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North Carolina at Clemson
October 25th, 2003
The Clemson Tigers are now at a serious crossroads in the 2003 season. Three straight losses have pushed the faith of the players and coaches, placing the Tigers in an emotional abyss as October begins to fade to November. The schedule lightens, however, and the opportunity to turn the 2003 season into a solid success is still a very possible and attainable goal. The Tigers will have the opportunity to steady the ship with a home date with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
North Carolina is coming off a 3-9 record in 2002 that culminated with a season-ending win over Duke (23-21) on a last second field goal by Dan Orner. The only other wins for the Tar Heels in the 2002 campaign were at Syracuse (30-22) and at Arizona State (38-35). The Tar Heels failed to win a home game in 2002, and with FSU, Syracuse, Virginia, and Arizona State the first 4 home games in 2003, it is possible that the Tar Heels won't have a legitimate shot at winning at home until November 8 versus Wake Forest.
Clemson defeated North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 2002 by a score of 42-12. Charlie Whitehurst was superb, leading the Tigers back after trailing in the first quarter. Airese Currie also had a big day for the Tigers, hauling in a 76 yard touchdown pass to revitalize a lethargic start to the game offensively for the Tigers. Head Coach John Bunting (11-14 in 2 years at UNC) fired Rod Broadway during the off season, hiring Brad Lawing in his place. The firing was a little surprising, considering Broadway was an North Carolina graduate and long time friend of Bunting.
Maybe this was a sign that Bunting felt a little heat for the 2002 record and the fact that the Tar Heels did not win a home game. This will be the 8th overall game and the 4th ACC contest for North Carolina in the 2003 season. The Tar Heels open the season hosting Florida State and Syracuse. North Carolina then hits the road for back to back games versus Wisconsin and N.C. State. The Tar Heels then return back home to host Virginia before going back on the road to play at East Carolina. On October 18th, the Tar Heels host Arizona State the week before the Clemson game.
|UNC quarterback Darian Durant threw for 2,123 yards in his first 8 games, which ranked him in the top 10 nationally for quarterback efficiency.|
On offense, Darian Durant returns after breaking his thumb against Virginia. Durant was putting up astonishing numbers before his injury. He had thrown for 2,123 yards in the first 8 games, which put him in the Top 10 nationally for quarterback efficiency. Tailback Jacque Lewis returns, but the Tar Heels were pitiful running the ball last year and the coaches will wait until summer practices begin before settling on a starting running back. Sam Aiken and Chelsey Borders are gone at wide receiver, so the Tar Heels will be searching for receivers to step up as big time ACC players. The Tar Heels do return 4 of 5 offensive lineman, including 6-6 308 pound senior Jeb Terry.
On defense, the Tar Heels return 8 starters from a defense that struggled mightily in 2002 because of having to play so many young players. The entire defensive front returns, with junior Jacques Dumas and sophomore Tommy Davis anchoring the end positions. The tackles are senior Donti Coats and junior Chase Page. Two linebackers return in junior Clarence Gaddy and sophomore Doug Justice. Dexter Reid returns to lead the secondary along with Michael Waddell. Reid is an All ACC free safety that will once again be asked to make a lot of tackles in the middle of the field. The kicking game returns intact as kicker Dan Orner returns along with punter John Lafferty.
North Carolina Strengths
Despite the struggles of UNC last year before and after his injury, Darian Durant proved to be a very solid quarterback in 2002. His individual statistics proved that, despite the fact that the Tar Heels were not winning games. We will find out in 2003 whether Durant steps up to be an All ACC quarterback or not, but I expect him to be very effective one way or another.
The offensive line took a lot of heat for the poor running game in 2002, but they were not entirely to blame. North Carolina never developed a legitimate running back last year, and when you add to that the fact that the Tar Heels fell behind in so many games, the running game was statistically pitiful. But the offensive line is a strength in 2003, with experienced and talented players at all the positions.
Defensively, the Tar Heels should be improved. The front seven is very experienced and talented, even if they are still young overall. Dexter Reid is the kind of safety that opposing quarterbacks must always keep an eye on. I would be very surprised if North Carolina is not much improved from 2002 overall on defense, despite a couple of weaknesses listed below. The kicking game is in good hands, and Orner proved he has a clutch leg in the Duke game to finish the season.
North Carolina Weaknesses
The long ago days of North Carolina producing NFL running backs seems really far away. A quick scan of the roster yields no "big" names at running back for the Tar Heels. Jacque Lewis ran for only 574 yards last year, and it is uncertain if he is the man to carry the load in 2003. True freshman Ronnie McGill was impressive in the spring game, and Kentucky transfer Chad Scott will also get a close look. Until proven otherwise, however, the Tar Heels lack playmakers at the running back position. Durant needs a couple of receivers to distinguish themselves as well.
Junior Jarwarski Pollock seems solid, if unspectacular. Brandon Russell and Derrele Mitchell also appear to be average at best. The Tar Heels signed two highly touted wide receivers in 2003 in Adarius Bowman and Jesse Holley, and the Tar Heel coaches have hinted that both may avoid red shirts. If the freshman don't shine, Durant will have few go-to options to throw at in the Fall.
As hard as it is to fathom, a head coach that was a NFL linebacker has a team that has no great linebackers. Doug Justice had a very good freshman season in 2002 with 97 tackles, the most by a UNC freshman in 12 years. Clarence Gaddy was also solid in 2002, but more is needed from both in 2003. Beyond those two, the rest of the Tar Heel linebackers are a mystery to most.
The Tigers will be at an emotional crossroads when facing the Tar Heels, so it will be very interesting to see how the team reacts to the losses that precede this game. This game becomes a must win game for Clemson, even if North Carolina does not match up equally with the Tigers.
The schedule for the Tar Heels is simply brutal before the Clemson game. Other than East Carolina, there are no games the Tar Heels will be favored in. It is very possible that North Carolina enters Death Valley with a 1-6 record, something that may have the Tar Heels quitting on Bunting similar to last year.
Clemson had its way with the Tar Heels in 2002, something the Tigers did few times last year with other teams. Clemson should have plenty of confidence, something that will be sorely needed for a 4-3 football team.
Clemson will be favored in the 10-13 point range against the Tar Heels.
Clemson routs the Tar Heels to the tune of 35-14. Simply put, the Tigers are a better team from top to bottom and a big win in this one will help start the momentum swing back to the positive side. In addition, when you consider that Clemson will be playing in front of a big and friendly crowd in Death Valley, there's little doubt that this will be a big Tiger win.
Clemson moves to 5-3 on the year and 2-3 in the ACC. The Tigers will also remain unranked. The team will pass a big test against the Tar Heels, avoiding throwing in the towel on the season. It is the kind of turnaround that is desperately needed to make a strong run to the finish.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott and CUTigers.com publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the CUTigers.com Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays.