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Clemson vs. North Carolina: The Tigers Keep the Tar Heel Offense in Check to Win 31-20

Clemson again leaned on their defense and their running game to defeat UNC 31-20 and extend their winning streak to three.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Clemson
The Tiger defense had another good outing today.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back Tiger fans. Clemson, sporting a 2-game winning streak, welcomed the North Carolina Tar Heels to Death Valley. Even though UNC came in at #20 in the CFP rankings, ESPN Analytics gave the unranked Tigers a 60% chance of winning. It turns out that they were right as Clemson came away with a convincing 31-20 win.

UNC got the ball first and moved out to midfield but the Tiger defense forced a 3rd and 11 and held them. On 4th and 6, however, the Tar Heels completed a long pass down the sideline to the Tiger 2. After a false start, UNC had 1st and goal from the 7 and the Tiger defense came through with a forced fumble by DeMonte Capehart that they recovered at the 7. The Tiger drive started with Cade Klubnik leading a wide-open Tyler Brown deep down the middle a little too much. A short run by Phil Mafah and an incomplete pass ended the Tiger drive and after the punt, the Tar Heels took over at their 47.

Clemson’s defense forced a 3 and out on the next UNC drive. This time the Tar Heels punted on 4th and long and pinned the Tigers at the 2. Mafah started the drive with a 7-yard run. On 3rd and 2, Klubnik picked up 22 yards out to the Tiger 32. Will Shipley showed great effort on a 3rd down pass to move the chains. The Tigers pushed on out past midfield but got to 4th and 2 and took a timeout to talk about it. They set up in punt formation and did a direct snap to Tyler Davis of all people, but he lost yardage. Three plays later UNC scored on a 33-yard pass to take the lead 7-0 with 4:31 left in the quarter.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Clemson
Phil Mafah breaks through the line behind a nice block by Collin Sadler.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The next Tiger drive went nowhere and the punt gave with a short return gave the Tar Heels the ball at their 23. A few plays in, UNC RB Omarion Hampton got loose down the sideline but Nate Wiggins hustled to catch up with him and chopped the ball out at the 1 yard line. It rolled out of the end zone, giving the Tigers the ball at the 20. The Tigers drove into UNC territory, led by a 26-yard catch by Adam Randall. The Tigers got inside the 5 and on a 4th and 1, Klubnik executed a QB sneak nicely to convert. A couple of plays later he hit Jake Briningstool for the TD. With 10:10 left in the half, the score was tied 7-7.

The Tiger defense kept the Tar Heels from getting much on their next drive and after the punt, the offense got the ball at their 17. They didn’t get very far, only gaining 3 yards. UNC gained some yardage on their next drive but failed to convert a 4th and 2, giving the Tigers the ball on their 45. A false start put them in the hole and they couldn’t recover.

UNC couldn’t get anywhere on their next drive and when the Tigers got the ball they drove down the field deep into UNC territory. The drive ended when Shipley had the ball punched out and the Tar Heels recovered. The defense held and the offense got the ball back with under 2 minutes left. A timely roughing the passer call kept the drive going into the red zone. On 3rd and goal, Klubnik scrambled and stretched and got about an inch of the ball into the end for the score. Going into halftime , Clemson led 14-7.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Clemson
Nate Wiggins strips the ball from UNC running back Omarion Hampton just before he gets to the end zone.
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers started the second half with a 3 and out. UNC responded with a better drive but ended up with 4th and 6 and Khalil Barnes sacked Tar Heel QB Drake Maye to give the offense the ball at the Clemson 44. On the 1st play of the drive Randall hauled in a 31-yard pass from Klubnik to the UNC 25. They continued down the field and got inside the 5 but failed to make a 3rd and 1 on a Klubnik sneak. After spending a timeout to talk about it, Clemson decided to go for it. From the Wildcat, Mafah was able to punch it in off tackle to the right. Clemson led 21-7 with 7:15 left in the 3rd quarter.

UNC’s offensive line had been doing a pretty good job blocking for Hampton and he got loose for a 55-yard TD. In less than a minute, the Tiger lead was back to 21-14. When the Tigers got the ball, Shipley ripped off a 31-yard run to the UNC 44. On a 4th and 1 at the 35, Klubnik got UNC to jump offside. But the officials reviewed the play after Troy Stellato appeared to have made the catch on the sideline. It was close, but the call on the field of an incompletion was upheld. A couple of plays later, Shipley got loose on a draw play for a 33-yard TD to give Clemson a 28-14 lead with 3:19 left in the quarter.

UNC started a good drive, punctuated by a 30-yard run by Maye, but a couple of false starts on 3rd down put them in a bind at 3rd and 17. They picked up 4 and had to punt. Clemson started their drive at the 8. On 3rd and 6, Shipley continued making big plays by moving the ball out to the 29 on a 17-yard catch and run on a flare pass as the 3rd quarter ended. A few plays later he made a 36-yard catch down the middle to the Tar Heel 9. They weren’t able to punch it in, hampered by an illegal shift penalty, and settled for a 21-yard FG to make the score 31-14 Clemson with 10:33 left.

North Carolina v Clemson
Cade Klubnik scrambles for yardage against the Tar Heel defense.
Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

UNC drove down the field on the arm of Maye and scored on a Hampton run with about 7 minutes to go. They went for the 2-point conversion but Andrew Mukuba deflected a Maye pass to keep the score 31-20 Tigers. The Tigers started at the 25 after a touchback and runs by Mafah and Shipley set up 3rd and 4. Mafah could only manage to get a yard and had to punt. UNC, needing 2 scores, got the ball at their 30.

The Tiger defense got after the Tar Heels, who didn’t help themselves with penalties, and a 4th and 20 was in the way of a UNC comeback. Maye lofted the ball down the field but it sailed way out of bounds, giving the Tigers the ball at the UNC 20 with about 4 minutes left. Clearly trying to run the clock down and preserve the option to kick a FG, the Tigers ended up doing just that, except they missed the FG. But the defense came through, again, on the next play when Wiggins intercepted Maye at the Tar Heel 25 with 2:37 left. The offense was able to run the clock out and take the win 31-20.

The defense had another good day overall, but they did give up some big plays. The offense continued to improve and the running game was effective. Now it’s on to the state championship against the Gamecocks next week. Let the trash talk begin in the comments section below!