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Clemson vs. UNC - ACC Championship: Q&A Preview

We connected with Noah Monroe of the Daily Tar Heel to get a UNC perspective on the upcoming ACC Championship.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

November has not been kind to the Clemson Tigers, but the calendar has flipped to December and they head to Charlotte for a chance to accomplish one of team’s the biggest goals, win the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are a perfect 8-0 ACC foes, but will now face the conference’s top QB and top offense with Drake Maye and the Tar Heels winning the Coastal Division.

To give us a fresh perspective on the Tar Heels football team, we connected with Noah Monroe from UNC’s student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel.

Ryan Kantor: Despite being 9-3, the advanced stats rank North Carolina quite low. Even prior to their two most recent losses, the Playoff Committee was very hesitant to put a 1-loss UNC team within striking distance of the playoff. As it stands now, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh are their best wins. How dangerous is this Tar Heel team when they’re playing like they were earlier in the year? Are they good enough to have a decent shot against anybody or a flawed team that was hot early against a soft schedule?

Noah Monroe: The problem with North Carolina has been that they tend to play down to the level of their opponent. You saw it in games like App State and Georgia State where it was clear UNC was the better team yet, they allowed those teams to hang around. UNC is a dangerous team purely because of the offense they have. They have first-team All-ACC players in Drake Maye and Josh Downs who at any time have the ability to change the game. Maye and Downs have helped the Tar Heels to win close games against Wake Forest and Miami. Aside from the Notre Dame game, North Carolina has been in every game they’ve played, and I expect that to be the same in the ACC Championship.

Ryan: North Carolina was held below 30 points just once in their first 10 games, but has fallen short of that mark in each of their past two games — losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. What are the primary reason the offense has sputtered?

Noah: The key to the North Carolina offense is Drake Maye, and both Georgia Tech and NC State slowed him down. They did this through dropping a significant number of defenders and finding a way to pressure him, whether that’s through sacks or making him run outside of the pocket. Georgia Tech sacked him six times, the most he’s been sacked this season. The Wolfpack pressured him 11 times, by far the most this season for any of UNC’s opponents. Although Maye is a talented quarterback, he’s still a first-year starter and a redshirt freshman and he’s bound to make mistakes or not know how to handle situations. You put pressure on him, or take away all of his options, he’s going to have a hard time being the quarterback he was before the two losses.

Ryan: NC’s defense was absolutely horrific early in the year, but when I watched them a few times later in the season they had a tendency to stiffen up late in games when the team needed it most. With Clemson’s offensive struggles, is UNC just the opponent Clemson needs to right the ship, or can UNC stymie Clemson’s offensive attack?

Noah: The North Carolina defense tends to make subpar quarterbacks look good. In all three of their losses, they went up against backup quarterbacks, and even third and fourth-string quarterbacks in terms of Georgia Tech and NC State. DJ Uiagalelei is a flawed quarterback, but he’s also very talented. If UNC can figure out how to take away his looks, he’s going to have a hard time getting the offense going. However, the North Carolina secondary has had trouble this year slowing down quarterbacks and forcing incompletions.

Will Shipley is going to be an interesting factor in this game due to how dangerous he can be in both the running and receiving game and how quick he is. If North Carolina can limit him, I think they have a chance to stymie Clemson. If not though, it could turn into a shootout if the North Carolina offense can figure it out.

Ryan: Before a tough two losses in Portland against Iowa State and Alabama, UNC basketball was ranked No. 1 in the country. With the excitement around the basketball team, how do you asses the fan interest — especially student interest — in the ACC Football Championship? An ACC Championship would be their first since 1980!

Noah: There’s a lot of fan interest, and there’s definitely a lot of student interest. North Carolina needed to increase their allotment of tickets for the conference championship from 6,000 to 10,000 purely because of the interest there was in getting tickets. Student tickets were released a few days ago and were grabbed up quickly. Mack Brown has changed the tone on campus from being a basketball school to possibly becoming a football school as well. Although I expect there to be plenty of orange in the crowd on Saturday, I also expect there to be plenty of Carolina Blue. At the Duke game in Durham this season, Carolina Blue dominated the Duke crowd, and I’m expecting it to be 50/50 in Charlotte.

Ryan: What is the biggest X-factor UNC needs to break in their favor to pull the upset? What kind of odds do you give them to pull it off?

Noah: The biggest X-factor for UNC to win the ACC Championship is figuring out how to get the offense back on track. As good as the defense has the potential to be, if you can’t score points, you can’t win the game. Drake Maye has to get back to the play he showed when he was rumored to be a Heisman candidate. If Maye can do that, then North Carolina has a shot to win the game. The Tar Heels have shown that they win a shootout, so if it comes to that, I have some faith in them coming out on top. If the offense doesn’t show up though as they’ve failed to the past two weeks, they’ll have some trouble winning the ACC Championship.

Thank you to Noah Monroe for coming on. This is the first time we’ve had a student of the opposing school join us for the Q&A. We hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.