UNC Football: Clemson Scouting Report


As a head coach, would you rather give up 70 points en route a 29-point loss, or watch your team mismanage the opportunity to take down the top team in college football? One game is not end-all-be-all for any college football team, but the Tigers’ heartbreaking loss to Florida State is a direct reflection of what North Carolina must take into account before their fourth game of the season.

What happened last week?

The Tigers had no business losing to the Winston-less Florida State Seminoles.

Clemson accumulated 90 more yards of total offense (407-317), outrushing the Seminoles 101 yards to just 13. They also dominated the possession battle, holding the ball for nearly 6 more minutes than the Seminoles in regulation.  On top of all that, according to ESPN’s research notes on the game, FSU’s win probability dropped to 20% in the fourth quarter.

So why did they lose?

Clemson turned the ball over when it mattered most.

While Clemson only had one turnover all game, it came at arguably the worst time.

FSU quarterback Sean Maguire had an up-and-down game for the most part, but with the score tied at 17 with just over two minutes left in the game, he threw an interception. Clemson had the ball at the 27 yard line late in the fourth quarter.

Seminole fans were most likely praying for a third missed field goal to keep their hopes of extending their 18 game winning-streak alive, but instead, they received a gift from Clemson running back CJ Davidson. Davidson fumbled and FSU recovered, and the game ended up being decided in overtime.

Clemson is a different team in the red zone.

While Clemson has not been effective in the red zone all year, averaging 3.0 yards per play, against Florida State they only gained on average 1.9 points per game.

More significantly, the Tigers reached the red zone 7 of its 15 drives, but were scoreless on four of those seven possessions. Their inability to punch it in when inside the five for six, or convert on chip-shots for three killed their momentum, but worst of all, kept Florida State in the game just when it seemed like Clemson would pull away.  Driving down the field and having no points to show for it is demoralizing.  Clemson was constantly forced to regenerate its own momentum after each missed scoring opportunity, and ultimately were outlasted in overtime.

What should the Tar Heels take into account?

1) Deshaun Watson’s Emergence

The Clemson’s quarterback was one of the few bright spots for the Tigers against the Seminoles.

Watson went 19 of 28 for 266 yards passing, and added 30 yards and a touchdown rushing. The 6’3” 190-pound freshmen quarterback can cause a lot of problems for the North Carolina defense as he can stretch the secondary out with his accurate deep ball, and can also pick up 8-10 yards on a scramble when the Heels drop back in coverage.

His composure against the Florida State team is also noteworthy. Look for North Carolina to drop back in coverage to contain Watson and force him to throw the ball in front of the secondary.

2) Dabo Swinney’s faith in Ammon Lakip (K) is questionable.

Clemson’s inability to score in the red zone points directly to Lakip. While two missed field goals is not the only source of their loss, Lakip’s two misses came at inopportune times.

His first miss came on the opening drive from 23 yards out.

His second miss was worse. While it came from 40 yards out, it occurred on a possession where Clemson had a touchdown overturned and then a loss of 20 yards due to a snap over Watson’s head.

In overtime, Swinney elected to go for it on 4th and 1 instead of trusting his kicker to a 30 yard field goal.  Look for Swinney to be more aggressive on first and second down when Clemson is in field goal range because of Lakip’s disappointing performance in week four.

3) Clemson’s Dominating Defensive Performance

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Despite all of their offensive and special team miscues, the Clemson defense played well against Florida State. While the Seminoles did not have their superstar in Jameis Winston, they still held the number one team in the country to 13 yards rushing and to fewer than 300 total yards in regulation.

Just like against ECU, North Carolina may have to find creative ways to score against Clemson’s defense.

Clemson and North Carolina both have to prove that they are not who they were in week four this weekend, as neither team wants to be defined by their last game.