Clemson had a disappointing end to the regular season, seeing their 40-game home win streak come to an end at the hands of rival South Carolina. There is no time to dwell on that, however, as the Tigers’ focus must quickly turn to the ACC Championship game. Dabo Swinney and company now head to Charlotte to face North Carolina with a trophy on the line. Clemson is looking to regain the conference crown they held for six consecutive years before the Pitt Panthers won it in 2021. The Tigers have a chance to get the trophy back in their possession with a win over the Tar Heels.
Clemson Tigers Focus Shifts to ACC Title Game
Clemson last played North Carolina in 2019, when they escaped Chapel Hill with a 21-20 victory. This week’s match-up will contrast the Tigers ultra-talented defense against an explosive Tar Heel offense. Clemson has won the last four meetings and nine of the last 11 dating back to 1999. These teams don’t play often, being in opposite divisions. The Tar Heels are in their second ACC Title game since 2015 and will be trying to win their first ACC championship since 1980. The Tigers’ focus will be on earning their 14th conference title in that same time frame.
One of the more frustrating things about the loss on Saturday was how prematurely they seemed to give up on the run game. Trailing by just a point in the fourth quarter, and Will Shipley only got three carries on three possessions. The sophomore tailback had been the offense up until that point. There was still plenty of time to utilize the rushing attack, especially considering the Tigers only needed a field goal and have one of the nation’s most reliable kickers. Shipley has been this offense’s best player for each of his two seasons in orange and purple. He surpassed the 1000-yard mark on the season this past Saturday. Clemson needs to get him at least 20 touches against the Tar Heels. He has shown that he should be the Tigers’ focus on offense with how he has played this season.
The decision to abandon the run while down one point put all the pressure squarely on D.J. Uiagalelei and the passing attack. They were not able to respond accordingly. The junior signal-caller has had an up-and-down 2022. But for the most part, he had shown improvement over his sophomore struggles. That was not the case on Saturday. He was just 8-29 passing for a putrid 99 yards. He took a big hit from Gamecock safety Nick Emmanwori on a 3rd quarter run and didn’t look the same afterward. Uiagalelei was under pressure on most of his dropbacks and couldn’t find any consistency or rhythm in throwing the ball. It was surprising that Clemson didn’t look to freshman Cade Klubnik as they did against Syracuse. Swinney has already said the Uiagalelei will start in Charlotte.
This team has also struggled to find consistent playmaking at wide receiver all season. After Beaux Collins left the game with an injury that search was even more dire. The string of high-level pass catchers that have come through this program is currently in a holding pattern. For all of Uiagalelei’s faults, he also hasn’t had the star talent to throw to that his predecessors had. Freshman Antonio Williams has been solid but not spectacular. The tight ends are mismatch problems, but they weren’t involved last weekend. Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool must be bigger factors. The UNC defense has struggled most of the season, so the Tigers need to take advantage and find their rhythm again.
Back to the Standard
The Clemson defense is also under some scrutiny following Saturday’s loss. The secondary gave up over 350 yards passing to South Carolina. That is concerning with Drake Maye and the high-powered Tar Heel offense up next. Jeremiah Trotter Jr was all over the field this past weekend, but even his superb performance couldn’t make up for mistakes on the back end. Now this unit which has been dominant much of the season, and the past decade for that matter, must regroup. Maye will try to have similar success to what Spencer Rattler and Sam Hartman had throwing the ball. Clemson will need to cover and pressure better than they did against those two. Slowing down the Maye to Josh Downs connection must be priority number one.
The loss to South Carolina stings, as it should, but there are still goals to be achieved. The Tigers’ focus is now fully on bringing back some hardware from Charlotte. They have owned the ACC for close to a decade. After taking a slight step back a season ago, they have the chance to reclaim the conference crown. North Carolina will provide a tough test, but it is a test that this team can handle.