WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.1 CLEMSON AT UNC
- 2019-09-28 10:58:24
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The top-ranked Defending Champs are in as good a spot as they could have hoped for with a third of the regular season behind them, having dominated all of their first four opponents, including their two biggest threats in Texas A&M and Syracuse. The Tigers set a record last week against Charlotte, playing over 100 players in the 52-10 win. As Dabo has repeatedly said, the team is still a work-in-progress, but they are improving weekly and have 3 months until they are likely to be tested again.
This week, the Tigers go to Chapel Hill, where they lost their last trip in 2010 when Nuk Hopkins was a freshman. Hall of Famer Mack Brown, of course, came out of retirement to return to Chapel Hill where he had the Tar Heels ranked in the top 10 before leaving for Texas. For the past two weeks, Mack has been just one win short of tying the all-time UNC record but has come up just short. He has been a friend and mentor to Dabo over the years. In fact, Texas was the first program Dabo visited back in 2009 just after his interim season, and the Longhorns went on to play Alabama in the National Championship that season. If the Tigers win on Saturday, Mack Brown will be the 10th National-Championship-winning head coach Dabo has beaten in his 11 years. That is remarkable, considering there are only five active head coaches, including Dabo, that have won national titles. If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out who the nine are, you’re probably forgetting that Larry Coker won a title with Miami, and Gene Chizick with Auburn.
On to this week’s matchup!
Clemson and UNC first met in 1897 but have only played 57 times. Clemson leads the all-time series 37-19-1…Last Saturday was Dabo’s 150th game as head coach, and this is the 150th season of college football…. Clemson has not lost a game before October since 2014, an overtime loss in Tallahassee….Clemson is now 28-3 in its last 31 night games. Two of the three losses were to Alabama, and the third was at Syracuse without a starting QB or starting kicker…Clemson made its 440th appearance in the AP Poll this week, which is 20th all-time….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 64 straight weeks. Georgia is 3rd at 33 weeks… Clemson has won 18 straight in Death Valley going back to the last-second loss to Pitt in 2016. Prior to that, the Tigers won 21 straight, so the Tigers have won 39 of their last 40 home games, losing only on a last-second field goal….Clemson has won 21 straight regular season non-conference games….Clemson is 12-2 all-time as the No.1 ranked team, with both losses to Alabama….Clemson has won 33 of its last 36 games away from home and 21 of its last 22 true road games….Clemson has won its last 33 straight Saturday games, the longest streak in the nation….
The Mack Brown revival got off to an auspicious start, with upset wins over South Carolina and Miami, and it looked as if the Heels might come into this game 4-0 and ranked. However, they have taken a step back as many teams with newfound success do, losing close games at Wake and against App State in the last two weeks. They found themselves down 21-0 in the first quarter at Wake but battled back and had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the game. They should have beaten in-state foe App State last week, but Sam Howell had 3 costly turnovers, including a sack-fumble scoop-and-score, and the Heels missed a last-second field goal to tie the game.
Despite the turnovers last week, true freshman quarterback Sam Howell has played extremely well, showing why Dabo and the Clemson staff thought enough of him to offer a scholarship. The 6’1, 225-pounder was the North Carolina Player of the Year last year and was headed to FSU before Mack Brown took the UNC job and convinced Howell to stay in state. Howell has completed 64% of his passes this season for 1,024 yards and 9 touchdowns with 2 interceptions, both last week. He has only rushed for 43 yards and one TD, but he can be tough to bring down when he tucks it and runs. He’s a little like Texas QB Sam Ehlinger in that regard. More importantly, Howell has the moxie you look for in a quarterback. He was sensational with the game on the line in that 4th quarter against the Gamecocks.
The Heels have a few good running backs, and Dabo said this will be the best group of backs the Tigers have seen this season. 5’10, 215-pound sophomore Javonte Williams (#25) and 5’10, 200-pound junior Michael Carter (#8) have carried most of the load so far this season. Williams has rushed for 299 yards and a touchdown on 5.6 yards per carry, and Carter has rushed for 220 yards on 4.6 yards per carry. 5’11, 215-pound senior Antonio Williams (#24) only has 63 yards but averages 7 yards per carry. The Heels like to throw to the backs often on check-downs, so the Tigers will have to be ready for that. Carter has a TD catch in each of the last two games.
6’1, 195-pound sophomore Dyami Brown (#2) is the Heels’ best big-play receiver. He has 15 receptions for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. 5’11, 190-pound junior Dazz Newsome (#5) has 19 catches for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns. Junior Beau Corrales (#15) has the best size of the group at 6’4 and 210 pounds. He has 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown this season.
Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo held the same position at Ole Miss for the past two seasons, where the Rebels had a top-20 offense. Before that, he led the top-ranked offense in the nation at the FCS level in 2016 when he was OC at Sam Houston State. He is a disciple of Mike Leach’s air raid offense, but in his first year with the Heels, he has run the ball more than he’d probably like to due to his personnel.
Defensively, the Heels are led by Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman, who held the same job at Army for the last 5 years. The Black Knights were 11-2 last season, setting a school record for wins. You may recall they held Oklahoma to just 21 points in regulation at Norman last year before losing in overtime. They held Houston’s high-powered offense to just 14 points in their bowl win. The Heels are averaging 25.8 points per game this season, which is No.67 nationally. They have allowed 394.8 total yards per game, which is No.76 nationally. Bateman uses a 3-4 defensive scheme, and the Heels have 10 sacks in their 4 games this season. 3.5 of those have come from 6’3, 260-pound junior LB Tomon Fox (#12). LB Chazz Surratt and NT Aaron Crawford have each added a pair. 5’11, 205-pound junior strong safety Myles Wolfolk (#11) has 3 of the Heels’ 4 interceptions this season, but he was injured in the second half of the App State game this week and is questionable for Saturday. Injuries have been a problem for the Heels, who will be without starting corner Patrice Rene and starting center Nick Polino. Their best offensive lineman, left tackle Charlie Heck, is also questionable after missing last week’s game with a broken hand. The offensive line last week had just 10 combined career starts coming into the game. Finally, starting defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge played hurt last week and was very limited. His status is questionable as well.
Sophomore kicker Noah Ruggles is solid but doesn’t have a huge leg. He is 7-10 this season with a long of 49, and he’s perfect from inside 40 yards.
Dabo told us on Tuesday that OL Blake Vinson would have patellar tendon surgery and miss the season, but the Tigers are otherwise in great shape. It will be interesting to see how deep in the game Trevor Lawrence goes after Chase Brice came in three minutes into the 2nd quarter last week. It’s a shame that the Tigers’ dominance will probably cost Trevor a Heisman because he simply won’t be able to pad his stats like the other candidates will all season. All the more reason they shouldn’t vote on the Heisman until after all the games have been played. Maybe if Trevor shines in the playoff again like last year, they will give him the Heisman next year regardless of his numbers. As long as they refuse to move the voting to the time it should be, we will continue to see the Heisman go to the wrong player like it did with Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry.
Trevor is playing well in his limited time on the field, though. Many want to focus on his 5 interceptions this season, but Trevor set a career record with 395 passing yards at Syracuse despite playing less than the entire game. He has also run the ball well and already has 3 rushing touchdowns after just one all of last season. There’s a good chance you’ll see him rush for another TD in Chapel Hill.
The Tigers have developed a nice one-two punch at running back with Etienne and Dixon, and the two true freshmen—Dukes and Mellusi—are starting to get their legs under them, each rushing for his first career TD in the last two games.
As for WRU, Trevor Lawrence has his pick of weapons all over the field. Justyn Ross had a hip flexor last week and could have played, but they decided to hold him just to be safe. He and Tee Higgins will have plenty of opportunities on deep balls this Saturday, and the return of Amari Rodgers will really spread the UNC defense horizontally. He is like a running back at the slot receiver position, and he has come back from his ACL surgery even stronger and faster than he was before. I got a good look at Amari after practice on Wednesday while he was catching balls from the jug machine with one hand and on his back like it was nothing. That guy is as solid as a rock with tree trunks for legs! True freshman Joseph Ngata caught his first career TD last week, and fellow true freshman caught his second at Syracuse. I look forward to seeing those two contributing more and more regularly as the season progresses. Cornell Powell also caught his first TD of the season last week.
Sophomore kicker B.T. Potter has 18 touchbacks in his 21 kickoffs this season, and that is an extremely undervalued asset that no one talks about. If the Tigers had Potter in 2015, they might have won that National Championship against Alabama. The Tigers have an excellent coverage unit as well, but it's a nice luxury to be able to completely erase an opponent's big-play potential on kickoffs. That will come in handy this week, as the Heels' Michael Carter can be dangerous. He ran the opening kickoff 75 yards last week, setting up a TD on their first play from scrimmage against App State.
The Tigers are No.13 in total offense (524.8 yards/game), No.17 in scoring offense (42.3 points/game), No.20 rushing offense (247 yards/game) and No.40 passing offense (277.8 yards/game). Defensively, they are No.4 in scoring defense (10 points/game), No.5 in total defense (246.5 yards/game), No.23 in rush defense (94.5 yards/game), No.13 in pass defense (152 yards/game) and No.6 in sacks (4/game).
Mack Brown has imbued his team with belief and confidence. His players have fully bought in and are playing hard for him—even in their close losses in the last two weeks. They have rallied in the second half in all four of their games, so they will not give up and roll over, even if the Tigers lead by more than 20 points. In fact, the Heels have outscored their opponents in the 4th quarter this season by 36 points. It’s impossible not to like freshman QB Sam Howell, and they have some very capable backs.
However, as banged up as the Heels are, it will be tough for them to keep pace with a team that already has them overmatched at every position. I think Brent Venables will have a field day with that inexperienced offensive line and do everything he can to confuse the freshman quarterback with looks and post-snap movement he’s never seen. The Heels will need to win the turnover margin by at least 3 to have a chance, and that might not even be enough. Stranger things have happened—like the 2016 home loss to Pitt—but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Tigers dominate another nameless opponent, extending their school-record and nation-long active win streak to 20 games. They become the first team in 73 years to win 15 straight games by 14 points or more, tying the 1945-46 Georgia team for the second-longest such streak in the poll era.
The Prowl toward a 5th consecutive ACC Title, a 5th consecutive College Football Playoff appearance and 4th National Title continues…..
CLEMSON 48 North Carolina 13
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