UNC head coach Everett Withers attributed the loss to turnovers.
“When you turn the ball over against a good team,” Withers said, “That’s what happens to you.”
How bad was it?
- It was the most points given up by the Tar Heel defense since the 2005 “train whistle” loss to Louisville, 69-14.
- It was more points given up by the Tar Heel defense than the 52-7 loss at Clemson in 2006.
- During the third quarter, Clemson lit up the scoreboard with five touchdowns, while the Tar Heels ran just six offensive plays.
- During that third-quarter blitzkrieg, the Tigers rolled up nearly 200 yards of total offense, while North Carolina had 23 yards of total offense.
- Kourtnei Brown, a Clemson defensive end and a Charlotte native heavily recruited by North Carolina, scored two touchdowns.
- The Tar Heels committed six turnovers, and Clemson scored 24 points off those miscues.
- The 35 points scored by Clemson in the third quarter were the most by the Tigers in a quarter since a 1981 Halloween game against Wake Forest.
- The 59 points scored by Clemson are the most ever scored by the Tigers against UNC with the previous high coming in 1974 – 54 points.
- Clemson ran 84 offensive plays, to North Carolina’s 63 offensive plays.
The North Carolina players looked fumble-fingered for much of the game, coughing up the ball four times and losing three of them, while quarterback Bryn Renner tossed three interceptions after not throwing a pick in his last three games.
But while the turnovers contributed heavily to the rout, there were other things Withers could have talked about, like North Carolina’s inability to convert on third down.
“When you fumble the ball or you turn it over a lot,“ Withers said, “ A lot of times you don’t even get to third down.”
However, the 12 times the Tar Heels made it to third down, they only converted two, and didn’t convert their first third-down attempt until the fourth quarter.
At a pivotal juncture in the third quarter when the Tar Heels were facing third-and-one, offensive coordinator John Shoop dialed up a play-action pass designed to strike deep down the field – the pass fell incomplete and the Heels punted. Against a team with a high-powered offense like the one they saw today from Clemson, the better part of valor might have been to try and rush for that one yard, get a fresh set of downs, and worry about striking deep when it wasn’t an all-or-nothing moment.
Though the Tar Heels gave the appearance that they belonged on the same field as the Tigers for much of the first half (UNC actually had more offensive yards at the half, 244-236), in the third quarter the Tigers’ domination ended any resemblance the two teams had at the half.
The Tar Heel players had some explanations, but few answers for the explosive third quarter.
“I feel like we came out to play (in the second half),” said safety Gene Robinson, who played nickel back all day. “But when the ball is in the air, we’ve got to make a play.”
Running back Gio Bernard said of the third quarter: “It was definitely tough watching. It was tough not being out there, the offense (which ran only 11 plays in the quarter) sitting on the sideline and watching the score go up.”
This is a team, however, that doesn’t look like it should be setting all time-lows against ACC foes; it is a team that looks talented enough to go toe-to-toe with Clemson, as Dabo Swinney told the media earlier this week. Clemson was tough, efficient, confident, and executed its game plan well. North Carolina looked nothing like Clemson on Saturday.
Appearances can be deceiving.