5 Keys To Tarring The Heels

Clemson travels to Chapel Hill to play a vastly different North Carolina Tarheel team than it faced a year ago in Death Valley. The Heels are 2-7 overall and 0-5 in the ACC; and on the verge of imploding completely under 2nd year coach John Bunting after getting plastered 59-7 by Maryland last Saturday.

Clemson (5-4, 3-3) is coming off a 34-31 win over Duke where the Tigers were led by redshirt freshman quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

Here are my 5 keys for the Tigers in the game Saturday.

Beware The Cornered Ram
There is no question that there is turmoil in Chapel Hill after last weeks embarrassing loss to Maryland on, of all things, Homecoming. 40,000 Tar Heel fans braved a sunny, beautiful day to watch most of the first half of the whipping at the hands of the Terps (Keenan Stadium holds over 60,000).

It is times like these that a team either flat out quits on its coaching staff, or rallies behind them. While the Tar Heels are not the most talented team in the conference (and not as talented as Clemson) they are good enough to beat the Tigers if they play with intensity and inspiration. If the Tar Heels have not given up on their season and approach the game like a Ram backed into a corner, this could be a trap the Tigers are walking into Saturday.

On the other hand, Clemson should feel like the hunted. It should not be too hard for the coaches to remind the team of the embarrassment the Tar Heels put to Clemson on its sunny Homecoming day last year.

Rushing…We'll Settle For Half
To even waste keystrokes reminding you all that Clemson has been anemic running the football this year is a disservice to your intelligence. You know the problem, we all don't have an answer, and we all have resigned ourselves that the answer is not coming this year.

However, the Tar Heel run defense is head and shoulders the worst that Clemson will face this year. The Heels are last in the conference in rushing defense. The Heels are a miserable 112 out of 117 Division I-A football teams in the nation in rushing defense. The Heels give up a bruising 235 yards per game on the ground. There is nothing pretty about any of those statistics.

But, to expect the Tigers to be able to run against the Heels would be a similar parallel to the Clemson/Virginia game. Regardless of what Clemson's opponents give up on the ground per game, the Tigers are simply not going to achieve those averages…period.

So, we must be happy to split the difference. If Clemson can run for half of what North Carolina has been giving up on the ground this year the Tigers will be in good shape Saturday. For those of you that are mathematically challenged, that would be 118 yards rushing. That is the benchmark to shoot for, now let's see if we can get there.

Charlie Ballgame
Charlie Whitehurst was magnificent throughout the game Saturday in Durham, especially in the 2nd half as the Tigers rallied from a 14-point deficit. It has been easy for folks to anoint Whitehurst as a Godsend…and maybe that is exactly what he is.

But one game, especially against Duke, does not make ones career. Whitehurst now has the burden of expectations to deal with as he has earned the starting role at quarterback. He seems to have his head on correctly, so I would imagine he would be just as calm and collective this week as last.

The interesting thing to watch will be how teams defense Clemson differently with Whitehurst as the quarterback. The North Carolina coaches certainly saw on film that Whitehurst is a quarterback that is willing to sit in the pocket for as long as it takes to find an open receiver. This is completely unlike Willie Simmons or Woody Dantzler, Clemson's last two starting quarterbacks. Will the game planning be different? Will teams blitz more to try and confuse and disrupt Charlie? Can a team afford to drop 8 men back into coverage if the quarterback is willing to sit and wait for the receivers to find a window while not being pressured? All questions that, to some degree, will be answered Saturday.

Don't Be Aiken Saturday
North Carolina does not have many difference makers on offense this year. But, the one that they do have is a very good football player. Sam Aiken leads the league in several categories with 50 catches for 827 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also is ranked 9th in the league in all-purpose yards, averaging 94.3 yards per game.

Justin Miller and/or Brian Mance will have their hands full containing Aiken from making enough big plays to give the Tar Heels the win Saturday. As with all playmakers, keeping them in front of you at all times will be the #1 key. Miller and Mance have done an exceptional job in doing that throughout the year (minus the throwback pass for a touchdown last week against Duke).

If you can keep Sam Aiken from getting easy scores for the Tar Heels, I would imagine they will have a tough time mounting long drives for touchdowns all day long on the Tigers. Aiken holds many of the keys to the Tar Heel offense…just don't let him use them.

Wynn Kopp will go into the game Saturday versus the Tar Heels with a rarity for him. He will have better statistics punting than his counterpart John Lafferty. Lafferty was temporarily benched last week versus Maryland for his poor punting, and he averages only 36 yards a punt with a low trajectory.

As we saw last week, field position is a key part to a win. Clemson, and Kopp, did a nice job in creating a long field for the Blue Devils through most of the game. Clemson needs to do the same Saturday against an offense that has had trouble scoring on quick plays.

The flip side of that is the Tiger punt return team. Whether it will be Derrick Hamilton or Brian Mance returning kicks, the Tigers are due to break one for a score. Hamilton almost did it last week, and he would have had he gotten one more downfield block. With Lafferty kicking short and low, the Tigers should have an opportunity to get some cheap points on the Tar Heels.

Although I don't like the bowl talk that has permeated the Clemson camp this week, I think the Tigers mental state is in about as good of shape as it has been since the Virginia loss. The one thing Charlie Whitehurst did for the Clemson team is instill a little bit of confidence. Confidence that was sorely needed following the drubbing the Tigers were handed against NC State.

Still, it would be surprising to me if the Tar Heels come in and lay an egg Saturday. It is their last home game of the year, and I would imagine that the players will be excited to play Clemson and notch their first ACC win.

Clemson, on the other hand, has a ton to play for, including the qualification of a bowl. To see how Charlie Whitehurst will react to his 2nd start, is worth the trip to Chapel Hill in itself.

Clemson wins, but not without a struggle.

Clemson 27 North Carolina 17

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