The Final Breakdown

For Clemson to remain undefeated, the Tigers must get past a North Carolina team that's suffered two losses by a combined total of 13 points.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson vs. North Carolina
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (82,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 22 (12 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -10.5
TV: ESPN

Led by interim head coach Everett Withers, North Carolina [5-2, 1-2 ACC] lost 35-28 at Georgia Tech and 30-24 to Miami.

Withers served as the Tar Heels' defensive coordinator for three years under Butch Davis, who was relieved of his duties as head coach shortly before the season started.

Under the direction of third-year head coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson [7-0, 4-0 ACC] debuted at No. 7 in the BCS on Sunday, marking the school's first appearance since Nov. 22, 2009, when the Tigers were 18th in the standings.

North Carolina defense's, particularly up front, is loaded with talent. And the Clemson offense is firing on all cylinders. The Tar Heels rank 24th nationally in scoring defense with 20.14 points allowed per contest while the Tigers' offense is scoring 38 points a game, which is 21st in the country.

Can Clemson stay in the ranks of the unbeaten, or will North Carolina play spoiler and wreck an orange and purple push for the BCS title game?

CUTigers examines those questions and more below:

CLEMSON RUNNING GAME VS. UNC FRONT SEVEN
Last week, Clemson dealt the first blow to Maryland by going to the ground game against a young Terrapin front. The Tigers eventually delivered the knock-out punch with a 44-yard scoring run by Andre Ellington, who finished the night with a career-best 212 yards.

This week will likely be a different story as yards will be at a premium against a North Carolina run defense that's 26th in the country with an average of 108.43 yards allowed per game.


The Clemson ground game will be tested in a major way Saturday against a North Carolina defense that is one of the best in the country against the run. (Roy Philpott)
Tydreke Powell and Sylvester Williams hold down the middle of the line at tackle. Quinton Coples, Kareem Martin and Donte Paige-Moss occupy the ends.

All four will continue their football careers in the NFL and the guys behind them aren't too shabby either.

Weak-side linebacker Zach Brown has a team-high 46 tackles. Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick is second with 36.

Darius Lipford and Travis Hughes also contribute at linebacker. Lipford is now the starter on the strong-side with the dismissal of Ebele Okakpu.

That's a lot of Sunday talent.

Clemson has run the ball with success this season, especially last week at Maryland, and should continue to do so over the final half of the schedule.

However this could be the blip on the radar. Maryland played as man as five freshmen on defense last week while the Heels are a seasoned bunch.

The Tigers could struggle to keep the clock running if the clock needs to bleed late in the game. Clemson will rack up yards and put up points on Saturday, but we don't see much happening on the ground.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASSING GAME VS. UNC PASS RUSH, SECONDARY
Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the rest of the Clemson wide receivers have to be licking their chops. This weekend they'll face a North Carolina pass defense that's among the worst in the ACC.

The Tar Heels' pass efficiency defense rating of 134.61 is 81st in the country and 10th in the conference.

Boyd, who currently owns a rating of 159.79, is 13th in the country and third in the ACC. He also averages 287.43 pass yards a game, which is tops in the ACC and 16th in the nation.


Tajh Boyd leads the ACC in passing yards, with 287 per game through the first seven games this season. (Roy Philpott)
Rutgers threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns.

Virginia had 298 yards passing and a score.

East Carolina totaled 417 yards and two touchdowns, and Miami threw for 267 yards and three scores.

We could be looking at another 300-yard performance from Boyd, not to mention a few more touchdown strikes.

Names like Matt Merletti, Jabari Price, Charles Brown, Gene Robinson and Jonathan Smith don't exactly jump off the page. Price [right cornerback] and Robinson [strong safety co-starter] are the only starters in the secondary who were rated as high as a three-stars coming out of high school.

Although North Carolina hasn't recruited high quality defensive backs, the Tar Heels have reeled in some top defensive ends.

Martin, a former four-star, was highly sought after by Clemson. He leads the team with four sacks. Coples, also a former four-star, is second among North Carolina defenders with 3.5 sacks. Paige-Moss, the No. 1 defensive end in the class of 2009, has struggled this season, but is still one of the most talented defensive ends Clemson will face.

Left tackle Phillip Price will have his hands full with Paige-Moss and Martin, both of whom line up at right defensive end. Price has been among the most consistent members of the Tigers' offensive line this season, so this should make for one of the best individual battles on Saturday.

If North Carolina elects to play its cornerbacks off the ball, as they did against Miami, Boyd should have a field day connecting on quick, intermediate passes to Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Jaron Brown and Dwayne Allen.

Clemson has the speed to take the ball deep and take the top off the North Carolina defense, which could help loosen things up in the Tigers' running game.

Could it be another big day for Sammy Watkins? Don't be surprised if he puts the biggest numbers of his young career if the Tar Heels don't show improvement with their secondary.
ADVANTAGE:

UNC RUNNING GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Redshirt freshman running back Giovani Bernard has rushed for over 100 yards in five-straight games.

The slight running back posses a nice blend of power and speed. Like so many other North Carolina starters, was highly sought after by Clemson, and for good reason, too. He's emerged as one of the premier running backs in the ACC with 767 yards and nine touchdowns this season.

Ryan Houston, his backup, is as good a second option you'll find in the conference. This season, he's rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns this season.


Giovani Bernard has emerged as one of the premier running backs in the ACC with 767 yards and nine touchdowns this season. (Getty Images)
One of several players suspended by the NCAA for part of the 2010 season, Houston elected to redshirt a year ago. As a junior in 2009, he rushed for a career-best 713 yards and nine touchdowns on 191 carries. Houston carried 77 times for 299 yards and a team-best eight rushing touchdowns as a sophomore in 2008.

Clemson defense can be vulnerable against the run. The Tigers have given up an average of 189 yards a game, which is 89th in the country.

Andre Branch leads the team with 46 tackles while Brandon Thompson has 41. Together, they account for half of what's one of the top defensive lines in the conference.

Still, as a whole, tackling has been an issue for the Clemson -- too often of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. Missed tackles won't cut it this week.

Statistically, North Carolina has been pretty mediocre with 159.86 yards per game. That's 55th, nationally. But the Tar Heels have the ability to put together, long sustaining drives, the kind that can be kept alive by missed tackles.

With the home field advantage, we give Clemson the nod here, but not by much.

ADVANTAGE:

UNC PASSING GAME VS. CLEMSON PASS RUSH, SECONDARY
Bryn Renner has established himself as one of the most efficient passers in the nation. The redshirt freshman ranks No. 7 nationally with a rating of 174.12.

His favorite target, wide receiver Dwight Jones, is another former prospect Clemson thought of highly Jones leads all North Carolina pass catchers with 46 receptions for 687 yards and eight touchdowns.


Earlier this week, Dwight Jones proclaimed himself the best wide receiver in the ACC. (Getty Images)
Earlier this week, he proclaimed himself the best wide receiver in the ACC. Before the season, we agreed with him. Then, we saw Sammy Watkins put on a college uniform. Still, Jones is among the league's top receivers and will be playing on Sundays next fall.

As much criticism as the Clemson pass defense has received this season, the group is a little bit better than some may credit. The Tigers rank 45th in the country in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 122.14.

Some of that credit goes to the pass rush.

Branch leads the team with eight sacks. The rest of the team has seven. Like those two, the rest of the front four, Malliciah Goodman and Rennie Moore, press the pocket very well, even though the sack numbers may not reflect it.

North Carolina has struggled to keep Renner on his feet. The Tar Heels allow 2.29 sacks per game, a figure that's 80th in the country.

Bernard has also been a factor in the passing game. He's second on the team with 28 receptions. Look for Renner to find Bernard as the safety valve when in the face of a heavy pass rush -- that could be dangerous for the Clemson defense.

A loud crowd should make defending Branch and company that much harder.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON SPECIAL TEAMS VS. UNC SPECIAL TEAMS
Watkins finally got loose on a kickoff return last week, but a second touchdown return in as many weeks could be tough for the No. 6 kickoff return man in the nation considering North Carolina ranks 29th in the country in kickoff return defense.


Chandler Catanzaro has shaken off a slow start to convert 10 of 12 field goals this year. (Roy Philpott)
Withers announced earlier this week that starting kicker Casey Barth will miss the remainder of the season with an injury, with hopes of getting him a medical waiver for next season. As a team, the Tar Heels have made just two of three field goal attempts.

North Carolina kickoff returner T.J. Thorpe ranks among the top returners in the ACC with 26.27 yards per return, which is 25th in the nation. Like their opponent, Clemson defends kickoffs well, too. The Tigers are 20th in the country in kickoff return defense.

Working in Clemson's favor is the presence of Chandler Catanzaro, who's knocked down 12 of 14 field goals this season. He and five others are tied for 11th in the country with 1.71 field goals per game.

Neither team should be able to swing the game with big-time returns. Too close to call.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 39 North Carolina 28


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