Clemson nearly lost its perfect season as it fell behind by 18 points in the second half against Maryland, but a furious comeback fueled by Sammy Watkins' 345 all-purpose yards and Andre Ellington's 212 rushing yards pushed the Tigers to a 56-45 win. Now Clemson returns home to face North Carolina in what should be an entertaining game. Let's take a look at the matchups.
Clemson offense vs. North Carolina defense
Clemson's offense struggled early on against Maryland, but Tajh Boyd and Co. ramped it up in the second half to escape with a win. Watkins is proving that he is not only one of the best freshmen in the country, but one of the best players in the country. Boyd is making great use of all his weapons, as Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown all scored touchdowns against the Terrapins. Ellington finally looks like himself again, which is not good news for future opponents. This offense continues to improve each week, and it's scary to think what Chad Morris' unit is capable of. North Carolina has one of the toughest defenses the Tigers will face all season, as the Tar Heels are allowing just 20 points per game. Quinton Coples leads a frightening defensive line that also includes stud defensive tackle Tydreke Powell. Kevin Reddick anchors the linebacking corps from the MIKE spot and is a very smart player for the Tar Heels. The secondary is relatively inexperienced, but senior safety Matt Merletti is having a great season. The Tar Heels have been vulnerable against the pass, however, which bodes well for Clemson.
Key matchup: Coples vs. Landon Walker
I usually like to pick units as the key matchup, but this impending one-on-one affair is unavoidable. Coples is one of the best defensive ends in the country, and Walker is arguably Clemson's best offensive lineman. How much Walker can limit Coples ability to get into the backfield will go a long way in determining how well Clemson's offense plays in this game.
North Carolina offense vs. Clemson defense
North Carolina is pretty workmanlike on offense. They rank smack dab in the middle of both the national rushing and passing statistics. So they're not going to wow anybody on offense. That doesn't mean they don't have weapons. Sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner was blessed with all kinds of receiving targets in his first year as a starter. Dwight Jones is the best of the bunch, and he will be a major concern for Kevin Steele's defense. Freshman tailback Giovani Bernard has burst onto the scene unexpectedly and is rushing for more than 100 yards per game. Clemson's defensive performance against Maryland was atrocious. While Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown was an unknown coming into the game, the Tigers should have been able to adjust to what he was doing at some point. The defense will need to get back to the form it was developing before the trip to College Park. That means Andre Branch reeking havoc in the backfield and Clemson linebackers actually tackling people.
Key matchup: Bernard vs. Clemson front seven
Bernard is little wrecking ball type of running back who has pounded North Carolina's opponents pretty mercilessly thus far. Clemson needs to stuff the run game and make Renner beat them with his arm, which he should have trouble doing in his first game in an extremely hostile environment.
I called this one. Watkins finally got a chance to return a couple kickoffs, and look what happened. He won Clemson a game. The Tigers' kicking game also remained stable, even though Chandler Catanzaro didn't get to kick any field goals against Maryland. North Carolina has a new kicker after Casey Barth went out for the season. Thomas Hibbard has been decent punting the football. The Tar Heels are averaging 24 yards per kick return, so they can be dangerous in that area.
North Carolina hasn't really beaten anybody of much consequence, but they are a good football team. The Tar Heels absolutely have the weapons to hang with Clemson. But with the game being in Death Valley, with the way Clemson's offense has been playing, I don't think North Carolina can keep up for four quarters.
Clemson 35 North Carolina 24