UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye wasn’t alive the last time the Tar Heels beat the Clemson Tigers in Death Valley.
That was in 2001, a little over 20 years ago. Julius Peppers was on that year's UNC team, the first iPhone was six years from being released and Maye wouldn't be born for another year.
Last year, the Tar Heels had a chance to defeat the Tigers in the highly-touted ACC Championship game. The Tar Heels got an early 7-0 lead, causing Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney to call first-year quarterback Cade Klubnik off the bench to replace starter DJ Uiagaleli. Klubnik came in, dueled with Maye, and tore up the Tar Heels defense with an 83 percent pass completion rate for 279 yards, and was responsible for two touchdowns en route to a 39-10 Tiger win.
As UNC travels down to Death Valley to take on the Tigers and Klubnik on Saturday, redemption is in Maye’s hands.
Clemson's season started off rocky, opening with a loss to Duke and an overtime heartbreaker to No. 4 Florida State. But despite a 6-4 record, UNC head coach Mack Brown said that Clemson is not a team to be counted out, especially considering the 73 points of total offense the Tigers scored over the last two weeks in back-to-back victories over Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
“I mean, they dominated the Georgia Tech team that beat us,” Brown said. “So I sat there and watched it and said, ‘Oh, boys are back.’ They woke up.”
If the Tar Heels want to tango with the ‘woken up’ Tigers, then UNC's defense must continue its positive momentum after North Carolina's double-overtime win over Duke on Saturday.The crux for the Tar Heels, however, is closing out games. UNC's last three opponents have scored a combined 44 points in the fourth quarter.
The Clemson offense, headed by coordinator Garrett Riley, works the perimeter and splits its offensive production in the air and on the ground. The rush brigade is led by Phil Mafah and Will Shipley.UNC's defensive front will need to zero in on keeping both the backs and Klubnik – who can also turn on the jets – contained.
Clemson's passing game, on the other hand, is intentional and methodic. It compliments the ground game and has allowed the Tigers to average 408 yards per contest.