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Heel Tough Blog: ACC Championship Game Recap- Clemson

Ken Ruinard- The Greenville News

The Tar Heels entered Saturday with the chance to claim their first ACC football title since 1980 and snap themselves out of a late season slump in the process. After taking an early 7-0 lead, the Clemson Tigers showed why they are the standard in the ACC, as they dominated the next three and a half quarters on the way to their seventh ACC title in eight years. Here are our biggest takeaways from a tough night in Charlotte for the Tar Heels.

Lack of Preparation Doomed This Team

In the postgame presser, head coach Mack Brown was asked about the quarterback change that Clemson made on the third drive of the game and his answer was frankly stunning. He told the media that they had not prepared for true freshman Cade Klubnik during the week because the Tigers had stuck with DJ Uiagalelei all season long. This is the second straight season where someone involved with the team has admitted to not being prepared for a quarterback that everyone outside of the locker room knew had a chance to play, something that is simply unacceptable. Klubnik picked apart this Tar Heel defense, completing 20 of his 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, never looking uncomfortable despite playing the most snaps he’s played all year. With the loss, the Tar Heels finished the season 0-4 against backup quarterbacks. For this program to get where they want to get to, they have to stop having these lapses in preparation and find a solution to the issue they have with beating backup quarterbacks.

Failure to Execute in the Redzone Prevented This From Being Close

In the first ten games of the season, it seemed that Phil Longo had finally been able to solve this team’s issues with consistency in the redzone. Entering the Georgia Tech game, they were one of the best in the entire country inside the 20s, but the last three weeks, including tonight, have been a trainwreck down there. In that span, the team has scored points on just nine of their 17 trips and only five have ended in touchdowns. The team had their chances in the first half and early in the third quarter to score touchdowns that could have kept them in the game, but they simply could not execute when they needed to. In order for this team to rally in the bowl game and finish with double-digit wins, they will need to start cashing in on these redzone opportunities and do so with touchdowns.

Turnovers Issues Reached Their Peak

Untimely turnovers have been a big part of the recipe for the late season collapse and they were a huge part of the result in this one. The first one came on the second play after Clemson had scored their first touchdown on a fumble on a botched handoff from Drake Maye to Omarion Hampton, giving the Tigers the ball right back and allowing them to take the lead just 1:06 after they had been trailing. That was a big shift in momentum for sure, but the biggest came on the second turnover of the night, when Maye threw a pick six to Clemson corner Nate Wiggins on a 3rd & Goal from the Clemson 5. That was an eleven point swing that seemed to zap any remaining hope that the team had. Maye would throw another interception in the 4th quarter to add to what has been a rough finish to the season in the turnover category. He did such a good job of taking care of the football earlier in the season, but the turnover issues down the stretch have been a big piece to the disastrous end to the season.

Trenches Are a Problem Once Again

Just like a lot of the other things that we have addressed above, the trenches have been a major issue in these past three weeks. The offensive line handled the Clemson defensive line pretty well, but struggled to pick up linebackers in blitzing situations, leading to a lot of pressure on Maye throughout the night. In the redzone, though, things fell apart up front, especially in the run game, aiding in the team’s problems down there. The Tar Heel defensive line got off to a solid start, but were manhandled once Klubnik entered the game. The defensive front failed to register a single tackle for loss or sack in this one and were only able to pressure the quarterback nine times. In order for this team to be able to take another step after this season, they need to find a way to hold up better in the trenches, something that starts with staff changes.

Staff Changes Need to Start with Cross and Hess

Mack Brown has to take a hard look at this staff after this one and there are changes that simply have to be made. The defensive line’s continued lack of push and inability to get pressure on the quarterback reiterated the fact that defensive line coach Tim Cross simply has to be let go. There is just way too much talent in that unit that simply isn’t being developed. Both the offensive and defensive line have had problems with handling physicality, and that falls on strength and conditioning coach Brian Hess. This is a team right now that just doesn’t seem to be built right in the trenches and that all starts in the weight room. Many other members of the staff will need to be evaluated, as well, including defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, but at a minimum it is time to move on from Cross and Hess.


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