Clemson showed North Carolina why they are the No. 1 team in the country, shutting down the Tar Heels big play ability and taking advantage of their suspect run defense.
After a tight first half, Clemson pounded the ball in the second half, running its way to a 45-37 win over UNC in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte.
The Tigers finished with 319 total rushing yards.
Now any hopes of getting into the college football playoffs has diminished for the Tar Heels. The Tigers have clinched their bid as a No. 1 seed.
One of UNC’s strengths all season has been making explosive plays – plays that go for 16 yards in the air or 13 on the ground, as coined by head coach Larry Fedora – and turning them into touchdowns. While the Tar Heels made some of those plays Saturday, they failed to turn them into touchdowns.
The pressure from Clemson’s defensive line seemed to get to UNC quarterback Marquise Williams, who scrambled often and at times had trouble connecting with receivers who were open.
On the other side, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson showed why he is a Heisman candidate. He was nearly unstoppable at times, passing and throwing the ball. He and the offense scored on two drives of more than 90 yards – a first in ACC Championship history. Those drives were key when it seemed UNC had them stopped.
With six seconds left in the first half and no timeouts at UNC’s 1-yard line, instead of kicking a field goal that would have put Clemson up by 1, head coach Dabo Swinney elected to go for it.
Watson faked as if he would run it and threw a jump pass to Jordan Leggett for the touchdown. A failed attempt most likely would have run the clock out and UNC would have been in the lead at the half. The play gave Clemson momentum heading into halftime as they led 21-16.
Three who mattered
Deshaun Watson: Watson sure looked like a Heisman candidate. He used his arm and legs to throw the UNC defense off guard. At one point, he completed 13 straight pass attempts and had rushed for more than 100 yards before the end of the third quarter. He passed 26 of 42 for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns. He rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Wayne Gallman: UNC kept Gallman in check in the first half limiting him to only 22 yards. However, in the second half he was a whole different animal, finding holes and breaking tackles on his way to 187 yards and 2 total touchdowns. One was a catch.
T.J. Logan: He showed why the coaches value his big play ability. In the first half Williams found him for a 46-yard touchdown pass from the line of scrimmage. He went untouched. However, he didn’t get many touches.
Three key numbers
420: The number of total yards for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. It was the most in ACC Championship history, surpassing former Florida State quarterback and Heisman winner Jameis Winston.
163: The number of rushing yards Clemson running back Wayne Gallman gained in the second half. His running was key, especially on a 97 yard scoring drive early in the third quarter. He finished with 185 yards rushing, with two touchdowns.
14: The number of carries for first-team All-ACC running back Elijah Hood. Hood is the second leading rusher in the ACC but didn’t see too many touches Saturday night, despite Williams’ struggles.
Watson completed a pass on a screen to wide receiver Artavis Scott. As Gallman was running behind him, Scott immediately lateraled the ball to Gallman. The play went for 22 yards to UNC’s 15 yard line. It continued a touchdown drive that basically put the game out of reach for the Tar Heels.