WHERE: Keenan Stadium (60,000) - Chapel Hill, N.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 9 (3:30 p.m. EST)
SPREAD: Tar Heels by 1
Since 1999, the first-year of former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, the Tigers have taken 5 of 6.
Dabo Swinney jumped out to a 2-0 start this season with wins over North Texas and Presbyterian before dropping two-straight against ranked teams (Auburn and Miami).
North Carolina coach Butch Davis dropped the first two of the season, a 30-24 loss to LSU and 30-24 to Georgia Tech.
It was an even rockier preseason for Davis, who could be on the hot seat amidst allegations of several improprieties surrounding his program. Several players have matriculated their way back onto the field after serving suspensions. A total of 13 were suspended or withheld before the season opener against LSU in the Georgia Dome, many of which were named to postseason award watch lists and voted to All-ACC preseason teams.
Former defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator John Blake departed because of his involvement with an NFL agent.
CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. NORTH CAROLINA FRONT
North Carolina's front isn't quite as intimidating without defensive end Robert Quinn and defensive tackle Marvin Austin, but it's still pretty good.
The Tar Heels played without starting weak-side linebacker Quan Sturdivant in last weekend's win over East Carolina because of a leg injury from the Rutgers game. It's a game time decision on whether North Carolina's leading tackler will play or not.
Like Sturdivant, strong-side linebacker Bruce Carter is an NFL-quality talent. His 55-yard interception return in the Rutgers game is the team's longest of the season
Andre Ellington currently leads the ACC in rushing (95 yards/game) and scoring (10 points/game). (Getty Images)
Two names familiar to those who follow Clemson recruiting, Kareem Martin and Ethan Farmer are respectively listed on the two deep at end and tackle. The freshman chose North Carolina over Clemson during the 2010 recruiting cycle.
Although North Carolina's run defense doesn't look good on paper—85th nationally, the numbers are slightly skewed because of the Georgia Tech's 372-yard output. Rutgers and East Carolina combined for 313 yards on 89 carries—3.5 yards per carry. LSU rushed for 162 on 36 total carries.
Led by the ACC's leading rusher Andre Ellington, the Clemson ground game ranks 28th nationally at 201 yards a game.
If Clemson is to have any kind of success on offense against North Carolina, it has to start on the ground. That means Ellington has to continue full-steam ahead and Jamie Harper has to rebound from less than stellar performances against Auburn and Miami.
The Tar Heel defense received a shot to the arm with last week's return of strong safety Da'Norris Searcy and will get another this week when free safety Deunta Williams makes his 2010 debut.
Against run-happy Georgia Tech, North Carolina held the Yellow Jackets to three field goals on four trips to the red zone. Georgia Tech opponents are 10 of 14 in the red zone, with six scores coming from field goals
Look for the Tar Heels to load up the box and force the Tigers to stretch the field.
NORTH CAROLINA RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT
Since the North Carolina's 24-yard rushing performance in the season opener against LSU, during which Shaun Draughn didn't play, the running game has been up and down. Up against the porous run defenses of Georgia Tech and East Carolina (143, 263) and down against Rutgers (91).
But Draughn and Johnny White both have managed to crack the top-10 among ACC rushing leaders, at fifth and sixth, respectively.
Shaun Draughn and Johnny White (pictured above) both have managed to crack the top-10 among ACC rushing leaders, at fifth and sixth, respectively. (Getty Images)
Solid days from Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson will be needed to keep the damage down.
Linebacker play has to improve, too. In 340 combined snaps, Corico Hawkins, Brandon Maye and Quandon Christian have a total of 25 tackles. A lot of that falls on Hawkins' shoulders in the middle. The sophomore has played the most snaps (204) and has just 14 tackles.
Even with eight runs of 10 yards or longer, the Clemson defense held Miami to 3.6 yards per carry, not only a season low for the Tigers, but also a sign of life.
Hawkins has started in only six games during his career. Maye missed the first two games with an injury and has just two games at the weak-side under his belt. Christian has been limited at the strong-side because to fit against opponents' schemes. He played a career-high 38 against Miami.
Saturday will provide a chance for another step in the right direction by the Clemson run defense, but could be a challenge against four returning starters on the North Carolina line.
CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. NORTH CAROLINA SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Five of the six turnovers in Clemson's loss to Miami came in the passing game. Kyle Parker threw three interceptions and fumbled on a sack. DeAndre Hopkins fumbled after a big third-down reception just shy of midfield.
Hopkins, along with Bryce McNeal, Jaron Brown and Marquan Jones has worked with the first-team wide receivers. Most fans were ready to see the two freshmen and Brown as three of the primary targets.
The insertion of freshman wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins into the starting lineup will be critical for Clemson's chances at Kenan Stadium. (Roy Philpott)
With Searcy and Williams back at the two safety positions, the North Carolina secondary almost back to full-strength. Searcy made an impact in his season debut against East Carolina with a 46-yard interception return.
The North Carolina pass defense ranks 21st nationally to go along with six interceptions. But the young cornerbacks could be just what Clemson needs—vulnerable targets on the perimeter.
The absence of Robert Quinn leaves behind a big hole in the Tar Heels' pass rush. Coples has half of the team total of six sacks. North Carolina is 86th in the country with 1.5 sacks a game.
Clemson's pass protection remained sturdy against a solid-Miami group that's second-best in the country and North Carolina's pass rush has been pretty mediocre without Quinn.
NORTH CAROLINA PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY, PASS RUSH
Before the season all the talk was about how fast Yates would lose his job. Now look at him. The senior is behind only Tyrod Taylor in the ACC's pass efficiency rankings with a 152.1 rating. Yates is also third in the conference with 251.5 yards a game. His 7:1 touchdowns to interceptions ratio speaks for itself.
It's amazing what one game can do for a guy's confidence. Against LSU, he hit 28 of 46 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns, nearly guiding the Tar Heels on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Against LSU, T.J. Yates hit 28 of 46 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns, nearly guiding the Tar Heels on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. (Getty Images)
If it's not the athletic Christian covering Pianalto, then it's likely up to one of the safeties, DeAndre McDaniel and Rashard Hall. Clemson should be handle the ACC's second-best receiver, in terms of receptions per game
Although the Tar Heels' offensive line is, for the most part a veteran group, North Carolina is 83rd in the country with just over two sacks allowed per game. The Tigers are 13th in the country with an average of three sacks a game, led by Da'Quan Bowers, who's averaged one a game.
North Carolina likes to take shots down field and Clemson has shown a knack for giving up the big play.
CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. NORTH CAROLINA SPECIAL TEAMS
North Carolina's return game doesn't rank very high in the country (44th punt returns, 66th kickoff returns). But Searcy's debut provided a spark. He returned a pair of kickoffs for 55 yards and three punts for 24 yards, one of which went for 20.
Dawson Zimmerman and the Clemson punt coverage team continues to be among the nation's best, checking in at second-best this week.
Marcus Gilchrist, a North Carolina native, averages 17 yards per punt return and almost 28 on kickoffs, numbers that special teams coordinator Andre Powell believes should be higher. (Roy Philpott)
Chandler Catanzaro has yet to attempt a field goal since overtime at Auburn. He's made all 17 extra-point attempts.
North Carolina's punt coverage team ranks 111th with almost 20 yards per return.
Gilchrist averages 17 yards per punt return and almost 28 on kickoffs, numbers that special teams coordinator Andre Powell believes should be higher. This week could be the week Gilchrist gets loose.
PREDICTION: Clemson 21 North Carolina 20