Clemson vs. North Carolina Preview
•Clemson (4-0, 2-0) at North Carolina (2-2, 1-0)
•ABC TV, 3:30 PM (Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy and Tom Luginbill)
•At Kenan Stadium (50,500), Chapel Hill, NC
•Clemson holds a 37-19-1 lead in the series that dates to 1897
•Clemson won the last meeting, 45-37 in the 2015 ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
•Clemson has won three in a row overall, but none of those in Chapel Hill
•Last UNC Win was in 2010 in Chapel Hill by a 21-16 score.
•Clemson has a 15-11-1 advantage in the series in Chapel Hill.
•This will be Clemson’s second appearance in Kenan Stadium since 2002.
•Mack Brown has 246 career wins, most in the nation among active coaches. Dabo Swinney has a .800 winning percentage, second in percentage among active coaches with at least five years experience at FBS level.
•Brown and Swinney are two of the five active coaches who have won the National Championship. Brown led Texas to the title in 2005 and Swinney led the Tigers to titles in 2016 and 2018. The other active coaches to win the title are Nick Saban (Alabama), Les Miles (Kansas), and Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M).
•Swinney has beaten Saban and Fisher over his last five games and a win on Saturday at UNC would give Swinney wins over three of the other four national championship coaches in his last six games.
•Brown has a 246-124-1 overall record in 31 years, including a 71-48-1 mark at UNC in 11 seasons.
•Swinney is 120-30 overall and at Clemson, in his 12th season (11th full).
•Swinney is one of nine coaches in history with at least 150 games coached and an 80 percent winning percentage.
Five Notes of Interest
•Clemson is the first defending National Champion to play in Chapel Hill since Tennessee in 1951.
•A victory on Saturday for North Carolina would give the Tar Heels wins over South Carolina and Clemson in the same season for the first time since 1964.
•Swinney has a record of 27-2 in games against teams from the Tar Heel state. He has won 20 in a row dating to a loss at NC State in 2011.
•Clemson is 7-3 against Mack Brown, but Brown has won the last two, in 1996 and 1997.
•Swinney has won at every ACC stadium with the exception of North Carolina and Pittsburgh. He has never coached a game at Pittsburgh.
Dabo Swinney on the North Carolina Game
“This is a real challenge for us. North Carolina very well could be 4-0. They have made great comebacks in each of their four games. They have gotten down, but won’t go away. You can see the influence of Mack Brown and his staff. They have gotten better as the game has gone on in every game so far this year. The Tar Heels have the pieces (to be successful).
“North Carolina has an excellent scheme on defense. They bring a lot of pressure and they are not afraid to go man for man in the secondary. Their corners are very confident.
“On offense, I am very impressed with Sam Howell, their freshman quarterback. He reminds me of Baker Mayfield (who Clemson faced in 2015 in CFP) in that he has a lot of moxie. Howell can make plays with his feet. The quarterback draw will be a factor along with their RPO game.
“Howell has been great in the fourth quarter (he leads the nation in fourth quarter touchdown passes and has completed 72 percent of his passes, 26-36, in the final stanza).
“This is as good a group of running backs that we have seen. Both Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are explosive running backs and can catch the ball out of the backfield. This will be the most pass plays we have seen to running backs all year.
“Their receivers are strong and they will attempt a lot of 50-50 balls.
“We need to play like an experienced team in this game.
Clemson Offense vs. North Carolina Defense
Clemson leads the ACC in scoring at 42.2 points per game thanks to a balanced offense that is second to Wake Forest in total yards per game at 524.8 (Wake Forest at 533.8). Clemson has never lost a game in which it has had at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing (94-0-1) and that has continued this year as the offense coordinated by Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott has done that three of the four games so far this season.
Trevor Lawrence played just 19 snaps in the win over Charlotte, but completed 7-9 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. For the year the undefeated sophomore (15-0 for his career as starter), has completed 66-106 passes for 925 yards and seven touchdowns. Even with the limited duty and stats against Charlotte, Lawrence still averages 231 yards passing per game.
Travis Etienne leads the Clemson ground gainers with 395 yards and a 7.5 average. Lyn-J-Dixon is second among the rushers with 220 yards and three scores. Clemson’s balanced receiving group is led by Tee Higgins with 16 receptions for 376 yards, 23.5 yards per catch. He is fifth in the nation in yards per reception among players with at least 10 catches. Justyn Ross, who sat out the Charlotte game, has 15-171 receiving.
The Clemson offense will face a North Carolina defense that ranks 10th in the ACC in total defense, allowing 395 yards per game. The Tar Heels are seventh in pass defense, allowing 222 yards per game, and 10th in rushing defense, allowing 172.5 yards per game.
Myles Dorn, a senior safety, is the top tackler with 34 stops, including a team best 18 first hits. He has one interception and two passes deflected. Linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel is second on the team in tackles with 29, while, Chazz Surratt is third with 27, including two sacks. His brother is a top receiver at Wake Forest. The defense is led in terms of sacks by Tomari Fox, a sophomore outside linebacker, who has 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Clemson Defense vs. North Carolina Offense
North Carolina has outscored the opposition 45-9 in the fourth quarter this year, one of the top margins in the nation. The Tar Heel comebacks have been led by freshman signal caller Sam Howell, a player Clemson offered out of high school. For the first four games, Howell is 75-117 for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Howell has been incredible in the fourth quarter, connecting on 26-36 passes (.722) for 402 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. He leads the nation in touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and is third in the nation in passing yards in the final period.
Dazz Newsom is Howell’s favorite receiver with 19 catches for 270 yards and two touchdowns, but Dyami Brown leads the team in receiving yards with 284 on just 15 catches. Rontavius Groves is third in catches with 11 for 109 yards.
The running game is led by Javonte Williams, who has 299 yards on 53 attempts, a 5.6 yard average, and Michael Carter, who has 220 rushing yards on 48 carries. Those two backs have 11 receptions between them and the Tigers are paying special attention to North Carolina’s ability to throw to their running backs this week in practice.
Clemson’s defense has been among the best in the nation, a common ranking since Brent Venables came to campus in 2012. Clemson leads the ACC in scoring defense, allowing just 10 points per game and each of the first four opponents have failed to score over 14 points in all four contest. It is the first time Clemson has held the opposition to 14 points or less in each of the first four games since 2000, an amazing statement for a defense that lost six players to the NFL.
Clemson ranks among the national leaders in sacks and tackles for loss, yet no player has more than two sacks and no player has more than four tackles for loss. Thirteen different players have been involved in a sack.
Isaiah Simmons, who was national defensive player of the week according to the Football Writers Association of America in the win at Syracuse, leads the way with 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Linebacker James Skalski is second on the club in tackles with 27, while safety Tanner Muse and linebacker Chad Smith are tied for third with 23. Safety K’Von Wallace had a 66-yard interception return for a score last week and is next on the tackle chart with 20.
Clemson is 13th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (152.0), seventh in total defense (246.5), and fourth in scoring defense (10.0). Clemson led the nation in scoring defense last year, allowing 13.1 points per game.
•Clemson has been outstanding in many areas of special teams. B.T. Potter is 20-20 on extra points and has 18-21 touchbacks on kickoffs to rank seventh in the nation in touchback percentage. Clemson is third in the nation in kickoff return defense, allowing just 10.7 yards per return.
Punter Will Spiers is a much improved punter and has a 42.6 average, improved from his 39.7 average last year.
Joseph Ngata leads the team in kickoff return average at 23.2, an average that would rank 35th in the nation if he had enough returns. Amari Rogers has a 7.7 average on punt returns. Clemson has now allowed a punt return yard yet this season.
•North Carolina punter Ben Kierman has a 41.3 average on 23 punts with a long of 58. Placekicker Noah Ruggles has made 7-10 field goals with a long of 49 and has made 8-8 extra points. He has had two blocked. Michael Rubino has 12 touchbacks on 22 kickoffs.
North Carolina’s Michael Carter is second in the ACC in kickoff returns with a 26.3 average and Dazz Newsome is the punt return leader with a 7.2 average on four returns.