The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 4th

ACC preview: Clemson's dynamic offense offsets inexperienced defense

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.

Coach:

Dabo Swinney (eight year at Clemson) 

Record last year:

14-1 (8-0 ACC) 

When do they play UNC?

N/A

Where are they projected?

First in Atlantic Division 

How do they play?

While Clemson is dangerous on both sides of the ball, the Tigers boast a potent offensive arsenal this year. Swinney employs an up-tempo spread offense with a bit more physicality than finesse. 

In 2015, Clemson averaged 38.5 points per game — second only to North Carolina in the ACC. With dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson at the helm, the Tigers are able to spread opponents out and essentially run a two-back offense, combining the physicality of running the ball with an explosive air attack. 

Who stands out?

Two words: Deshaun Watson. 

All eyes will be on the junior quarterback as he looks to carry the Tigers to another ACC Championship. The Heisman Trophy favorite returns to the field after a breakout 2015 season in which he threw for 4,104 yards and rushed for 1,105 more, making him the first player to reach both marks in a single season. The dual-threat quarterback — who added 47 total touchdowns to his yardage marks — is likely to garner plenty of attention from NFL scouts and could top his numbers from last season. 

Look out for the return of redshirt junior wide receiver Mike Williams. Two years ago, Williams set a team record for receiving yards by a sophomore (1,030) and earned second-team All-ACC honors — but a neck fracture on the first drive of the season prematurely ended his 2015 campaign. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Williams has the opportunity to re-establish himself as one of the best receivers in the country. 

On the other side of the ball, senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley returns as Clemson’s top defensive player. In 2015, Tankersley led the team with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups and held opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 42.4. Look for Tankersley to emerge as a leader for the Tigers in 2016. 

What is their biggest weakness?

Clemson has lost 16 defensive starters over the past two years, leaving a young unit of inconsistent personnel.  

With Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson both gone to the NFL, the returning edge-rushers for the Tigers enter 2016 with little experience on the field. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has instilled a “next-man-up” mentality throughout his years at Clemson, and that will be especially pertinent with this season’s unproven group. 

Why could they win the ACC?

Watson is going to carry this team, and his talented, experienced supporting cast should help put up enough points to bail out a young defense when needed.

The Tigers' toughest stretch comes in October, starting with Louisville at home and ending with a trip to Florida State. But in 2015, Clemson outscored its opponents by almost 17 points per game — so even if there is a bit of a learning curve, it won't be a surprise if the Tigers claim back-to-back ACC Championships. 

sports@dailytarheel.com

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