The number one team in the country, the Clemson Tigers, marches into Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina hoping to cement their spot in the College Football Playoff as the number one seed. They take on the number eight team in the country, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tigers are 12-0 on the season and 8-0 in conference games while the Tar Heels are 11-1 and also 8-0 in conference games. This game is the first time that the ACC Championship game will not include the Florida State Seminoles since 2011 when the Tigers knocked off the Virginia Tech Hokies.
This season, the Tigers are having arguably the best season in Clemson football history. This season they have beaten the number eight team in the country Notre Dame by two at home in a torrential downpour. They also beat the number nine team in the country, Florida State at home. North Carolina lost their opening game of the season 17-13 to South Carolina, since then they have won every game of the season.
The keys to the game for the Tigers are to move the chains and stop the UNC run. The Tigers have to move the chains all game long, have the ball for long sustained drives and get the UNC defense tired. Clemson has averaged 31:31 in terms of time of possession this season. Their best chance to remain unbeaten is to keep their offense on the field.
The Tigers are giving up 127.7 rushing yards per game this season and UNC has a pretty good ground attack this season. Their star running back, Elijah Hood, has 1280 rushing yards this season. Clemson needs to stop the rushing attack to win this game. Clemson doesn’t need to win this game in a blowout to solidify their spot in the playoff, but it would look bad for their resume if they are able to manhandle the Tar Heels in this game.
The keys to the game for North Carolina are to believe that they can win, and force turnovers. Clemson is an unbelievably tough opponent for anyone and UNC has not faced an opponent this season even close to the level of Clemson. If they can keep the faith, anything can happen. If they can put some doubt into the Tigers mind and hang with them, watch out. Very few people are picking the Tar Heels to win, so the pressure is solely on Clemson. North Carolina should understand this and use this to their advantage. Clemson's quarterbacks have 12 picks this year, so the Tar Heels needs to jump the routes, punch the ball out of the running backs hands, and force the ball onto the turf where they can pick it up.
Overall, the Tigers have 24 turnovers on the season, so for North Carolina to have a chance they need to force a few more turnovers. The longer North Carolina has the ball, the better chance they have of pulling off the upset. If North Carolina can come out of the gate quickly, and metaphorically punch Clemson in the mouth, they will let them know this will be a dog fight the whole way, they could surprise Clemson and take down the top team in the land.
The key players for Clemson are Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and Shaq Lawson. The Tigers need their one–two punch of Watson and Scott to star in this game on the offensive side and Lawson to head the defense to help carry them to the college football playoff. This season Watson has had a Heisman type season catapulting Clemson University Football onto the national landscape.
Watson has torn up opposing defenses all season long passing for 3,223 yards with 261 completions on 371 attempts good for a 70.4% completion percentage and 27 touchdowns to outweigh his 10 interceptions. Watson can also run the ball as he is a very good running quarterback in addition to his aerial skills. Using his feet Watson has compiled 139 carries for 756 yards and nine touchdowns. Scott is the Tiger’s two headed machine when called upon, being skilled at rushing the ball and catching the ball. This season, Scott has 77 receptions for 709 yards and four touchdowns as a wide receiver. Running the ball Scott is not as good. He didn’t play the position often this season, but he has three carries for eight yards and a touchdown.
Shaq Lawson is one of the best defensive ends in the country, hands down. He is tied for 24th in the country for sacks with nine, but that’s not his entire game. He disrupts teams and forces teams to change their schemes by the pure fact of him being on the field. He has 27 tackles, and when he has sacked quarterbacks, they have lost a total of 56 yards. He leads the country this season with 20.5 tackles for loss and in Clemson’s biggest test against Notre Dame; he had 3.5 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. He disrupted the Irish attack all night long.
Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams has rebounded after a horrible start to the year / Rob Kinnan - USA TODAY Sports
The key players for North Carolina will be Hood and Marquise Williams. Hood has been on an absolute tear the last few weeks of the season as arguably the hottest player in all of college football. The sophomore has 316 yards rushing as well as six touchdowns in the Tar Heel’s last three games. For the season, Hood has 192 carries for 1,280 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hood is 19th in the country for rushing yards and is tied for 13th in touchdowns.
Williams has responded phenomenally after having an awful opening game when he threw for 232 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against South Carolina. Since that point however, he has 2,373 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. In total this season Williams has 2,605 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
If the University of North Carolina Tar Heels has any chance of pulling the upset, they need big performances from Hood and Williams.