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Tigers’ offense looks to get back on track vs. Tar Heels in ACC Championship

Matt Mynes // Photo Editor

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) looks toward wide receiver Joseph Ngata during the Tigers’ 2022 season opener against Georgia Tech in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 5, 2022.

Clemson may have lost the state title last week, but the Tigers’ season is far from over.

On Saturday, the Tigers (10-2) will take on North Carolina (9-3) in the ACC Championship game at 8 p.m. in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

After missing the championship game last season, Clemson has a chance to win its seventh ACC title since 2015, which was the last time the Tar Heels came out of the Coastal Division to play on this stage.

Both teams are coming off brutal rivalry losses last week, with Clemson falling to South Carolina at home and North Carolina losing to N.C. State and its third-string quarterback in Chapel Hill. Either way, the winning team has a clear path to the Orange Bowl, while the losing team’s future will become even murkier.

The Tigers are in for a challenge, especially when one examines the disparities between the two offenses.

On one side of the field, there is Clemson’s offense which had just 99 passing yards last week and has yet to have a single receiver surpass 85 receiving yards in a game this season.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei found himself in hot water once again last week after a lackluster performance against South Carolina. The junior signal-caller completed just 8 of 29 passes for 99 yards, almost all of which came in the first half in the 31-30 loss to the Gamecocks.

Head coach Dabo Swinney said Uiagalelei will start on Saturday, but if he and the wideouts don’t capitalize on their opportunities, the Tigers could be in trouble. 

“We got to capitalize,” Swinney said of the passing game. “We don’t have that type of room for error right now. And so, we have to capitalize on the layups, the plays that are there. We don’t have to do anything spectacular.”

The Tigers have been able to find success on the ground in nearly every game this season, averaging 188.3 rushing yards per game. But after only accumulating 86 total yards in the second half last week, the unit will need to play far better to have a chance at holding up the trophy Saturday night. 

Although they struggled in the last two weeks, the Tar Heels boast one of the nation’s most productive offenses, and Swinney knows it.

“Offensively, they’re the best we’ve seen, by far,” Swinney said. “They are very good, and they’re consistent.” 

At the center of North Carolina’s passing offense is quarterback Drake Maye, who leads the ACC in passing yards and touchdowns.

“Their quarterback is a great, great football player. He was a guy that was probably leading for the Heisman going into the Georgia Tech game.” 

Maye has led the Tar Heels to average the most yards and points per game in the ACC, at 480.9 and 37.1, respectively. His favorite target, Josh Downs, is also among the best, with nearly double the amount of receiving yards as Clemson’s leading receiver, Antonio Williams. 

The path to the Championship game hasn’t been as smooth as in years past for Clemson, but if they want to hoist another ACC Championship trophy, Swinney and the Tigers will need to be all in on both sides of the ball.

“It doesn’t matter how you got there. Now, you got to play a great game and win the championship,” Swinney added.

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Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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