CHARLOTTE – Clemson has positively owned the football and time of possession. It holds a 5-point lead for its efforts.
The Tigers have run 57 plays and held the ball for 20 minutes, 44 seconds, and the Tar Heels have 28 plays over 9:16. Yet Clemson just leads 21-16 at the orange slices of the 2015 ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium.
Deshaun Watson has been The Show. Although he has been erratic throwing the ball (19-for-32), he has 191 passing yards, and 99 rushing yards on 13 rushes, with two touchdowns – one of each variety.
With two seconds left in the first half, Watson found tight end Jordan Leggett on a jump pass to trigger the sixth lead change of the first half. The final drive of the half was 10 plays, 68 yards over 1:54 to give Clemson a 5-point edge, as UNC will receive the second-half kickoff.
Watson accounted for 86 of the 96 yards on Clemson’s second touchdown drive, which resulted in his tenth rushing score of the year from 9 yards out. Tailback Wayne Gallman, though he scored on a 16-yard grab (his second career TD catch), has not gotten in gear yet on the ground: 9 carries, 17 yards.
On defense, Clemson has created five three-and-outs in eight drives. Problem is, UNC has points on the other three drives, including a 46-yard touchdown catch-and-run by T.J. Logan on a broken play.
North Carolina is 1-for-7 on third down. The lone conversion: quarterback Marquise Williams’ only offensive play spent on the sideline. Williams had his helmet knocked off at the end of a hit by defensive end Shaq Lawson, and sitting out his one mandated play on third-and-8, reserve Mitch Trubisky found Mack Hollins for 16 yards and a first down.
Williams did throw the 46-yard TD, but otherwise, he is 2-for-11 for four yards and a touchdown, and has only recorded six carries for seven yards.
The second of Williams’ touchdown throws – finding Ryan Switzer for 3 yards – was the result of some poor plays by Clemson. An offensive drive was marred by two false starts, followed by another false start on the ensuing punt try.
Then, madness. Punter Andy Teasdall apparently thought the call was for a fake punt, and he futilely rolled to his left getting brought down 11 yards from the marker, receiving an earful from coach Dabo Swinney on the sideline.
Special teams appeared to be in North Carolina’s favor on paper, and the game has played out exactly that way. Clemson placekicker Greg Huegel was short on a 47-yard attempt on the game’s opening drive – Huegel had made 16 straight field goals entering Saturday. Later, UNC had a 32-yard kick return and 29-yard punt return, as well as punts of 47 and 43 yards to pin Clemson inside its own 10-yard-line.
Of course, there was the bizarre fake punt failure described above. Lastly, starting safety T.J. Green, a gunner on the punt team, was ejected for targeting when his helmet made contact with Switzer upon catching a punt. Because it was in the second quarter, Green will sit out the rest of tonight but be eligible for all future games.
Surprise starters for the Tigers: all-ACC third-team right guard Tyrone Crowder (turf toe) did start, even though Swinney said Maverick Morris would start his third straight game with Crowder coming off the bench. Morris did play in relief. Cornerback Ryan Carter, playing in his 24th career game, made his first career start as a third cornerback against UNC’s spread.