Clemson vs. North Carolina Analysis & Prediction

With two huge road wins under their belt, the Tigers will return to Death Valley Saturday afternoon for another big game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. At stake, a possible BCS birth and 2nd place in the ACC. The focus again will be on Heisman candidate Woodrow Dantzler. Can he continue to perform at such a high level?

The North Carolina Tar Heels, fresh off of 4 straight wins after opening the season 0-3, will present a multitude of problems on both sides of ball for the Tigers this Saturday afternoon.

If you happened to see the UNC-Oklahoma game earlier this year, then you know that the Tar Heels can play with anybody in the country. After being completely dismantled in the first quarter of that game with turnovers and special team mishaps, North Carolina responded by taking it to the Sooners, outscoring Oklahoma 20-0 the rest of the game.

After tough road losses to Texas and Maryland, the Heels responded by beating Florida State, East Carolina, N.C. State, and Virginia. The defense has started to resemble those employed by Carl Torbush and Mack Brown in the mid to late 90's, big plays and strong play on the defensive line and the secondary have led the Heels back to respecatability. While the offense has remained a bit inconsistent, Curry and Durant & company have done just enough to get a win for 4 consecutive games.

Last Season
With Clemson steamrolling out of the gates to a 7-0 record, North Carolina stunned the Tigers by jumping out to a quick 17-0 lead. The Clemson offense was frustrated for most of the first half, as Julius Peppers and company were able to contain Woody Dantzler and limit the big play opportunities of Rod Gardner and Travis Zachary.

After Woody left the game with an ankle injury, Willie Simmons got into the action, threw 4 touchdown passes, and the Tigers walked out of Kenan Stadium with a 14-point win. It marked the second consecutive year that the Tigers' backup quarterback led Clemson to a win over UNC.

Saturday's game will feature a battle of strengths and weaknesses. In other words, the Tigers' offense against the UNC defense should make for some serious fireworks, both units are confident and have proven themselves this season, while the Tigers' defense matching up with the Tar Heels' offense will feature two struggling units still searching for an identity.

The North Carolina Offense
Coach John Bunting removed much of the complexity in the blocking schemes after the slow start to the season, and then inserted back up quarterback Darian Durant into the line up. The combination of the two has led to an improbably turn around in the Tar Heels' season.

TB Andre Williams has become UNC's biggest threat in the backfield and he'll be running behind an offensive line that has really started to gel as of late.

The key to the game lies right there in that statement.

If North Carolina is able to run the ball effectively and eat up the clock, they could very well stroll out of Death Valley with the upset. With a big homecoming crowd expected Saturday, it will be important for the Heels to establish some early momentum behind a good running game and a couple of first downs.

A strong ground attack will also relieve pressure off of the Tar Heels' two quarterbacks, Ronald Curry and Darian Durant. Curry has shown little consistency in moving this team, and Durant seems to provide a much needed spark when he enters the game. Curry is the better scrambler, while Durant seems to have more touch and accuracy on his passes.

If the Tigers' can somehow put these guys in 3rd down and long situations consistently, it should pave the way for a big Clemson victory. However, if Williams starts pounding on the secondary 15-yards down field, and Curry or Durant start working their play-action magic, it could create some serious problems for the Clemson defense, and another shootout.

Statisically speaking, the Tigers' defense is currently ranked #59 in the country, while the North Carolina offense ranks even worse at #82. Whichever unit can step up their play Saturday will probably win the game.

The North Carolina Defense
In the past two games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, the Tigers have scored 92 points and rolled up 1,104 yards in offense.

Don't be fooled, the real test of the season will be this weekend when North Carolina brings in one of the most talented defensive units in the ACC to Death Valley. UNC has a defense that has speed all over the place and a sort of toughness to back up the swagger that has returned over the last 4 games.

"Their defense is really good so I think consistently moving the ball on offense is going to be the key. Their team is playing with a lot of confidence and they're starting to get some of their swagger back when they went 10-1 with Mack Brown," said Tommy Bowden in his weekly press conference.

It's also no secret that DE Julius Peppers is the real deal. He already has 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks on the year. He consistently makes the big play and always commands a double team.

"I've been around some great defensive linemen in my career at Alabama and Auburn and he (Peppers) is right up there with them. You know where he is all the time. The problem is how much do you alter your package to account for him," said Tommy Bowden.

The rest of UNC's defensive line is quick off the ball and should provide a big challenge for the Tigers' offense. DTs Ryan Sims and Will Chapman will try to get an inside push on passing plays and force Woody or Zachary right into the arms of defensive ends Julius Peppers and Joey Evans. If you see Peppers camping out in the backfield Saturday afternoon, it could make for a long day.

North Carolina also possesses two physical cornerbacks in Errol Hood and Michael Waddell. These guys will get up in your face and hit you in the mouth.

Linebacker David Thornton is North Carolina's top tackler with 74, while Quincy Monk, another linebacker, has 65 stops on the season. Both guys have a great nose for the football and get in on a ton of plays.

The Tar Heels held both Florida State and Oklahoma to less than 300 total yards of offense.

The Tigers have trailed North Carolina in the 2nd half each of the last two seasons, but somehow have managed to win the game, and win it convincingly.

On the other hand, North Carolina has faced both Texas and Oklahoma on the road this year, so they will be well prepared for a hostile environment.

The main cause for concern in this game has to be the Tar Heels' defense. Holding Florida State and N.C. State, two of the more explosive offenses in the ACC, to only 9 points apiece is quite impressive.

They've got talent, they're physical, and they've got speed to burn at every position.

The good news is their offense is anything but earth-shattering. Curry has been inconsistent and their starting tailback is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry.

Look for North Carolina to do the same thing that was so effective last season for the first two quarters. They will contain Woody by taking away the quarterback draw and force him to win the game through the air.

Look for a lot of UNC defenders close to the line of scrimmage and watch their cornerbacks try to jam the Tigers' receivers to force them out of their short routes.

In the grand scheme of things, it won't really matter because the Tar Heels' offense won't be able to put up enough points to stay in this one for 4 quarters. A healthy dose of Travis Zachary and a couple of long balls down the field to Airese Currie or Matt Bailey will keep the defense honest and make for some longer than normal scoring drives by the Tigers' offense.

It would be foolish to believe that Woody could keep up the maddening pace he has been on the past two games, but that's not necessarily something to concern yourself with.

Everyone in the country is forgetting about the rest of the Tigers' offense and thats just fine. Offensively, there is a ton of talent all over the field for the Tigers, and you just have the feeling that somebody will step up and be the big-play, go-to guy.

The emergence of Derrick Hamilton at wide receiver and the steadiness of Travis Zachary will be the quiet storm that elevates the Tigers to the win in this one.

If Roscoe can play, it will just give the North Carolina defense one more player to worry about and put the Tigers in an even better position to pull out the win.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Woody try a few long balls down the field to loosen up the defense early. Watch for this in the 1st quarter, and if he happens to connect on a couple, lookout. It could be a long day for the Tar Heels.

Defensively, look for Clemson to try and contain the UNC quarterbacks, and challenge the North Carolina offense more with the blitzes.

John Leake is the name you'll remember after Saturday.

Woody will have another solid game, the defense will step it up a notch and the Tigers will escape with another double-digit victory over the Heels.

Clemson 34 North Carolina 20 Top Stories