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Clemson vs. North Carolina position advantages

Katie Bradham // Senior Photographer

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5), running back Will Shipley (1) and wide receiver Joseph Ngata (10) celebrate during the Tigers’ game against Louisville in Memorial Stadium on Nov. 12, 2022.

Ahead of Clemson’s matchup with North Carolina in the ACC Championship on Saturday, here are how the two teams stack up at key position groups. 

Quarterback: North Carolina

There aren’t many quarterbacks across the country that stack up with Drake Maye, and DJ Uiagalelei hasn’t even sniffed that category as of late. Coming off last week against South Carolina, when he threw 99 total passing yards and only 13 in the second half, Uiagalelei is once again in hot water as the Tigers’ starting signal-caller. Maye, on the other hand, hasn’t played great over the past few weeks, but his production and talent give North Carolina a significant edge at quarterback.

Running back: Clemson

Will Shipley and Phil Mafah have combined for 1,558 rushing yards for the Tigers, both averaging over 5.0 yards per carry. On the other side of the field, North Carolina has Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton, neither of whom have 450 rushing yards. Shipley and Mafah have had their fumbling issues as of late, but the Tigers’ dynamic tailback room remains one of the best in the nation. 

Wide receiver: North Carolina

If there is any position group that one team has a significant advantage in, it’s at wide receiver. Antonio Williams enters Saturday as the Tigers’ leading receiver with 523 yards, while the Tar Heels have one of the country’s best pass-catchers in Josh Downs. Downs is fifth in the ACC with 929 receiving yards and has found the end zone 11 times. Add in Antoine Green for the Tar Heels, and Clemson’s wide receivers have nowhere near the same talent as North Carolina. 

Offensive line: Clemson 

Clemson’s offensive line won’t blow anyone away, but the unit has taken a significant step forward from last season. Led by left tackle Jordan McFadden, the Tigers have only allowed 24 sacks on the season compared to North Carolina’s 34. Maye was sacked eight times over the last two games, so look for Clemson’s defense to take advantage of the Tar Heels’ recent struggles up front.

Defensive line: Clemson

The Tigers’ defensive front has some of the biggest names in the nation, from Bryan Bresee to Myles Murphy to K.J. Henry. While the unit hasn’t quite lived up to preseason expectations, Clemson has 19 more sacks on the year than North Carolina does, in huge part due to the defensive line.

Linebackers: Clemson

Clemson’s linebacker core has been playing at an extremely high level. Barrett Carter, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Trenton Simpson are some of the most versatile linebackers in the ACC, and their production recently is reflective of that. Cedric Gray is a tackle machine for the Tar Heels, but as a unit, Clemson has much more productive and dynamic linebackers.

Secondary: North Carolina 

Neither team’s secondary has performed at a great level throughout the entire season, but as of late, the Tar Heels have earned the edge here. With Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba struggling last week and R.J. Mickens having to miss the first half of Saturday’s game because of last week’s targeting call, the Tigers could find themselves in some trouble on the back end.

Special teams: Clemson

Clemson kicker B.T. Potter has had yet another phenomenal season thus far, converting 17 of 20 field goal attempts and is perfect within 40 yards. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Noah Burnette is 12-for-16 on field goals with three misses inside 40 yards. The Tar Heels’ punting unit may have a slight edge, but Clemson’s consistency at kicker and return gives the Tigers the advantage.

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Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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