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North Carolina Game Review: Position Group Ratings

The Tigers roll the North Carolina Tar Heels 31-20 for their third consecutive victory on Saturday night as the home season in Death Valley comes to a close.

North Carolina v Clemson Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Hello Everyone! The Tigers played their final home game of the season on Saturday night as they were able to beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 32-21 under the lights in Death Valley. Clemson went 6-1 at home this season, and with the win, extended the home record to 72-4 in the last 10 seasons. Impressive! So, let’s review the game and analyze how each position group performed on the day. These ratings are my own and are subjective, so don’t take them to be an exact science. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Quarterback - 7

Cade Klubnik had another positive performance as he commanded the Tigers to victory for the 7th time this season. His final stat line was 21-32 for 219 yards and a touchdown while adding another touchdown and 44 yards on the ground. Klubnik’s ability to run the ball effectively the past two games has helped the run game become more dynamic. On the opening play, he is probably regretting overthrowing Tyler Brown. He also called his own number again right before the half to find the endzone by an inch. Had he not gotten a touchdown there, the game may have had a drastically different outcome. Regardless of his occasional rash decision making, you have to hand it to the kid – he has guts.

Running Backs - 9

The running back combination of Shipley and Mafah proved again why they are one of the best backfield duos in the nation. Shipley had his season-high for rushing yards in a game with 126 yards on 18 carries (7.0 yds/carry). He also caught 2 passes for 53 yards – including one 36-yard reception on a seam route over the middle. Shipley tallied 179 all-purpose yards and made some highlight worthy runs in the process. Mafah added 84 yards on 23 carries and continued to be a bruiser back with some elusiveness. These backs combined for 210 yards against the Tar Heels and showed the fans how lucky we are to have these two talents in the backfield. If this happens to be Shipley’s last game in Memorial Stadium, it was definitely one to remember.

Wide Receivers - 7

There is no denying that this receiving corps is banged up, but the available players have delivered some gutsy performances recently, with Saturday being no different. Troy Stellato led the Tigers with 6 catches for 50 yards. He has shown some toughness and determination on multiple occasions this year that his group has lacked in recent past. Adam Randall, who is playing through injury, had 2 catches for 57 yards – including one beautiful catch on a route over the middle that showcased his athletic ability. Tyler Brown continues to be a constant threat. Ronan Hanafin earned some reps again this week. This group is starting to a show a grit and resilience that is refreshing to see.

Tight Ends - 7

Jake Brinningstool led the way for the tight ends with 3 catches for 20 yards against the Tar Heels. “Brinny” had the all-important touchdown catch that gave the Tigers their first points of the day in a moment where the team was desperate for momentum. The junior tight end has proven to be one Klubnik’s go to targets in the red zone, and thus an important cog for this offense.

Offensive Line - 8

The offensive line delivered a solid performance against the Tar Heels defensive front–continuing their run of good displays since the Notre Dame game. Harris Sewell and Trent Howard started at the guard positions while Tristan Leigh anchored the line at left tackle. The O-line has thrived in the simplified zone blocking scheme, which is what they went to on Saturday. They are holding their blocks long enough to give the backs some time to make cuts and find the open space. This is a drastic improvement from earlier in the year where they were being pushed back and slow to their assignments. No sacks allowed either on a great night.

Offense - 7.6

The Clemson offense had an inauspicious start like they have done at many times this season, but once they were able to find their stride, they began to wear down the North Carolina defense. The Tigers were balanced with 219 yards gained through the air and 247 yards on the ground. This type of offensive output is a recipe for success, especially paired with minimal turnovers and self-inflicted wounds. The Tigers have done a better job at limiting the shocking mistake, however the one turnover in the red zone on Saturday was a big momentum loss at that point in the game.

The key for this offense is obviously winning the battle in the trenches. If the offensive line is able to create enough space for these backs, this unit will have success because of the talent in the backfield. I would love for the offense to find some big play ability in the pass game again, especially with Brown. If they can begin to connect on some deeper plays in the pass game, this offense will be difficult for a lot of teams to stop.

Defensive Line - 7

The defensive lined was tasked with stopping North Carolina running back Omarion Hampton on Saturday night and had difficulty at times. The UNC back had 179 yards on 19 carries and averaged over 9 yds/carry. The D-line was not as disruptive as they have been and was held at bay by the UNC O-line. Ruke, on his senior day, was the best player in the trenches with 4 tackles and 1.5 TFL. The best play of the day came from freshmen Peter Woods forcing a fumble on UNC’s first drive of the game in the red zone to keep the Tar Heels from scoring.

Linebackers - 6

The linebackers had a tough night. They were asked to be stout against the run but be quick enough to play in coverage and keep Maye contained in scrambling situations. Hampton was able to bust multiple long runs in the game–mostly due to some poor gap integrity by either Carter or Trotter. Carter missed a huge tackle on one of the long Hampton runs as well. Jeremiah Trotter still had a great game overall as he had 11 total tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Trotter now leads the team in sacks on the season with 5.5. He should have had an interception as well but couldn’t come down with it.

Cornerbacks - 10

Nate Wiggins bag game. For those not familiar, a “bag game”, is a game where a player performs so well that it seemingly guarantees money at the next level. That is exactly what the junior cornerback did on Saturday night. Wiggins was up against the talented UNC receiver “Tez” Walker–who got the best of Wiggins early on a long ball on the sideline. From that point forward, Nate pretty much had Walker locked down the rest of the game. The play of the night came from Wiggins when he was clocked at 22 mph while running down UNC back Hampton on a 64-yard run to strip the ball at the goal line to cause a touchback. The sheer determination and speed he showed to come out of nowhere on what appeared a guaranteed touchdown and force the turnover will immortalize that play in Clemson lore. Wiggins later picked Maye off to ice the game. What a performance.

Safeties - 9

The safeties contributed to the defensive effort by affording Drake Maye little space to throw the ball into on Saturday. Khalil Barnes was beat for an early touchdown on an excellent throw by Maye, but after that, Maye did not have a ton of success against the secondary. Barnes tallied another sack off the edge and he and Mukuba combined for 3 pass break ups. Mukuba could have taken a better angle on the long Hampton run but Wiggins bailed him out with the strip.

Defense - 8.0

The defense had a big task on Saturday with Drake Maye coming into town boasting the eighth best scoring offense in the nation. The Tar Heels entered the game against the Tigers averaging 39.9 points per game and were held to only 20 points–well below their season average.

Much of the success of the defense can be attributed to being able to limit the North Carolina passing game. Drake Maye averaged 315 yds/game passing coming into the game, and the Tigers were able to hold him to 209 yards. Maye also had the lowest completion percentage of his career on Saturday–going 16 of 36 for 44.4%.

The Clemson secondary forced Maye to throw into much tighter windows than he has been used to for most of the season. Wiggins and Terrell excellent play at corner attributed to those tight windows. Once Clemson was able to settle down after the first quarter, North Carolina never looked a threat to impose their will on this Tiger defense.

Special Teams - 4

I wrote last week that I hope we do not see another fake punt anytime soon. Well, we did see another one against UNC, and it had about the same result. The Tigers were 4th and 1 and ran a fake punt with a direct snap to upback Tyler Davis who was tackled for a 6-yard loss and fumbled. If you are going to go for it there, just give it to Mafah who will offer you a much better chance of getting 1 yard than your D-lineman. UNC also looked like they were in a safe return formation–making it even less likely to be successful. Jonathan Weitz was 1-2 on field goals as well.

Coaching - 7

Garrett Riley has found some success with this offense in the last 3 weeks even though it may not look like the high-powered attack we thought we would be seeing this season. This receiving corps is banged up, so he knows we must have success on the ground to win. I feel like the shift to Cade running the ball more has been a big boost to this offense as well. Riley seems to be calling plays that give our current available playmakers the best shot at winning.

Goodwin dialed up another heater against the Tar Heels and he continues to press the right buttons for this defense. If you haven’t seen the blitz package we brought on the play where Trotter sacked Maye, go back and watch how confused the North Carolina O-line was. We will need another defensive effort like that in Williams-Brice next Saturday against Spencer Rattler.

Overall Team Performance - 7.4

This Tigers team has hit their stride as they have been playing a better brand of football than we saw earlier in the season. We have now won the turnover battle in 3 consecutive games, and coincidently enough it has translated to 3 wins. The offense is gaining some momentum through success in the run game and Klubnik is taking better care of the ball. He is playing with more consistency, and you can see his poise in the pocket increasing.

The attention of this football team will now be turned towards Columbia and the South Carolina Gamecocks. I love rivalry week. I love Thanksgiving. Those two combined makes this one of my favorite weeks of the year. There is nothing better than eating Turkey with the family on Thursday and eating some fried chicken on Saturday to watch the Tigers beat the chickens. I hope everyone who reads these articles has a Happy Thanksgiving and may we all be happy on Saturday night. Go Tigers!

Bonus Ranking: Nanny - 10

I mentioned last week that my Grandma–she goes by “Nanny”–texted me to let me know that the fake punt against Georgia Tech was a terrible idea. Some of you in the comments suggested that we need to hear more from Nanny, so I followed up with her this week to get her thoughts.

Nanny might have a direct line to Nate Wiggins, because she is famous for yelling “strip it” about 50 times a game while we are on defense regardless of what kind of tackle is happening. In reference to Wiggin’s play, she told me, “Mitch, they are finally stripping the ball!” I’m sure she was hollering “strip it” as Nate was running up behind Hampton–so thank you Nanny for orchestrating the turn of fortune the Tigers needed.