Clemson vs. North Carolina: Prediction and preview
Clemson vs. North Carolina is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing games of conference championship weekend.
This is a rematch of the 2015 ACC Championship Game, which saw Clemson take home the trophy thanks to a 5-touchdown performance from Deshaun Watson.
This time, North Carolina has the edge at quarterback — at least on paper. Here’s a full breakdown:
Clemson vs. North Carolina preview
Clemson is favored by more than a touchdown in this game because of its strengths on defense and in the running game offensively.
The Tigers’ defense was once again amongst the best in the ACC this season, allowing only 4.99 yards per play in 2022. Clemson has numerous potential NFL Draft picks in its front 7, including Myles Murphy, KJ Henry, Bryan Bresee and Trenton Simpson.
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This game will likely be decided by how much havoc that front can cause for UNC and quarterback Drake Maye. The Tar Heels have struggled to protect Maye at times this season, although his mobility has helped curb some of those issues.
If Maye has time to make decisions in the pocket — or is able to get out on the run — he can be a game-breaker for North Carolina. He’s been a clutch player for the Tar Heels all season long, leading them to fourth-quarter wins over Miami, Duke and Wake Forest. He nearly had another comeback win over Georgia Tech in November, but receiver Josh Downs dropped the would-be game winning touchdown pass.
That was an out-of-character moment for Downs, who is amongst the best players in the ACC and will be a major part of Clemson’s scouting report this weekend. If the Tigers can shutdown Downs, they’ll have a good chance of limiting the ceiling of North Carolina’s offense.
Offensively for Clemson, things are a bit murky. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has been very inconsistent over the past month. The Tigers fell to Notre Dame and South Carolina in November — crushing defeats that will keep the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff.
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Still, he’s expected to get the start this weekend over true freshman Cade Klubnik, who has produced mixed results when given opportunities this season. Clemson’s top offensive weapon is Will Shipley, who was named first-team All-ACC this week for his performance this season. Shipley was second in the conference this season with 1,092 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Clemson vs. North Carolina prediction
Both of these teams are entering this game off of a loss, but North Carolina’s defeats have been inexcusable. Losing to fourth-string quarterbacks at Georgia Tech and NC State at home in back-to-back weeks is a major cause for concern. Even with all of Clemson’s issues, the Tigers have still played with a lot of pride down the stretch.
Prediction: Clemson 31, North Carolina 20