North Carolina Tar Heels (2-2) vs. #1 Clemson Tigers (4-0)
Saturday, September 28, 2019 @ 3:30 PM EST
Kenan Memorial Stadium (Chapel Hill, NC)
Moneyline: Clemson (-4000), UNC (+2000)
Spread: Clemson -26.5 (-110), UNC +26.5 (-110)
Total: Over 61 (-110), Under 61 (-110)
Last week, the reigning National Champion Clemson Tigers took care of business against Charlotte and improved to 4-0 on the season. Clemson’s defense has looked like the real deal again this year, as they’re on track for yet another season ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. The Tigers’ defense has allowed just 4 total touchdowns and has forced 8 turnovers so far, which has been integral for them, as Sophomore QB, Trevor Lawrence, has been turnover-prone.
Lawrence has thrown 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in just 106 attempts in 2019, which is a big step backwards from 2018, where he threw 30 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions in 15 games en route to their National Championship win. He’s improved on his performance each week, as his QBR has increased from 114.8 in Week 1 (13-23, 168 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) to 238.8 last week (7-9, 94 yards, 2 TD in just 1 quarter of play). That improvement should be a good sign, as this week’s game is the last “warm-up” before the start of ACC play. Lawrence has shown glimpses of his ability to be a dual-threat QB, as he has rushed for 3 touchdowns and is a guy who is hard to bring down due to his 6’6″, 215 lb. frame.
In the backfield, Senior RB, Travis Etienne, has looked just as explosive as he did last year, as he is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and has run for 4 touchdowns. However, more than half of his yards and 3 of his 4 touchdowns came in Week 1, when he ran for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 52-14 win over Georgia Tech. So, Etienne will be looking to get back on track this week before ACC play starts. Luckily for him, North Carolina’s run defense is ranked 85th in the country for rushing yards allowed per game (172.5 yards/game) and at least 1 rushing touchdown in each game (7 total).
North Carolina’s defense does not look ready to face a Clemson offense that has averaged 7.4 yards per play and scored 22 touchdowns, despite turning the ball over 8 times. The Tar Heels have allowed 25.8 points/game and allowed almost 500 yards of offense to Miami (FL) and 436 yards to Wake Forest.
On offense, Freshman QB, Sam Howell, has looked impressive, completing over 64% of his passes for 1,024 yards, 9 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Howell started hot, completing 31 of 48 passes for 519 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his first 2 games. The Freshman had just 1 turnover (1 fumble), as the Tar Heels won both games, defeating South Carolina 24-20 and Miami (FL) 28-25. In his last 2 games, Howell has 5 touchdown passes and 1 touchdown run, but the Tar Heels have lost both, falling 24-18 to Wake Forest and 34-31 to Appalachian State. His 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 fumble) against Appalachian State proved to be costly, as they lost by just 3 points.
The Tar Heels will most likely look to their run game to keep the pressure off of Howell, as they have run for just under 160 yards per game. Unfortunately, they’ve only been able to reach the end zone twice so far, with QB Sam Howell accounting for one of them and Sophomore RB, Javonte Williams, accounting for the other. Williams has been efficient, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, so UNC will be looking to establish enough of a run game to create some opportunities for their Freshman QB against Clemson’s top 10 defense.
Unfortunately for UNC, their offensive line will not be at full-strength this week, which could be a recipe for disaster against this Clemson defense, which is 6th in the country with 16 sacks. The Tigers have one of the best pass-rushing units in the nation and will be looking to attack a weakened offensive line. The Tar Heels’ senior starting center suffered a leg injury on Sept. 7 against Miami (FL) and is expected to miss a significant amount of time this year. Last week, their starting left tackle, Junior Charlie Heck, missed the game due to an upper body injury that was announced just minutes before kickoff. Redshirt Freshman Joshua Ezeudu started in his place and it is unclear how long Heck will be out.
I think Clemson’s defense will be suffocating against the run, which will make for a tough day for UNC’s banged-up offensive line and Freshman QB, Sam Howell. The Tar Heels’ below-average defense, especially their run defense, should be exploited by Clemson’s high-powered offense, and Trevor Lawrence should get back on track with an impressive performance. I think the Tigers will take this one by a comfortable margin and enter ACC play with a lot of momentum.