. The Tigers lost any hope of repeating as ACC champs, and the historic 12-year streak of 10 or more wins went by the wayside. 2024 cannot get here soon enough. This will always be a season of what could have been. What if the Tigers were just average in fumbles instead of dead last? What if they played Pitt, Virginia or VA Tech in the opener instead of at Duke? What if Weitz made that 29-yard field goal to beat No.3 FSU? This team was talented enough to win a national championship, and it's been a bizarre and frustrating season. However, the team never gave up or phoned it in, and Clemson fans can take solace in seeing them finally show what they are capable of over the last couple weeks with a big win over Notre Dame and a blowout of a Tech team that was playing great offense this season with a couple big road wins. We saw confirmation that the future is as bright as ever for the Tigers, with several freshmen starting and making huge plays last week, including 4 interceptions, a couple tackles-for-loss and 2 touchdowns. Not to mention that there are several talented freshmen waiting in the wings that we haven’t even seen yet, and two of the Tigers’ best three receivers—Cole Turner and Antonio Williams—have been out all season! The 2015 BYOG win over Notre Dame was the beginning of a historic and unprecedented 6-year playoff run by the Tigers. The next time the Irish came to Death Valley was a couple weeks ago, and perhaps that win will be another spring board for the Tigers. If they can finish the season on a 5-game win streak that includes top-20 wins over Notre Dame and UNC, a revenge win at South Carolina and a bowl win, the Tigers will carry a lot of momentum into next season! Dabo said after the Notre Dame win that if Clemson is a stock, then you better buy all you can get right now, and I believe him. The Tigers will look to keep the momentum going on Saturday as the seniors say goodbye to Death Valley in a rematch of last season’s ACC Championship! In case you missed it, here’s what Mack Brown said about Clemson this week:
Mack had an early influence on Dabo, helping the young head coach shortly after he took over the position at Clemson, and the two have become close friends with genuine mutual respect. Interestingly enough, Dabo and Mack Brown are two of the only four head coaches in history to win 10 or more games for at least 9 straight years. The Tigers' streak, of course, ended this season at 12 years, which is the third-longest streak, and Mack Brown did it 9 straight years with Texas for the fourth-longest streak. The first meeting between the Hall of Famer and future Hall of Famer was a thriller that came down to a 2-point conversion attempt in Chapel, keeping the Tigers’ nation-leading win streak alive. Last season’s meeting in Charlotte was a blowout by the Tigers, but this one could very well come down to the last play again. On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with UNC 39-19-1 and has won 5 straight…A win Saturday would make UNC the 6th program against which Clemson has won at least 40 games…Clemson is 9-3 all-time against Mack Brown…Dabo is 36-5 against teams from the state of North Carolina…A win Saturday would be the Tigers’ 6th home win of the season, extending their streak of at least 6 home wins to 13 years, the longest active streak in the nation. The second-longest is Coastal Carolina with 3…Clemson is 29-12 against AP top 25 teams in the playoff era. A win Saturday would make Clemson the 4th program with 30 such wins in the playoff era (Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia)…Clemson is 14-3 against AP top 25 teams at home since 2011…With the Notre Dame win, Clemson has beaten at least one AP top 25 team at home for 9 straight years, the longest active streak in the nation…A win Saturday would be the 8th time Clemson has had multiple home wins over AP ranked teams in a season…Dabo has 38 wins over AP top 25 teams, second-most of any coach behind Saban since 2009…Clemson is 92-12 since 2015 with 10 losses of 10 points or less…Clemson is currently tied with Alabama for the best home record in the playoff era at 64-3…Clemson has rushed for a touchdown in 52 straight home games, the nation’s longest active streak. Clemson has rushed for at least one touchdown in 76 out of 79 games since 2018 with multiple rushing touchdowns in 63 of those games, also the most in the nation over that span…Clemson has won the turnover margin in each of the last two games. The Tigers have not won the margin in three straight games since a four-game span in 2020…The Clemson defense has 4 pick-sixes this season, tied for the program record set in 1990…Safety Khalil Barnes is the first freshman under Dabo with multiple interceptions and multiple forced fumbles…Briningstool needs 3 catches to be the first Clemson tight end with 40 catches since Jordan Leggett’s 46 in 2016. One more TD would make Briningstool the 7th tight end in Clemson history with 10 career touchdowns…Tyler Davis will be the first defensive player in Clemson history to start 50 games. The only other Clemson players to start 50 or more games are Will Spiers, Mitch Hyatt, BT Potter and Chandler Catanzaro…Cade Klubnik is 2 TD passes shy of Steve Fuller for 13th on the Clemson all-time career pass TD list…Clemson and Florida are the only Power Five teams with 2 running backs that have rushed for at least 575 yards…TJ Parker needs 3 sacks to tie the Clemson freshman record held by Michael Dean Perry, Chester McGlockton and Dexter Lawrence, all NFL greats. Parker would join Lawrence as the only true freshmen to accomplish the feat…Jalyn Phillips can become the 7th player in Clemson history to play in 60 career games…Will Putnam is one of six Clemson players to play 3,000 career snaps. He has the third-most snaps behind Mitch Hyatt and Dalton Freeman…Will Shipley needs to rushing touchdowns to tie his position coach, CJ Spiller for 6th on the all-time Clemson list. 3 would tie him with Andre Ellington for 5th…Shipley needs one more 100-yard rushing game to become the 11th Clemson player with at least 10 such games in his career…Trotter and Wiggins each have 2 career pick-sixes. One more by either would tie the Clemson record set by Arrington Nunn…If the Tigers win their last 3 games, the seniors will be the 10th straight class at Clemson to win at least 40 games in their career. This senior class has won 30 games against Power Five opponents, the fourth-most in the nation, with 8 wins over AP top 25 teams…Clemson is one behind Alabama for the most Power Five wins since 2013. Ohio State has 4 fewer, and Georgia has 11 fewer…Dabo won 161 of his first 200 games coached, ranking him tied for 5th all-time with Bob Stoops and Robert Neyland, one win shy of Penn State legend Joe Paterno and Nebraska legend Tom Osborne. Urban Meyer had the most at 170…Dabo’s win percentage is .795, just behind Nick Saban’s .804, for 14th all-time. Dabo has the best ACC win percentage (min. 3 seasons) in history at .816, just ahead of Bobby Bowden’s .813…
The Heels come in with an 8-2 record and ranked No.20 in the CFP rankings. They opened the season with a blowout win over the Gamecocks in Charlotte and survived a 40-34, double-overtime scare against App State, but they had back-to-back baffling losses at the end of October: 31-27 at home to Tony Elliott’s UVA team and 46-42 at Georgia Tech. They are coming off an emotional double-overtime win over their arch-rival, Duke, last week after trailing by 3 with 42 seconds left.
It’s not the first time Drake Maye has engineered a comeback win in the final minute or two of a game. He’s like a point guard playing football and might be the No.1 overall pick in the next NFL Draft. If it’s a one-score game, you better run the clock out and not give the ball back to him with any time because he thrives in those moments. The Tigers blew out Maye and the Heels 39-10 in Charlotte last season for the ACC Championship, but Maye was still 26-42 passing for 262 yards, and he ran for their only touchdown. The Heels had nearly 400 yards of offense, but the Tigers did a great job in the red zone and picked Maye off twice, including a pick-six by Nate Wiggins. Cade Klubnik came off the bench as a true freshman and had an MVP performance, going 20-24 for 279 yards with a pass TD, rush TD and no interceptions. It’s been a rocky road for Cade since then with ups and downs, catastrophic turnovers and freshman-like mistakes, but he’s also played at an elite level at times, and this season of growing pains will pay huge dividends next season and beyond as he grows into a superstar. Incidentally, true freshman Cole Turner had a coming out party in that UNC game with 3 catches for 101 yards, but the Tigers have been without his services the entire season.
Drake Maye, meanwhile, is having another stellar season, completing 66 percent of his passes for 3,145 yards and 21 touchdowns with 6 interceptions. He also has rushed for 276 yards, down from his 698 last season, but he has 8 rush TD’s this season compared to 7 last season. The Gamecocks were unable to sack Maye in the opener, but he’s been sacked at least twice in every game since, including 5 apiece by Pitt and Miami.
Maye didn’t have his best receiver, Tez Walker, to pass to until October 7 against Syracuse. One of the big storylines early in the season was that the NCAA did not grant his waiver of the transfer rule earlier, holding him out of their first 4 games. After 6 catches in a blowout win over Syracuse, the Kent State transfer had his Power Five coming out party in his second game with 3 touchdowns in their 41-31 win over Miami. He had 6 catches for 132 yards in that game and 2 carries for 19 yards. Walker had 11 more catches for 146 yards and a touchdown the following week in their stunning 4-point loss to UVA, and his only 2 catches against Campbell a couple weeks ago went for touchdowns, giving him 6 on the season. Surprisingly, he did not score last week against Duke, but he did have 7 catches for 162 yards. The 6’3, 200-pound junior from Charlotte is an absolute difference maker, averaging 17 yards per catch, and he will be a real challenge for the Tigers’ secondary to lock down.
Although Walker now leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdown catches, he’s not the Heels’ only weapon in the passing game. 6’2, 210-pound junior JJ Jones (#5) from Myrtle Beach has 33 catches, averaging 16.2 yards per, with a touchdown. 5’9, 185-pound junior Nate McCollum (#6) from Atlanta has 36 catches and a touchdown. 6’5, 190-pound sophomore Kobe Paysour (#8) only has 22 catches but has scored 3 times. The Heels have a couple other receivers with touchdowns, and their two tight ends have combined for 8 scores. 6’5, 235-pound junior Bryson Nesbitt (#18) from Charlotte has 36 catches for 508 yards and 5 touchdowns. 6’3, 240-pound junior John Copenhaver (#81) from Roswell has 11 catches for 197 yards and 3 scores.
In the backfield, sophomore Omarion Hampton (#28) leads the rushing attack at 6’0 and 220 pounds. He’s averaged 6 yards per carry for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. 5’11, 225-pound senior British Brooks (#24) averages 4.6 yards for 311 yards and 2 scores. Junior Caleb Hood averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season but only played in 3 games this season. He suffered a season-ending injury in the Pitt win with just 15 carries for 43 yards.
Defensively, senior linebacker Kaimon Rucker (#25) from Hartwell leads the way with 8.5 sacks this season. He had 2.5 sacks in the Miami win. Another senior LB, Cedric Gray (#33) from Charlotte, leads the team in tackles and has 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a recovery. Another Charlotte native, Power Echols (#23) rounds out the linebacking corps with an interception and a forced fumble. Up front, 6’6, 270-pound freshman DE Beau Atkinson (#12) leads the defensive line with 3.5 sacks and has a forced fumble. Surprisingly, 6’5, 310-pound senior DT Myles Murphy (#8) recorded his first sack of the season last week against Duke. He also has a fumble recovery and is a great run stuffer. He was out for the loss at Georgia Tech, and the Jackets racked up 348 rushing yards in that game. 6’6, 275-pound senior DE Desmond Evans (#10) is a former 5-star prospect and has 2 sacks this season. On the back end, the Heels have 3 defensive backs with at least 2 interceptions. Junior Alijah Huzzie (#28) has 3, while seniors Don Chapman (#2) and Armani Chatman (#9) have 2 apiece. As a team, the Heels have 12 interceptions, which is tied for 10th nationally, and 7 fumble recoveries this season, which is tied for 28th. By the way, Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik, who beat Dabo as the head coach at Auburn in 2010 en route to a national championship and had his win streak ended by Dabo in 2011, was a GA at Clemson long ago!
In the kicking game, the Heels lost their starting place kicker and punter to injuries. Graduate Ryan Coe was 1-1 against the Gamecocks and 2-3 with a 47-yarder in the overtime win over App State before he was knocked out for the season. However, junior Noah Burnette has been incredible in his steak. He is a perfect 38-38 on PAT’s and 18-19 on field goals with a long of 48 against Pitt, which was his longest attempt. He was 6-6 in their double-overtime win over Duke last week, including the clutch, last-second 43-yarder to tie the game at the end of regulation. He has never kicked in an environment like Death Valley, but Burnette has been one of the biggest stories of the season for the Heels. Meanwhile, graduate punter Ben Kiernan suffered a season-ending injury in mid October, and his replacement, Tom Maginness, only averages 39.6 yards per punt. However, his long is 57 yards. Clemson transfer Liam Boyd from Asheville took over the kickoff duties when Coe was injured and has done a good job with 40 touchbacks on 56 kicks. He redshirted as a freshman for the Tigers last season, so I’m sure he can’t wait to kickoff in Death Valley! The Heels have a couple dangerous return men as well. Defensive back Alijah Huzzie averages 17.3 yards per punt return with a 52-yard touchdown. Another DB, Don Chapman, has a 52-yard kickoff return.
The Heels have the No.8 scoring offense (39.9 points per game), No.18 rushing offense (198.7 yards/game), No.8 passing offense (321.9 yards/game) and No.3 total offense (520.6 yards/game). They are ranked No.61 in scoring defense (25.5 points/game), No.79 in rush defense (154 yards/game), No.84 in pass defense (235.5 yards/game) and No.82 total defense (389.5 yards/game). They have the No.6 third down offense (51.7%) and No.68 third down defense (39%). Their red zone offense is No.17 (92.16 scoring with 62.75% touchdowns), and their red zone defense is No.31 (77.78% scoring with 63.89% touchdowns). The Heels are No.33 in sacks/game (2.60) and No.87 in sacks allowed (2.4/game), which is surprising because Maye is a very good scrambler and adept at getting rid of the ball quickly. They are No.3 in turnover margin, which has been the bane of the Tigers’ season, at plus 1.1 per game. The Tigers have improved in that area in the last two games and are now No.56 at plus 0.1 per game.
The Tigers are healthier than they were in their last couple losses, but Barrett Carter missed last week’s game and will be a game day decision. Same with starting corner Sheridan Jones. Backup TE Sage Ennis tore his ACL last week and will miss the rest of the season. He’s had some big blocks this season and was just starting to emerge in the passing game, with a big catch in each of the two previous games. Let’s hope Briningstool stays healthy because that would be a major loss for the offense, especially with Ennis out. Redshirt freshman Josh Sapp had 2 catches and his first TD last week, but Riley doesn’t want to have to rely on the young tight end for blocking just yet.
The Tigers got Will Shipley back last week after missing the Notre Dame game with a concussion, and boy did he put on a show, just like I thought he would! A lot of Clemson fans were barking about Mafah getting more carries because his average per carry had been higher this season, but Ship reminded them how valuable he still is. Incidentally, Shipley averaged 7 yards per carry with a 32-yard TD last week, and Mafah averaged 5.6 with no scores! They both had over 100 all-purpose yards, though, and represent a tough one-two punch for any defense to handle, especially with improved blocking from the offensive line. The Tigers have two starters out in Parks and Tate, but the young offensive linemen have really stepped up in the last two wins. The Tigers also got starting DE Justin Mascoll back last week, and it was a big shot in the arm. He was injured in the 3rd quarter at Miami when the Tigers led, and after he went out of the game, the Tigers could not get the Canes’ offense off the field, eventually losing in double-overtime. Mascoll also missed the NC State and Notre Dame games, although the defense played well enough to win both games in his absence. Mascoll didn’t waste any time, sacking the quarterback in the first quarter last week.
Cade might have played his best game last week, completing 23 of 34 passes for 205 yards in about 3 quarters, 4 TD’s to 4 different receivers and just one interception. The touchdown throw he made to Briningstool, threading the needle between 4 defenders, was elite stuff and shows that his confidence is growing by the week. It reminded me of the dart Trevor Lawrence threw to Renfrow in the end zone at Georgia Tech, while rolling left, as a true freshman in his fourth game. That’s when Dabo knew that Trevor was ready to take over as the starter.
As mentioned, the freshmen stole the show last week, particularly on defense, and Tyler Brown made one of the best catches in college football this season. I can’t wait to see how they follow that up on Saturday! Weitz only had one field goal attempt last week, and just like the NC State game, his make was preempted by a timeout to freeze him, and he missed the one that counted. You always want to get touchdowns instead of field goals, but I wouldn’t mind getting him an early close one to give him some confidence with the Palmetto Bowl in Columbia coming up!
As with every game this season, the Tigers will win if they at least break even in the turnover margin. If they are plus a couple like they were last week, it will be a blowout. They’ve won the turnover margin in the past two wins and didn’t lose any fumbles last week. Knock on wood! I have to think that the law of averages have finally caught up with the Tigers and their catastrophic turnovers are behind them.
Dabo is 2-0 against one of his mentors, Mack Brown, including an ACC Championship. The last one was a blowout, but this game might very well come down to the final play like 2019 with strength going against strength. The Heels have the No.3 offense, and the Tigers have the No.5 defense, so something has to give. Bear in mind that a couple overtime wins have helped the Heels’ offensive ranking, while 2 overtime losses have hurt the Tigers’ defensive ranking. The Death Valley crowd has been electric despite noon kickoffs for the last two weeks, as they were for the FSU nooner, and they will be even louder now that they’ve finally gotten a 3:30 start. It will be an emotional day for all of the upper classmen playing their last game in Death Valley, and the Tigers have just about always brought their A game on Senior Day. Maye will move the ball and score some points because he is that good, but I think the Tigers’ defense is better than the Heel’s offense, and I think the Tigers’ offense is better than the Heel’s defense. Chalk up another one for Dabo and the Tigers over Mack Brown, Gene Chizik and the Heels for the first 3-game win streak of the season!
CLEMSON 41 North Carolina 20
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