By Johnny Falduto
Clemson (6-4, 3-4 ACC) will play its home finale on Saturday as No. 20 North Carolina (8-2, 4-2 ACC) travels to Memorial Stadium for Senior Day. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET.
Clemson is riding a two-game win streak that began with the upset of No. 12 Notre Dame and continued last weekend with a dominant 42-21 win over Georgia Tech. North Carolina also brings a two-game win streak into Memorial Stadium after edging out Duke in overtime by a score of 47-45 last week.
Maye, Hampton Lead Potent Offense
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye adds to the list of talented, veteran quarterbacks that the Tigers have faced so far this season – and he is the best of them all. The potential top NFL Draft pick leads the ACC and is third in FBS with 314.5 passing yards per game, and he ranks fifth nationally among quarterbacks as a passer with a 91.1 PFF grade. He leads the ACC with a 157.39 passer rating and is second in completion percentage (65.8) and passing touchdowns (21).
“(Maye) is going to be playing football for a long time,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Tuesday. “It’s one of those cool opportunities to play against one of the best. He’s one of those guys that makes the coaches better, the fans better, and the popcorn taste better – everything is better when you’ve got a dude like that under center.”
The Tar Heels’ 520.6 yards of offense per game is third to only LSU (560.2) and Oregon (540.0) nationally, and their 39.9 points per game ranks eighth. Complementing Maye and the passing game is sophomore running back Omarion Hampton, who has emerged as one of the top backs in the country as of late.
Hampton exploded for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a double-overtime win over App State in early September and has gone for 100+ rushing yards in the team’s last five games, averaging 155 YPG over that stretch. He leads the nation with 830 yards after contact and has forced 51 missed tackles on his 206 carries.
Opportunities for Klubnik, Clemson Offense
Coming off one of his most efficient performances of the season against Georgia Tech, Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik will once again face a favorable North Carolina defense that ranks second worst in the ACC in terms of passing yards allowed per game (235.5) and points allowed per game (25.5).
One of the better performances of Klubnik’s young career came in last season’s ACC Championship game, where he went 20-24 for 279 YDS and a TD in a 39-10 win over the Tar Heels.
Clemson’s running back tandem of Will Shipley and Phil Mafah will also have the opportunity to establish the run game against a defense that allows 154.0 rushing yards per game, 4.1 yards per carry, and has given up 16 rushing touchdowns this season, all of which rank near the middle of the conference.
Clemson Defense Can Win the Day
Clemson’s defense has been among the best units in the country all season, currently sitting at 6th in FBS in total defense. Against the run, the Tigers are giving up 109.3 yards per contest on 3.4 yards per carry, both marks that sit at fourth-best in the ACC. They’re second only to Virginia Tech in terms of passing yards allowed per game (162.5) and lead the conference in overall defensive efficiency (101.8). Last weekend against Georgia Tech, it was the young defensive backs who tallied four interceptions, making it the first time that four freshmen have had an interception in a single FBS game since at least 2000.
But Clemson’s defense has not been challenged to the likes of which they will be on Saturday. And as one might expect when looking at North Carolina’s schedule, their high-flying, dynamic offense has not been challenged to the degree of which they will be on Saturday. So who has the upper hand?
Betting Lines, Projections
As of early Thursday afternoon, Clemson sits as a 6.5-point favorite at home, with the O/U set at 59.5.
North Carolina is 6-4 against the spread this season, but 1-4 ATS in its last five games against Clemson. Clemson is 18-2 straight up in its past 20 home games, and the over is 4-2 in their last six home games.
The SP+ model projects a 29-28 Clemson win, giving them a 53% chance of winning. The FEI model projects a 28-26 Clemson win, giving them a 57.3% chance to win. ESPN’s Matchup Predictor gives Clemson a 60.7% chance to win.
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. For complete pregame coverage and a live play-by-play call, tune into 107.5/97.5 in the Upstate, theroarfm.com, or on The ROAR mobile app.