Tigers hope to stay unbeaten

To say the least, Clemson freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins is playing well beyond his years.

Watkins and the eighth-ranked Tigers seek their best start in 11 seasons when they host ACC rival North Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson (7-0, 4-0), which opened the 2000 season with eight consecutive victories, is on the verge of matching that start following a 56-45, come-from-behind win at Maryland last weekend.

The Tigers trailed by as many as 18 points in the third quarter before rallying behind Watkins' tremendous second half. Watkins caught two touchdown passes and put Clemson up for good with less than eight minutes remaining with an 89-yard kickoff return for a score.

With 207 return yards, eight receptions for 105 yards and a 33-yard run, Watkins compiled 345 all-purpose yards - breaking C. J. Spiller's school record and posting the fourth-highest single-game total in ACC history.

"He looks like spider-man. The ball just sticks to his hands," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He has great hands and attacks the football better than anyone I've ever seen. He has great body control and when you put that with his type of mentality and the fact that he has gifted hands, you have a fantastic player. When he gets his grip on it, it's over. He's special."

Watkins, whose eight touchdown receptions are tied with North Carolina's Dwight Jones for the ACC lead, ranks second in the conference with 728 receiving yards.

"Obviously, Sammy Watkins is talented, fast, athletic, all those things," Tar Heels coach Everett Withers said. "Maybe one of the best, if not the best, player in the country right now with all the things he can do."

Watkins is only one of many players thriving in Clemson's potent offense, which is averaging 38.0 points per game.

Tajh Boyd threw four of his conference-leading 19 touchdowns last week against Maryland while Andre Ellington gained a career-high 212 yards on the ground, finding the end zone twice.

"We're playing a top-10 team this week with a very, very explosive offense," Withers said. "(The) quarterback's playing really well (and they) got a heck of a tailback."

While Clemson's offense shined, the Tigers surrendered their highest point total since 2003 - an issue defensive coordinator Kevin Steele knows needs to be resolved.

"That's on me. I take full responsibility for it and I'll get it fixed," Steele said. "Occasionally, you've got one that looks so ugly you don't ever want to remember it. But you've got to remember it, because if you don't study it and get better, it will bite you again."

The Tigers will look to slow down Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner, a sophomore who leads the ACC in both completion percentage (75.3 percent) and passer rating (174.1).

"North Carolina is another tough challenge for us this week," Swinney said. "They're as good as anyone we've played up to this point. They're a really good football team that's capable of beating anyone on any given day.

"They have a lot of future NFL players on their roster. They have a lot of guys that we recruited. They're a good team that plays hard and doesn't give up."

After getting outscored 17-0 in the first quarter last Saturday, the Tar Heels' second-half rally fell short in a 30-24 loss to Miami. North Carolina (5-2, 1-2) fumbled three times - losing two - and surrendered four sacks for the second consecutive week.

"It doesn't matter what game it is, whether it's a past game that you made a mistake, you're trying to correct them each week," Withers said. "I think the mistakes that we made (Saturday) were critical."

Renner completed 29 of 37 passes for a career-high 288 yards and two scores while redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard ran for 110 yards - his fifth consecutive 100-yard effort - and a TD. Bernard is one 100-yard game away from matching Amos Lawrence's school freshman record set in 1977.

Bernard's 109.6 rushing yards per game rank third in the conference, just ahead of Ellington's 105.7. Bernard is tied for 10th in the nation with nine rushing touchdowns.

Clemson had taken five of six meetings in this series before falling 21-16 at North Carolina on Oct. 9, 2010.

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