CHARLOTTE – Not normally a film rat, am I.
But I felt compelled this week to dive into North Carolina game tape, so I’ve now watched half the ACC Coastal Division champ’s season – South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech and N.C. State – and feel much more in tune with who the Tar Heels are as a football team.
A few takeaways, besides the obvious:
- UNC’s offense really does remind me of Clemson’s offense ... from 2013. On the run, Marquise Williams is kind of a blend of Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson – kind of big and hard to bring down like Boyd, but very shifty and willing in open space like Watson. Also, like Watson, Williams hates to slide.
- UNC’s assortment of receivers, and absence of an impactful tight end, also reminds me of the 2013 Tigers. Mack Hollins is hard to cover and makes plays all over the field, like Sammy Watkins. Quinshad Davis is reliable as a possession receiver, especially on third downs, like Charone Peake or Adam Humphries. Bug Howard is big and has crazy-good hands to make highlight-reel grabs, like Martavis Bryant. And Ryan Switzer just . . . gets . . . open, with deceptively great speed, like a guy blending Humphries’ dexterity with Williams’ velocity.
- I am not saying Hollins is as good as Watkins. I am saying Switzer is better than Humphries.
- Elijah Hood – well, Carolina fans should be bitter he wasn’t used in the red zone more against the Gamecocks. He’s a load to bring down, and Clemson’s defensive front better be ready for him. T.J. Logan’s no picnic when he gets the ball, either.
- You don’t realize how fast North Carolina pushes the pace until you really watch them.
- On defense, UNC gets decent pressure at times, but there’s not one clear game-wrecker to key on. In this case, that’s not necessarily a good thing for UNC, because it would appear Clemson’s offensive line – built with five all-ACC selections – vs. the Tar Heels’ front seven might be one of the most decisive mismatches in favor of the Tigers.
- Good linebacking crew for UNC, but the middle of the field is commonly left open. Watson’s not a fella to miss those types of things. Paging Jordan Leggett.
- The strength of Gene Chizik’s resurgent defense is in the secondary – cornerback Des Lawrence and nickel back M.J. Stewart stand out. But get this: of the eight active defensive backs on UNC’s depth chart, two are 6-1, one is 6-foot and five are 5-11. (Again, paging Leggett, all 6-5 of him. Charone Peake is 6-3, and Deon Cain and Trevion Thompson are listed at 6-2.)
- Switzer has scored seven career punt return touchdowns, including two in 2015, and Logan has two kick return touchdowns this year. So .. watch that.
- All in all, if we were doing a traditional Post and Courier head to head, I would give Clemson a slight nod at quarterback and UNC a slight nod at running back. UNC would get wide receivers and special teams, while Clemson would get offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and, slightly, defensive backs.
- I’m calling it: first to 40 wins.
#9 Wayne Gallman, 6-1, 215, soph., RB, Clemson. Well, let’s recap: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson ran for a season-high 133 yards. A guy from Delaware ran for 163 yards on 22 carries; another Fightin’ Blue Hen had 95 on 18. Three ACC backs reached 100 yards on the Tar Heels. What do you think Gallman might do to the Tar Heels, who give up plenty of 7-10 yard gains up the gut?
#19 Charone Peake, 6-3, 215, sr., WR, Clemson. They call him Mr. Clutch: he’s becoming a trusted third-down threat, and quietly had four straight 50-yard receiving games before the South Carolina game. Would like to see him in tandem with his backup, Deon Cain, on the field together, since Peake’s got more versatility.
#90 Nazair Jones, 6-5, 295, soph., DT, UNC. About the only clear camper in opposing backfields from game to game. Will need to make life difficult on Gallman.
#10 Jeff Schoettmer, 6-2, 235, sr., LB, UNC. You’ll recognize him easily with the Clay Matthews-like hair. He’s a tough guy, too. I think the overused cliché is “hard-nosed,” no?
#2 Des Lawrence, 6-1, 185, jr., CB, UNC. Should be all over Peake or Cain, or a mixture as both, as the Heels’ most physical DB.
#34 Elijah Hood, 6-0, 220, soph., RB, UNC. “I wanted him to be my linebacker,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables recalled of hosting Hood in a Clemson summer camp, Venables’ first offseason with the Tigers. “Until he decided he wanted to be a running back and he didn’t want to be a linebacker any more. That was my first summer camp, he worked at linebacker. I had a man crush and chased him around for two and a half days. He’s a stud.” Hood has 1,280 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
#13 Mack Hollins, 6-4, 210, jr., WR, UNC. Alert: another Venables man-crush. “I’m a big fan of No. 13. That guy’s a great football player. Kickoff, punt team, kickoff return, could be a great safety. Caught one on top of Mackensie’s head here in the corner of the end zone, in good tight coverage. Super fast.” If Mackensie Alexander’s on Hollins, that’s another fun matchup this year, just like Will Fuller and Pharoh Cooper.
#98 Kevin Dodd, 6-5, 275, jr., DE, Clemson. Containing the run is perhaps even more critical than specifically sacking Williams, so Dodd has to be on even if Shaq Lawson’s numbers are not there.
#44 B.J. Goodson, 6-1, 250, sr., LB, Clemson. If linebacker Ben Boulware’s shoulder is as bad as others are making it out to be, Goodson has to play like his hair’s on fire once again.
#21 Adrian Baker, 6-0, 180, soph., CB, Clemson. Alexander can’t guard everybody. Neither can Cordrea Tankersley. Saturday night could be the night that validates why Baker has played 178 snaps this year, two of which ended in his red-zone interceptions against previous Clemson nemeses (FSU, SC.)
#2 Derrick Henry, 6-3, 242, jr., RB, Alabama. Watson Heisman Competitor Watch No. 1: Henry leads the nation with 1,797 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. Especially if Henry – who just rumbled for 271 yards at Auburn and has four 200-yard efforts since mid-October – goes for 203 and exceeds the 2,000-yard mark by game’s end, it will be awfully difficult for Heisman voters (assuming a Bama win) to look elsewhere to elect a winner.
#3 Treon Harris, 5-11, 195, soph., QB, Florida. He will need to have – oh, what shall we call it? – the game of his life to beat the Crimson Tide. Maybe completing more than 53.7 percent of his passes would be a nice start.
#5 Christian McCaffrey, 6-0, 201, soph., RB, Stanford. Watson Heisman Competitor Watch No. 2: His 3,035 all-purpose yards make him just the third FBS player ever to go over 3,000 yards. He’s 215 all-purpose yards shy of Barry Sanders’ all-time single-season record. (Western Kentucky’s Antonio Andrews had 3,166 all-purpose yards in 2012.)
#14 Desmond King, 5-11, 200, jr., CB, Iowa. The Hawkeyes are hoping for a slugfest, and King has eight interceptions to help flip the field in Iowa’s favor.
#18 Connor Cook, 6-4, 220, sr., QB, Michigan State. Cook might be wise to steer clear of King, but he’ll need to prove why NFL teams should spend a first-round draft choice on him next spring.
*all rankings CFB Playoff
AAC Championship: No. 22 Temple at No. 19 Houston ~ 12 p.m., ABC
The crème de la crème of a conference seizing Boise State’s post as the mid-major threatening the power scheme of college football. Of course, the nature of the American is its best teams will see its best head coaches poached by the big boys, which is why it’s a minor miracle Matt Rhule and Tom Herman are still confidently leading their squads. For now. The winner should be highly competitive in the Peach Bowl. Brenner picks: Cougars 31, Owls 24
SEC Championship: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 18 Florida (Atlanta) ~ 3:30 p.m., CBS
Let me try a different way to present this. If you take out its opener against New Mexico State (606 yards!), Florida has averaged a whopping 328.8 yards per game this season. You might have heard its opposing defense in the SEC title game is alright at that defense thing. Alabama, conversely, has only been held below 360 yards once this season. Even with Jacob Coker failing to impress, Nick Saban’s Coke bottle could win this game playing quarterback. Order up three more TDs for Derrick Henry. Brenner picks: Crimson Tide 28, Gators 7
Pac-12 Championship: No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 20 Southern Cal (Santa Clara) ~ 7:45 p.m., ESPN
All eyes will be on Christian McCaffrey, the Castle Rock, Colo. Product and son of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, to see if and when he surpasses the great Barry Sanders for most single-season all-purpose yards. (Sanders had 3,250 in his bonkers season of 1988.) However, for championship purposes, Kevin Hogan is the man of the hour. He was the key to Stanford’s 41-31 win at Southern Cal in September, and he’s coming off an impressive 4-TD performance to slay Notre Dame. Brenner picks: Cardinal 37, Trojans 27
Big Ten Championship: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State (Indianapolis) ~ 8 p.m., FOX
Interesting note about this matchup: both teams have 25 takeaways and 11 turnovers, so they are tied with each other for fourth nationally in turnover margin. I like the Hawkeyes’ running game and defense a smidge more. Brenner picks: Hawkeyes 24, Michigan State 21
ACC Championship: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 10 North Carolina (Charlotte) ~ 8 p.m., ABC
Clemson is as good as it gets from the opening kickoff; sometimes, the Tigers do tend to lapse as the game goes along. (Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and South Carolina are examples of letting a team back into a game; though N.C. State, Florida State and to a degree the Gamecocks went toe-to-toe early on.) North Carolina is also a front runner, and even though the Tar Heels can match up with the Tigers in many ways, the Heels aren’t as deep as the Tigers and will find it difficult to outman Clemson over the course of 60 full minutes. Clemson has won 49 consecutive games when leading going into the fourth quarter, so it would help UNC to not try to become Victim No. 50. I think this game develops into a shootout; you could say the last time with the ball wins, but ultimately, I think the teams are equal in scoring drives; it’s just the Tigers’ D will come up with one more instance of forcing UNC to settle for a field goal that ultimately dooms the Heels and sends Clemson to the second-ever College Football Playoff.
Brenner picks: Tigers 45, Tar Heels 41
That’s it for the Pep Talk. Cue up the cheesy inspirational Queen song this weekend: “I’ve paid my dues ... time after time ...”