Clemson Looks to Reverse Losing Trend

Inside Carolina takes an in-depth look at Clemson, as North Carolina will travel to Death Valley this weekend and attempt to secure its first road win over the Tigers since 2001.

Clemson Intro
Perhaps UNC head coach Larry Fedora said it best when he called this Clemson football team “really good.” The Tigers opened the season with high expectations, but got off on the wrong foot by getting outplayed in a 45-21 loss to then-No. 12 Georgia. A mere two weeks later, the Tigers suffered a crushing overtime loss to top-ranked – and ACC Atlantic Division rival -- Florida State. The Tigers missed multiple field goals and fumbled late in the fourth quarter as they drove into Seminoles territory. Florida State was playing without reigning Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston (suspended for making lewd comments on campus), but the Tigers’ defense played well and the offense was competitive despite leaving points on the field. Even though the Tigers are 1-2, they’ve lost to a pair of top-15 teams and are still considered to be the second-best team in the ACC. Fedora told reporters on Monday this game would be tougher for his team than last week’s game against East Carolina. That’s a scary proposition considering how easily ECU handled the Tar Heels.

The big news this week came when Swinney named true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson the starter for Saturday’s game. Watson was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and has been gradually integrated into the offense as this season has progressed. The dual-threat option entered Saturday night’s game against Florida State on the third series and played the rest of the way, completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards. Watson also had 12 carries for 30 yards and a rushing touchdown, and picked up ACC Rookie of the Week honors for his efforts. The talented signal caller has two young targets that possess a dangerous combination of speed and size in true freshman Artavis Scott (10 catches, 239 yards, 2 TD) and sophomore Mike Williams (9 catches, 243 yards). On the ground, the Tigers boast four backs with fifteen or more carries that have combined to average just over 4.5 yards per carry. With two skilled receivers, a skilled dual-threat quarterback, and a balanced running back platoon, this is an offense that can beat you in a multitude of ways.

This defense might be Clemson’s best in years. The unit placed a trio of seniors (defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, defensive end Vic Beasley, and linebacker Stephone Anthony) on the 2014 preseason all-ACC first team. The Tigers front seven has been stout against the run, surrendering a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. This defense has proven its worth on third down, as opponents have only converted 11 of 43 chances (26 percent). Yes, Clemson has given up a combined 68 points to the Seminoles and Bulldogs, although another stat of note is that the Tigers have allowed 821 total yards of offense through three games.

“They’re good. They’re really good… Clemson didn’t get beat in that game [vs Florida State]; they had a lot of opportunities to win that game. They were every bit as good the other night as Florida State was. I think Florida State would probably tell you the same thing.” – Fedora

“There's about six things that went wrong, and let's just get one of the six things right, we win the ball game. The effort we played with didn't change. The only thing that changed is the way we feel right now. I felt like we should have scored 31 points. That's how I felt." – Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris told The Post and Courier

Notable Matchups
Clemson Defensive End Vic Beasley vs. UNC Left Tackle John Ferranto
There’s not a lot to say about Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley that hasn’t already been said. He likely would have been a first round pick had he made the jump to the NFL last spring, and he has the potential to go top-10 in next year’s draft. Beasley plays almost exclusively on the right side, which means that it will be up to UNC left tackle John Ferranto to try and contain him. Beasley ( 9 tkl, 5.0 TFL, 4 sacks) is listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, but his unique blend of power, speed and freakish athleticism has made him the bane of any tackle that has tried to get in the way of him and opposing quarterbacks. Leaving Ferranto to face Beasley one-on-one would be a dangerous proposition, so look for UNC to provide help in pass protection while also scheming around the talented end.

Watson vs. UNC’s Second Level
Any thought that Watson would wilt under the bright lights on the road against Florida State on Saturday night was quickly dispelled. Once the true freshman came into the game, he never came out. Watson certainly played well enough to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, and he’s improved every time he’s taken the field this season. In three games, Watson has attempted just 41 passes, but has been incredibly accurate, completing over 70 percent of them. Watson’s numbers carrying the ball haven’t quite matched his talent (he’s averaging just 2.1 yard per carry), but on Saturday he showed what can happen when a defense ignores his ability to tuck it and run. Another issue for UNC’s defensive coaching staff is that there is not a substantial amount of tape on a player that is making his first career start. The Tar Heels’ young secondary has shown glimpses of potential, but the fundamental breakdowns in the form of poor tackling led to an embarrassment in Greenville last weekend. More of the same could lead to a similar result in Death Valley.

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