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Heel Tough Blog: Clemson Recap

Ken Ruinard- USA Today Sports

The Tar Heels traveled to Clemson for the first time in nine years earlier today looking to exact a little revenge after last year’s blowout loss in the ACC Championship Game. Mack Brown’s crew got off to a strong start, but could not convert the early opportunities into points, allowing the Tigers to hang around. Once Clemson got the lead, they never came close to relinquishing it, holding a double-digit lead the majority of the second half, as the Tar Heels dropped their third game in the last four against FBS opponents. Here are our takeaways from the 31-20 loss in Death Valley.

Two Early Fumbles Really Hurt This Team

The Tar Heels had a legitimate chance to score on three of their first four offensive drives, but turned it into just seven points. Running back Omarion Hampton, who had yet to fumble this season entering the game, coughed the ball up twice inside the Clemson five-yard line. The second one is being questioned heavily by the Tar Heel fanbase in regards to it being a legal play, but it was definitely the more impactful of the two. If he holds on to the ball and scores on that big play, the Tar Heels would have been up by two scores on the road in one of the toughest places to win a game in the country. Instead, Clemson drove the length of the field to tie the game and would get a touchdown late in the half to go into the break with a lead. Who knows what this game looks like if even one of the fumbles doesn’t take place.

Defense Had No Answers For Will Shipley

The Tar Heels weren’t great against the run for the majority of the night, especially when it was Shipley who had the ball. The junior all-purpose back ran for a team-high 126 yards on just 18 carries and also caught two passes for 53 yards. His 33-yard touchdown run was the backbreaker in this game and his 36-yard reception set up the field goal that extended the lead to three possessions. Shipley felt like a man on a mission out there on Saturday amid all the criticism from his own fanbase and the Tar Heels simply had no answer for him.

Penalties Are a Big Problem for This Team

The Tar Heels were a very disciplined team for the first five games of the year, but ever since the Miami game, they haven’t been able to get back on track. The team was flagged for ten more penalties which resulted in 75 yards and four first downs for the Tigers. The penalties may not have been the main reason that the Tar Heels lost this game, but it played a big factor in why they weren’t able to mount any sort of comeback. They’ll have to get this cleaned up if they want to win next week on the road at NC State. 

Clemson Pressure Bothered Drake Maye Again

The pressure was a big part of the reason for the Tar Heels star quarterback’s struggles a year ago in this matchup and it was a big part of it again on Saturday. The amount of pressure that was on Maye throughout the night forced him into rushed decisions and a lot of inaccurate throws, as he completed just 16 of his 36 passes for 209 yards, a touchdown and an interception. This was the toughest defensive front the team has faced all season long and it resulted in a rough night for their quarterback because they couldn’t win up front. They’ll have to find a way to be better next week against a defensive front that will present a similar challenge.

Still Plenty to Play For Next Week

The Tar Heels were eliminated from a return to the ACC Championship Game shortly after the kickoff of this game, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of importance to next week’s game in Raleigh. Not only is it another installment of one of the most underrated rivalries in the sport, but the pursuit of ten wins is also still alive. Beating both of your biggest rivals and winning double-digit games would still be a tremendous accomplishment to close out the Drake Maye era in Chapel Hill and hopefully that’s what lies on the horizon for this team.


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