Charlotte — Entering Saturday it had been 35 years since the UNC football team last won an ACC Championship.
That number will now go to 36, as the nation’s number one team–the Clemson Tigers–defeated the No. 10 Tar Heels 45-37 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte behind an incredible effort from their star quarterback, sophomore Deshaun Watson.
Staking his claim for the Heisman Trophy, Watson absolutely annihilated UNC’s defense all game long–to the tune of 420 total yards and five touchdowns. For his efforts, he also took home the game’s MVP award.
Clemson now improves to 13-0 and will be a prime contender for the national championship.
The loss is the Tar Heels’ first since opening week, and second in Bank of America Stadium this year.
At 11-2, head coach Larry Fedora and his team will now have to wait and see where they will be headed this bowl season–with a trip to the College Football Playoff ruled out of the question now.
“Just a hell of a ballgame tonight,” Fedora said. “You know, Clemson was the better team tonight, and they did a heck of a job. Our guys fought all the way to the end and felt like we were in it all the way to the end. And I’m proud of the way we played.”
Watson’s counterpart, Tar Heel senior Marquise Williams, struggled mightily with the Tigers’ pass rush. Pressured consistently throughout the night, Williams completed just 11 of his 33 passes for 224 yards. He threw for three touchdowns, but also threw a crucial interception with his team threatening to re-take the lead in the third quarter.
“It’s tough,”Williams said. “Coming back into my hometown not being able to get a win.
“I’m excited the way we fought today,” he continued. “A lot of people thought we were going to come out here and just lay an egg, but we didn’t. We came out and fought to the end. That’s what I love about this team. So what I didn’t win?”
The running back matchup played out in a similar fashion.
UNC sophomore Elijah Hood rushed for 65 yards on 14 carries, while Clemson’s Wayne Gallman–also a sophomore–picked up 187 on 28 touches, with all but 17 of his yards coming in the second half.
However, UNC was able to put together a late rally after falling behind by three scores midway through the third quarter.
With just over a minute left in the game and trailing by eight points–following a 17-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer–UNC recovered an onside kick attempt near midfield.
For a moment, it appeared as if there might have been a chance.
The only problem was that the referees determined that one of the Tar Heels was offside–much to Fedora’s dismay.
“I had a chance to look at it,” the coach said after the game. “And they missed it. They were wrong. That’s all I’m going to say about it. They were wrong.”
For a good portion of the first two quarters UNC held the lead, but it simply could not hang on as the game progressed.
The Tigers showed why they have been the class of college football all year long by using their extreme talent and athleticism to take control. From a pure statistical standpoint, the Tar Heels were dominated the entire game, as head coach Dabo Swinney’s team finished with 608 yards of offense, compared with UNC’s 382.
Clemson went into halftime leading just 21-16, needing a 68-yard drive in the final two minutes of the second quarter–capped with a 1-yard touchdown toss from Watson to tight end Jordan Leggett–to pull in front.
Then the sophomore led his team to touchdowns on each of its first two possessions of the second half–one after Williams’ interception and another after UNC failed on its own fake punt attempt.
Up by three scores at that point, the Tigers went into cruise control the rest of the way–much like the Tar Heels have done all year long.
However, that led to three late UNC touchdowns, which put the team in a position–with just over a minute remaining–for the critical onside kick that was wiped away by the late flag.
On the next try, Clemson picked up the ball, and with it the conference championship.
“The fun thing about this group is what they’ve got inside of them,” Fedora said of his Tar Heels. “And they never stopped fighting, and they never stopped believing. The way they were scrambling around on those last two onside kicks, you could tell they believed if we got that ball we were going to win, and they knew that was all we needed to do.
“So their effort was tremendous all night,” he added. “They’ve got a tremendous amount of grit and I’m really proud of the way these seniors led this team this year.”
The regular season is now over for UNC, as the team will now have to wait to find out which bowl game awaits.
It all comes down to this. Back in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium, the same place where it picked up its first—and only—loss of the season, the No. 10 UNC football team now finds itself playing for the ACC Championship and a chance at the College Football Playoff.
The only obstacle?
The undefeated Clemson Tigers—America’s top ranked team.
Under head coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels now have a chance to bring home an ACC Championship for the first time since 1980—when Fedora was a senior in high school and a man named Lawrence Taylor was roaming around UNC’s defensive backfield.
With all that on the line, the coach is nowhere near satisfied just yet.
“When it’s all over with, maybe I can sit back, smoke a cigar, and think back on it,” Fedora said during his weekly press conference. “But for right now, we’re fixing to play the number one team in the country. We don’t have time to kick our shoes off and throw our feet up. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Clemson comes into Saturday at 12-0 behind its charismatic head coach, Dabo Swinney, and its Heisman candidate at quarterback, sophomore Deshaun Watson—the only player in the ACC to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 700.
But the Tigers aren’t just an offensive powerhouse.
Their defense ranks seventh in the nation in yards allowed, and is one of eight schools to surrender less than 300 per game.
“This is the best offense we have faced this year, no doubt about it,” Fedora said. “And this is the best defense we’ve faced this year. I mean, this is the best football team we have faced.
“They’re the number one team in the country, and they’ve been that way for how many weeks? Ten weeks. Long time right?”
The Tar Heels will need to find a way to slow Watson down when they are on defense, which is much easier said than done. In Watson’s first career start last year as a true freshman, he torched UNC for 435 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer remembers that game vividly, but says he believes his group will be up to the challenge on Saturday.
“They’re definitely an explosive offense, but we’re a new defense as well,” he said. “[Watson] was a freshman [in last year’s game], but he was poised beyond his years. He’s very mature for his age, and he is a great player. That’s why he’s up for the Heisman.
“So we’re gonna have to play a great game on defense to shut him down.”
If that does indeed happen, then the Tar Heels will still need to continue to get the explosive production from their offense that they’ve gotten all season.
Every long touchdown and highlight reel play is another point in the College Football Playoff Committee’s notebook. It may seem silly, but the week one loss in Charlotte to South Carolina—a team that finished 3-8—could potentially leave the Tar Heels on the outside looking in, even with a victory.
That talk has gone on long enough where UNC’s senior quarterback, Marquise Williams, has gotten tired of hearing about it.
“They had us ranked like fifth going into this year in the Coastal [Division] anyway,” he said. “That’s fine. We like this. We love when people don’t want to talk about us.
“Only thing I can say is just keep winning and eventually they’ll have to write something good about [us].”
In a game expected by many to be a bloodbath of sorts, Williams again sees an opportunity to etch his name even deeper into Tar Heel lore. Playoffs or not, the chance exists to do something that hasn’t been seen in Chapel Hill for nearly four decades.
It’s moments like that which last forever.
“We want to be a team remembered for something,” Williams said. “We want to leave our legacy. We want to make history.
“That was our thing as seniors. Before the season, we sat down with each other and we wrote down our own goals as seniors—what we wanted to do this year to make it special for us.
“This is what [we’re] gonna remember when [we’re] older,” he continued. “I’ll remember playing in the ACC Championship when I’m 50. Maybe 70.
“[Either way], I’ll remember that.”
WCHL will carry the ACC Championship game live on 97.9 FM and 1360 AM. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. It will also be televised on ABC.
The UNC defense improved against the run Saturday night at Clemson, but the big plays down the field engineered by freshman Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson doomed the Tar Heels.
***Listen to the story***
“We didn’t make enough plays on offense, and we gave up too many big plays on defense. That’s all there was to it,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.
For Carolina’s much-maligned defense, Saturday was a bit of a mixed bag. The Tar Heels managed to stop the Clemson rushing attack, giving up a stingy 71 yards on the ground.
But through the air, it was another story altogether.
Watson torched the UNC secondary to the tune of 435 yards and six touchdowns. Watson’s six touchdowns tied an ACC record.
All in all, following Saturday, UNC’s pass defense ranks second to last nationally, ahead of only Bowling Green. Shockingly, the Tar Heels average giving up 6.62 yards per play. No power five conference team is allowing more yardage per snap of the football.
Coach Fedora says the only thing that kept UNC hanging around in the contest was their success against the run.
“There were too many major mistakes on the back end. We turned them loose. We’ll have to figure out what went wrong in those situations. We did do a much better job against the run, which gave us a chance,” Coach Fedora says.
On the other side of the ball, Coach Fedora says he was pleased with the play of junior signal caller Marquise Williams, especially given the duress he was under most of the night.
“I thought he stood tough the entire game. He had a lot of pressure. They have a very good defensive line. We knew that was going to happen against our offensive line. Marquise got the ball out. There were just a couple times that he held onto it. Other than that, I think he did a nice job,” Coach Fedora says.
Williams’ four touchdown passes at Clemson moved his career scoring throws up to 25, he is now just one shy of the top 10 in school history.
Looking across the field at Clemson’s quarterback, Coach Fedora says he was thoroughly impressed with the maturity of Watson in leading the Tiger attack.
“He did a really nice job. The kid can throw the ball and run it. He’s a very good player and going to be really good in the future,” Coach Fedora says.
Despite recording their second loss of the year, Coach Fedora says he was happy with the competitiveness and fight displayed by his players.
“Our guys fought. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. There was no lack of confidence that people were worried about. Our guys got after it. We just didn’t make enough plays,” Coach Fedora says.
But in order for Carolina to be successful moving forward, it’s not so much the plays they need to make; it’s the big plays they’ll need to prevent opponents from making that will likely decide UNC football’s 2014 fate.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-defense-still-struggling-find-form
The North Carolina football team fell behind 17-0 early and couldn’t recover in a 50-35 loss at Clemson Saturday night, dropping to 2-2 on the season.
With the win, the Tigers evened their record up at 2-2 on the year. For the third straight season, the Tar Heels have now dropped their conference opener
Clemson freshman signal caller Deshaun Watson threw for 435 yards and set a school record with six touchdown passes in his first ever start to lead the Tigers to the victory.
The 19-year-old didn’t shrink in the spotlight. Watson completed 27 of his 36 passes.
Watson’s six TDs tied the ACC record and only Tajh Boyd has thrown for more yards in a game for Clemson.
The Tar Heel defense continued to struggle, giving up 528 yards, and has now allowed its opponent to gain more than 500 yards in the past three games.
Mike Williams had six catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns for Clemson, which has scored 49 or more points in five of its last 10 ACC games.
UNC was clamping down on the run game, but Watson excelled.
Watson had a 50-yard TD pass to Hopper in the second quarter, waiting in the pocket until the last moment to drop the pass right into the receiver’s hands. Clemson gained 218 yards in the first half, with Watson’s two long passes accounting for more than half that total.
In the second half, Watson had two 33-yard touchdown passes and a 24-yard scoring throw before tight end Jordan Leggett jumped high in the end zone to pull in the freshman’s record-breaking TD pass.
Clemson needed Watson’s passing as the Tigers gained only 71 yards on the ground.
Artavis Scott had eight catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, while Hopper caught three passes for 139 yards and 2 TDs.
Ammon Lakip hit a 27-yard and a 45-yard field goal. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stuck with the junior kicker after he missed two field goals in last week’s overtime loss to No. 1 Florida State.
The Tar Heels are still struggling, a week after allowing the most yards, points and first downs in school history. On Saturday night, the Tar Heels had 15 penalties, one off the school record, for 130 yards, which was 20 yards away from their worst game.
Marquise Williams was 24-of-38 for 345 yards for North Carolina and threw to 13 different receivers. Elijah Hood ran 13 times for 71 yards to lead the team in rushing.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a home contest in Chapel Hill against ACC Coastal foe Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 4.
***Listen to the story***
“They’re really good. They’re really good on defense. They’ve settled on their quarterback for the offense with freshman Deshaun Watson, who’s a very talented young man. He can run or throw. It will definitely be a task,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.
UNC will need to reverse its recent trend in head-to-head battles with Clemson as the Tar Heels have dropped four of their last five meetings against the Tigers, including the most recent encounter, a 59-38 loss in 2011.
But Coach Fedora has never taken on Clemson. In his maiden campaign against the Tigers, he’ll be saddled with more inexperience than he’d like.
Coach Fedora says he’s had to work on his patience with the extreme youth on UNC’s roster.
“When you’re playing with young guys, you know there will be mistakes made. I don’t have a whole lot of patience. I have more patience than I used to have, because I have three daughters now. It’s still tough for me. Every day is tough. You want to be as good as you can possibly be every single day,” Coach Fedora says.
For junior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, an athlete who has persevered through numerous ankle injuries, the key for the Tar Heels is to just keep it simple and compete hard 100 percent of the time.
“We just need to play hard. Above all, that’s the thing that I feel like we lack. We need to play hard and sustain playing hard – just compete. We have good players the same way they do. We have talented guys who can make plays. That’s it – focus, attention to detail and play as hard as we can,” Thorpe says.
With an experienced defensive unit at Clemson that includes National Player of the Week Stephone Anthony, the young UNC offensive line figures to have its hands full.
Sophomore offensive tackle John Ferranto says he’s prepared for a rugged battle Saturday night.
“They’re an experienced group. The interior linemen are big, strong and quick. Their defensive ends are quick and really good pass rushers. They have a really good group on defense,” Ferranto says.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney recognizes the challenge of facing a UNC offense that he says is the most up-tempo unit the Tigers have faced.
Coach Swinney says the best defense against the Tar Heels will be a good offense.
“We are a tempo team ourselves, but they’re a little faster than us. We’re trying to do some things ‘good on good’ to try to prepare our guys, use our scouts and get them ready for the tempo that they’ll see. But the biggest thing that we have to do is take care of the football on our side. We’ve got to do a good job offensively and keep them off the field,” Coach Swinney says.
The Tigers have returned 8 starters on their defense. To put that in perspective, the Tar Heels returned a total of 10 starters on their entire team.
Coach Fedora is concerned from the havoc the Tiger defense can create, especially from veteran defensive end Vic Beasley.
“The Vic Beasley kid that everybody talks about is as good as everybody says. He’s relentless and has speed like a defensive back or receiver. He’s quick as a cat. They’ve got guys that can run at every position. They have a lot of confidence right now,” Coach Fedora says.
Coach Fedora identifies two keys to the game – big plays on special teams and stopping the run.
“Starting with special teams, we’ve got to have a game-changing play, we really do. We have to make some plays. It’s going to be vital for our success this week. Jumping over to defense, we have to stop the run,” Coach Fedora says.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-hoping-tame-tigers-death-valley
WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney as his squad prepares to host the Tar Heels Saturday night. Among other things, the two discussed the legendary Death Valley atmosphere, the emergence of freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson and the best way to stop UNC’s Ryan Switzer on special teams.
***Listen to the conversation***http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-chat-clemson-coach-dabo-swinney
COLUMBIA – Coach Dabo Swinney says Clemson’s offense will continue to run smoothly with reserve receiver Adam Humphries in the starting lineup.
Humphries is replacing Charone Peake, who was the Tigers (2-0) second-leading receiver when he tore his ACL in a non-contact drill a week ago and now needs season-ending surgery.
That means Humphries, Peake’s high-school teammate from Dorman, will be front-and-center when No. 3 Clemson faces North CarolinaState (2-0) in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams Thursday night.
Humphries has started five of 29 games in his career and has 63 catches and a touchdown. But Swinney says Humphries is usually in the middle of big moments, perhaps none bigger than his 9-yard catch that set up Clemson’s game-winning field goal in last season’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl.http://chapelboro.com/sports/acc/no-3-clemson-back-to-work-after-losing-wr-peake