5 Keys to Taming the Tar Heels

Clemson will try to stay afloat for a bowl bid Saturday afternoon as the Tigers host North Carolina at 12:00 on a Jefferson Pilot telecast. Both teams have exchanged blowout wins on each other's home field the past two years.

UNC defeated Clemson 38-3 in Death Valley in 2001 and Clemson returned the favor in Chapel Hill by the tune of 42-12 last year.

Tommy Bowden is 3-1 versus the Tar Heels, including a 2-0 mark in Chapel Hill. The Tigers have won 12 of the last 17 meetings between the two teams, but the Tigers had lost 3 in a row to the Tar Heels prior to Tommy Bowden's arrival in Clemson.

Darian Durant certainly won't be intimidated by Death Valley, as he is coming of an 11-11 performance through the air in 2001, which ranks as the highest perfect game passing in Death Valley history.

Here are my 5 keys to the Tigers winning this pivotal ACC match up Saturday.

Where's Your Head?
The number one concern heading into this game with North Carolina is the mind-set of this Clemson team. Clemson has played well after the other two losses of the season (Furman after the Georgia loss and Virginia after the Maryland loss) and the coaches and players will once again be tested to mentally be ready to play Saturday.

This game, however, has all the trappings of a let down. After the Georgia game, Clemson had to prove that it was a decent football team against Furman. The Tigers had plenty to play for in that 2nd week of the season and they took care of business against the Paladins.

After the Maryland loss, the Tigers had a huge ACC game against a top 25 Virginia team they felt they owed after two straight heartbreaking losses to the Cavaliers.

This week, the Tigers don't have those above motivational factors. Clemson whipped North Carolina in Chapel Hill last year, and the Tar Heels have not shown any reason why they can win in Clemson with anything they have done this year.

This is where coaching and senior leadership plays a huge role in the outcome of a game. Let's see what happens….

Darian's Dance
Darian Durant has been the sparkling gem on an otherwise dismal football team this year. In fact, Durant was posting similar numbers last year for North Carolina before he got hurt.

This year, Durant has rushed for 311 yards and passed for 1495 yards and 10 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions. Combined, Durant is averaging over 240 yards a game in total offense as possibly the most explosive quarterback in the ACC.

Fortunately for Clemson, the Tigers did not have to face Durant last year. That will not be the case this year as Durant will be the focal point for the North Carolina offense that is averaging over 375 yards a game.

Despite the perception that Durant is a dual threat quarterback (which he is to a degree), Durant has hurt teams by throwing the ball, not running. His running ability forces defenses to protect against his scrambling ways, which in turn opens up some holes in the secondary. The Tiger defensive backs will be tested this week, take that to the bank. Let's see if they can make some plays to help the Tigers get a big win.

What Discipline?
Clemson has all of a sudden forgotten how to walk the line between aggressive play and stupid play. After almost costing Clemson the game against Virginia with personal foul penalties, Clemson DID lose the game in Raleigh with undisciplined play on several occasions.

Nobody wants to curtail the enthusiasm, but the bravado by several players (Justin Miller included) topped with the over aggressiveness of late hits can spell disaster on any give week in the ACC.

There has to be a funnel to that enthusiasm and the coaching staff must instill the importance of playing smart football against a team that is not as good as you are.

3rd Quarter Blues
Statistically, Clemson has been outscored 34-9 in the 3rd quarter this year. The 34 points given up is not alarming in itself, especially considering Virginia accounted for half of those 34 points 2 weeks ago.

The bigger concern in the 9 points that the Tigers have mustered in 7 games this year. Clemson has come out of the gate in the 2nd half slow in every single game this year, including the biggest win of the year at Georgia Tech.

Clemson must turn that around, whatever the problem is. Clemson may have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Tar Heels in the 3rd quarter and make for a easy 2nd half. OR, the Tar Heels can seize on the lackluster 3rd quarter play by the Tigers and stay in the game for longer than they should Saturday.

Obviously, we could do without the stress of worrying if Darian Durant can beat the Tigers single handedly in the 2nd half. Clemson needs to lay down the law in the 3rd quarter Saturday.

Success In The Unsuccessful
At this stage of the season, Clemson could do itself a big favor by doing something good that they have yet to do good all season long. If Clemson can succeed in an area that they have struggled in most of the year, it will give more headaches to those that have to prepare for the Tigers as the season wears down.

Teams become very predictable this time of year, and keeping an element of surprise can mean the difference in winning and losing some tight games against equal talent. North Carolina may not be as talented as Clemson, so it would be nice if Clemson could achieve success in an area that the Tigers have struggled in so far this year.

For example, maybe the Tigers can control the line of scrimmage this week and rush for 200 yards. Maybe Clemson can throw the ball to the tight ends numerous times and maybe they can catch it. Maybe Clemson can make a 45-yard field goal. Maybe the Tigers can block a punt or field goal. Maybe the Tiger secondary can force a few interceptions.

Whatever the situation, if Clemson can do something that it has not been able to do all year, it will force defensive coordinators to spend time preparing for the Tigers differently than they have all year.

Prediction
On paper, one could expect a pretty easy afternoon for Clemson. The Tigers dominated the game in Chapel Hill last year, and the Tar Heels are not a decidedly improved team this year. Clemson, on the other hand, seems to be a better football team at this point right now than they were 365 days ago.

But, similar to last Thursday, games are not won on paper and North Carolina is more than good enough to win Saturday if Clemson lays an egg. While I don't think the Tar Heels will win Saturday, I would not be shocked if this game is still undecided well into the 4th quarter.

And just like last Thursday, I think this game is lower scoring than most are going to predict. Clemson could sure use a big win to allow some of the younger players to get some playing time (especially Chansi).

However, I don't think we get that luxury Saturday…even though we win.

Rhymer's Prediction
Clemson 27 North Carolina 17

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