Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

UNC Gashed on the Ground by Clemson

Clemson wore down the UNC defense with 56 carries for 319 yards.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For 12 games this season, the North Carolina defense bent against the run, but didn’t break.

In the second half of UNC’s 45-37 ACC Championship Game loss to Clemson, the defense finally snapped.

The Tigers gashed the Tar Heels on the ground for 319 yards, including 170 by sophomore running back Wayne Gallman in the second half.

This was the eighth time this season that Carolina allowed more than 200 yards on the ground in a game, and the third time that an opponent rushed for more than 300 yards.

“I think they were just doing a good job of moving the gaps on us,” said senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad after the game. “We just weren’t quick to respond in getting to the new gaps we had to get to as we’d like to be.”

Clemson racked up 118 yards on the ground in the first half, 99 of which coming from the legs of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson burned Carolina on both designed rushes and scrambles consistently, putting his offense on his back after a stretch where UNC forced consecutive 3-and-outs.

“He’s able to throw the ball and run it, he makes great decisions with the football,” said Rashad. “He’s a really great player, and there’s a reason he’s a candidate for the Heisman. We had to focus on stopping him in different ways and we weren’t able to get that done tonight.”

In the second half, Gallman carried the load with 8.9 yards per carry and a touchdown. He consistently beat Carolina to the edge and accelerated to the second level.

“Between Gallman and Deshaun Watson, I mean, they stretch you with their receivers, horizontally, and created seams in the defense,” said UNC head coach Larry Fedora after the game. “If you don’t fit exactly where you’re supposed to or you miss a tackle, they’re going to have a big play.”

Fitting gaps has been an issue for North Carolina all season. After the Duke game, in which the Tar Heels gave up a season-high 327 yards, Rashad cited the same problem for the Blue Devils’ success.

“It’s just fitting the gaps right,” Rashad said after the win against Duke. “They did a good job of kind of moving guys around and moving our gaps, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it’s nothing that we’re not capable of fitting out the right way. We’ve just got to make sure we’re fitting those things right and I think we’ll knock off a couple hundred rushing yards.”

A month later, those deficiencies against the run still linger for Carolina. The Tar Heels showed flashes of progress, holding Miami to 99 rushing yards and Virginia Tech to 130 rushing yards.

In the end, however, North Carolina’s inability to stop the run finally halted its 11-game win streak and cost the program its first ACC title in 35 years.

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