Tigers, Tar Heels feature a battle of efficient QBs
CLEMSON -- Saturday will mark a battle of two of the ACC's most efficient quarterbacks when North Carolina's Bryn Renner and Clemson's Tajh Boyd square off at noon at Memorial Stadium on ESPN.
Renner is seventh in the nation and leads the ACC in passing efficiency (174.1). The sophomore is third in the nation in completion percentage (75.2), trailing only Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Boise State's Kellen Moore.
Boyd is third in the ACC in efficiency rating, but leads the ACC in passing yards per game with 287.4. NFLDraftscout.com ranks Renner and Boyd as the seventh- and eighth-best pro quarterback prospects in the 2014 class.
Renner presents a different challenge for Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. A week after struggling against Maryland's run-first quarterback C.J. Brown, Clemson now faces one of the best pro-style passers it has faced in recent seasons, perhaps the best since Clemson played Christian Ponder last year, who went on to be a first round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, or TCU's Andy Dalton in 2009, a second-round pick in April.
Steele described the 6-3, 215-pound Renner with one appropriate word: "Efficient."
"He's an NFL-style guy," Steele said. "He can run the ball, play-action pass it and take shots when you need to."
Clemson freshman receiver Sammy Watkins was named a midseason All-American by Sports Illustrated on Thursday. Defensive end Andre Branch and tight end Dwayne Allen were named second-team All-Americans by the magazine.
Steele was asked about the handshake fiasco between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coaches this week.
"Stuff happens," Steele said. "I've been choked on national television before."
Steele was referencing an incident when he was grabbed on the neck by former NFL star Kevin Greene when Steele was coaching linebackers with the Carolina Panthers.
Watkins won't be the only threat in the downfield passing game on Saturday. North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones has become a favorite target of Renner. Jones is fourth in the ACC in receiving yards per game (98.1) and tied with Watkins with the most touchdown catches in the conference with eight.
Bulletin board material
Jones on Watkins: "He's a freshman. He's a speedster. I'm not knocking him or anything. He's good, but I've been doing this for four years. I'm more technique. I know how to play the game. … I mean, I know I'm the best."
Saturday could be the greatest physical test of the season for Clemson. Not only does the North Carolina defensive front have a number of players who project to play in the NFL, but the offensive line averages 318 pounds, the heaviest in the ACC. Clemson's starting defensive line is 10 pounds lighter per player than last season when the Tigers lost at Chapel Hill.
Outside of the season-ending injury to freshman linebacker Tony Steward (torn ACL) this week in practice, Clemson is healthy for Saturday's game versus North Carolina.