10 quick thoughts on Clemson’s thrilling 21-20 win over North Carolina.
Clemson 21, North Carolina 20
10. North Carolina … you played such a brilliant game. You hung around, did everything right, stayed alive and hung tough with the No. 1 team in college football. It was actually a great call to go for two to try to win the game, rather than give the better team a shot in overtime …
AND YOU RUN WIDE WITH SAM HOWELL IN A SHORT SPACE AGAINST THIS NFL-FAST CLEMSON DEFENSE?
9. Was this really the No. 1 team in the country? It has the talent, it has the NFL stars, and it has the ability to roll to 13-0 and into the College Football Playoff and do that again – Clemson is great under Dabo Swinney at picking up the pace and gaining momentum as the year rolls on. But right now, there’s no reasonable or rational argument to put the Tigers ahead of Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU. (This is being written before the Ohio State game against Nebraska).
8. Clemson is going to get dogged for not playing well – and rightly so – but it got the win on the road when things weren’t working quite right. Remember, the 2018 Tigers survived and advanced against Syracuse, and the 2017 team lost to an Orange squad that went 4-8. The 2016 version that won the national title lost to Nathan Peterman, James Conner, and Pitt in a 43-42 shootout. The one big difference this time around? There aren’t going to be any decent wins on the resumé if and when the Tigers are 13-0 with an ACC Championship.
7. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Clemson defense played a whale of a game. It held North Carolina to 290 yards, it only gave up that late touchdown in the second half, and it held its own time and again to keep the game rolling. It was the offense that didn’t play up to its normal snuff. Credit the Tar Heels for playing well, but there’s way too much talent to only come up with 331 yards of total offense.
6. For a North Carolina to have won this, it would’ve required a perfect game. No turnovers, one takeaway, just three penalties, and do a decent enough job on third downs to control the clock and the tempo – the Tar Heels did that.
And then they came up with that play call on the two-point conversion.
5. Sam Howell was just fine against the No. 1 team in the country. The freshman only hit 15-of-27 passes for 144 yards, but he threw two touchdown passes, held up under the pressure, and most importantly to keep his team in the game, he didn’t throw any picks. He didn’t outplay Trevor Lawrence – he missed a few too many makeable throws – but he more than held his own against the best NFL prospect in college football.
4. Trevor Lawrence needs to be better. He makes enough WOW plays and throws to remind you that he should be the Arizona Cardinal starting quarterback right now – yeeesh on that touchdown throw to Tee Higgins – but after an okay-not-amazing start to the season, he only hit 18-of-30 passes for 206 yards and a game-winning touchdown pass.
Actually, he doesn’t need to be better … for now.
He has two weeks off to get ready for Florida State, and then Louisville, and then Boston College, and then Wofford, and then NC State, and then Wake Forest, and then South Carolina. As long as he’s not royally screwing up, he’ll be doing his job, but that’s not what the world wants to see out of him.
3. By the way, Appalachian State’s Zac Thomas against this same Tar Heel defense? 20-of-29 for 224 yards and a pick, but he ran for 57 yards.
Of course, that Appalachian State loss doesn’t really matter for North Carolina too much, unless there’s another whiff along the way.
Lost in this loss to Clemson is that the Tar Heels are now 2-3. They still have to play Duke, Virginia, and have to go on the road to face Virginia Tech, Pitt and NC State. This loss might have been interesting and a great fight, but UNC will still have to fight to go bowling. The program might be 4-12 in its last 16 games now decided by a touchdown or less, but …
2. That’s why you hired Mack Brown. It was a loss, and again, that final play call on the conversion was weird, but he changed around the tone and tenor of the program. This might not be a world-beater of a UNC program quite yet, but the team that went 5-20 in its last 25 games before this season almost beat the defending national champion. Now, at least, North Carolina has a shot at doing big things – at least that’s the perception.
1. 13-0 Clemson is going to get into the College Football Playoff … right? Considering how light this schedule is, and without any wins over ranked teams – likely – by the end of the season, how much will the playoff committee care that the Tigers struggled so much in a game like this?
It won’t care too much – no chance an unbeaten ACC champ doesn’t get in – but considering how many good SEC teams there are, and with Notre Dame looking like a killer with only the loss at Georgia, there should be some interesting theoretical debates is the Tigers have another one of these.
They’ll get dropped in the polls this week – at least, they should be – but the only rankings that matter will come from Grapevine, Texas. Survive and advance, keep on winning, and Clemson is going to get in.