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Clemson Tigers vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Game Preview and Prediction

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Clemson and North Carolina head into Week 5 with two totally different vibes surrounding both programs. Sure, the Tigers lost at Florida State, but there’s plenty of excitement with freshman Deshaun Watson ready to takeover as the starting quarterback. On the North Carolina sideline, question marks and uncertainty are hanging over the program after last week’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina. The Tar Heels have plenty of young talent and promise for the future, but coach Larry Fedora has to find answers now to avoid a repeat of last year’s 6-6 regular season record.

Clemson owns a 34-18-1 edge in the series against North Carolina. The Tigers won the last meeting 59-38 in 2011. The Tar Heels won 21-16 in Chapel Hill in 2010.

North Carolina at Clemson

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Clemson -14.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Deshaun Watson

Watson’s career is only three games old, but it’s hard to ignore how impressive he has been in that stretch. The true freshman is averaging 16.5 yards per completion, 11.7 yards per attempt and passed for 479 yards and four scores on just 29 completions. Barring a huge regression in talent or a departure by coordinator Chad Morris, Watson is going to thrive at Clemson over the next three seasons. And the freshman has a good opportunity to post huge numbers in his debut, as North Carolina’s secondary has allowed the most passing yards per game in the ACC (325.3) and opposing quarterbacks are completed 57.7 percent of their throws. With the Tar Heels struggling to stop the pass, Watson could have a monster debut in his first start with the Tigers.

Related: Week 5 ACC Previews and Predictions

2. North Carolina’s Offense

Scoring points certainly hasn’t been a problem for North Carolina in 2014. The Tar Heels rank No. 2 in the ACC by averaging 42.7 points per game and rank fifth in the conference in passing yards per game (264). With the troubles on defense, the Tar Heels have to score at least 30 points to win on Saturday night. Quarterback Marquise Williams has been sharing some snaps with Mitch Trubisky, and the two passers have combined for eight touchdowns and a completion percentage of 62 percent. In addition to Williams, North Carolina has talent at the skill positions, headlined by Ryan Switzer and Quinshad Davis at receiver, along with T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood at running back. The pieces are in place to match Clemson score-for-score. But there’s just one problem…

3. Clemson’s Defensive Line

In addition to the play of Deshaun Watson, the other bright spot for Clemson in last week’s loss to Florida State was the defensive line. The Tigers’ defensive front dominated the Seminoles’ offensive line, recording five sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. North Carolina’s offensive line returned three starters from 2013, but this unit is young and could be without standout guard Landon Turner and tackle Jon Heck this Saturday. Considering Clemson’s strength in the trenches - headlined by standout end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett – can the Tar Heels’ front five provide enough protection for quarterback Marquise Williams?

Final Analysis

Both teams should have plenty to prove after last week’s losses, but unless North Carolina can solve its defensive concerns, this game is shaping up to be a Clemson blowout. The Tigers should have no trouble moving the ball on the Tar Heels’ defense, and quarterback Deshaun Watson delivers a huge performance in his debut. If North Carolina’s offensive line provides ample protection for quarterback Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels can have success moving the ball. Expect plenty of points, but Clemson’s defense gets enough stops for a runaway win by the Tigers in the fourth quarter.

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Prediction: Clemson 45, North Carolina 20