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Behind enemy bylines: Clemson vs. North Carolina

Anna Connors // Provided

North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs (11) will be a focal point for Clemson’s defense in the 2022 ACC Championship game on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Ahead of Clemson’s ACC Championship game against North Carolina on Saturday, Justin Robertson, the sports editor of The Tiger, spoke to Hunter Nelson, the sports editor of North Carolina’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

Justin Robertson (JR): This is the first time North Carolina will play in the ACC Championship game since 2015. How excited is the student body for Saturday? 

Hunter Nelson (HN): I know probably the student body was a little bit more excited, probably two weeks ago, after UNC beat Wake Forest, and they were 9-1 and kind of rolling in with a little bit of momentum. But it still should be pretty exciting, especially with the game taking place in Charlotte. Student tickets are kind of a hot commodity at this point, and people are trying to get their hands on those.

Just in general, this season has been kind of a surprise in some way because after Sam Howell left the past year, and this being Drake Maye’s first season, no one really knew what to expect coming in. But student excitement is pretty high at this point. 

JR: What’s so special about Drake Maye?

HN: What makes him special is he’s a thrower, and he gets things done with his legs, which I think has been a little surprising; he is quote-unquote, sneaky-athletic. But he can make any big-time throw whenever he wants to. I guess it just comes from all different arm angles. You see a modern NFL quarterback and how guys are sort of throwing the ball to all parts of the field now. Maye can roll out of the pocket and make plays with his legs. And really, as I said, make any throw with any arm angle to get the ball where it needs to be.

He also has kind of a clutch gene. He’s been able to lead fourth-quarter comebacks and put up go-ahead scores when the team needs it. And I think that’s really what’s made him so special this year. He kind of fell off a little bit the past two weeks, but all in all, it’s been a really productive season for him.

JR: What’s the biggest strength of the Tar Heels that Clemson could have some trouble with?

HN: I think just the high-scoring offense. UNC’s strength of schedule hasn’t really been the best this season, but they still have been able to be one of the top offenses in the country. And that’s sort of been the case since Phil Longo took over. Josh Downs, probably one of the top receivers in college football, gets open really whenever he wants to. I know Clemson’s defense is pretty productive, but they’ll find a way to slow that down.

JR: What’s one weakness of the Tar Heels that Clemson can take advantage of?

HN: The defense is far from a finished product, they have shown improvement, but they do sort of allow quarterbacks who haven’t really been the best to take advantage of them. DJ Uiagalelei has all the talent to really expose UNC’s secondary whenever he wants to. UNC’s secondary is a little banged up, too. Tony Grimes and Storm Duck went down with injuries throughout the past couple of weeks. They should still be able to go on Saturday, but all in all, that’s something to look at.

I guess UNC has done a better job at stopping the run over the course of the season. But I guess it’s really in the past couple of years that personnel has really had trouble stopping those opposing offenses. Will Shipley could have a big game there. It’s really just sort of keying on those aspects, and I think that’s what Clemson can take advantage of.

JR: Who do you think will win and why?

HN: I think just because Clemson has been in this spot for so many years now, I do give them the edge. Obviously, UNC is going to be sort of emotionally charged because they’ve had this game circled all season, and that’s what they were shooting for. But I think just with the recent offensive struggles; I do give Clemson the edge just because, as I said, they’ve been in this spot before. And if I had to give a score prediction, I would probably say Clemson wins 37-27.

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Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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