Clawson, Hartman look ahead to UNC

Coach and players addressed the media ahead of the team’s decisive game vs. the Tarheels

Will Zimmerman, Sports Editor

Playing at Chapel Hill against a highly talented Tarheel squad presents a golden opportunity for Head Coach Dave Clawson and his Demon Deacons to prove their worth to the ACC and the nation at large. Coming off a bye week, the squad has had extra time to prepare for UNC quarterback Sam Howell, and what is widely considered one of the best offenses in the conference. 

On Tuesday, Clawson, redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman and senior defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor fielded questions from the media about what makes the UNC offense so potent, how they spent the week preparing and what the Demon Deacons need to do to find success this Saturday. 

Hear what they had to say, in their own words, below.  

Coach Clawson on the tenacity of the UNC offense:

“Statistically, their offense is one of the best in the ACC and [among the best] in the country. They’ve put up over 500 yards in five straight games, and their lineup reads like an all-star team. There’s a bunch of guys [on their roster] that are going to be playing on Sundays.” 

“It’s going to be challenging for us to get stops [and contain Howell, whose] development has been remarkable. He could always throw it, and he’s so poised … What’s really underrated is his athleticism. He can make plays with his feet, buy time in the pocket and use his strength to break tackles and avoid sacks … and that’s on top of two NFL-caliber running backs.”

UNC’s offense ranks first in the ACC in terms of total offense per game (537 yards) and second in the conference in points per game (40), rush yards per game (239) and pass yards per game (298).

For the first time in the last 50 years, UNC has recorded five straight games with over 500 yards. A huge chunk of this yardage has come off the hand of Howell; his 55-career touchdown passes land him at No. 3 on the all-time list of sophomore quarterbacks in the ACC. The two men in front of him: Trevor Lawrence (66) and James Winston (65).

Coach Clawson on the crucial nature of this matchup:

“This is certainly a game that we need. Anytime we play a big four rivalry game is a big deal to us, and this is a huge rivalry game.”

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know we’ll have to play extremely well [to secure the win].”

Saturday’s game marks the 108th meeting between Wake Forest and UNC. Clawson is 1-1 against the in-state rival, and last season Wake beat the Tarheels 24-18 in a victory that helped secure Wake’s eighth Big-4 championship in program history. 

Hartman on the benefits of the bye week and UNC’s defense:

“We started the process in July, so these bye weeks help a lot … We’ve been pushing [hard in practice these past two weeks] so we can keep up with our conditioning and [make up for] those missed reps.”

“Everybody on that team is a high-star recruit. They’ve got a great secondary and good guys up front … they run

different coverages and bring exotic blitzes, but [we know that] if we play our [style of] football and stay even keeled throughout the game, we’ll be good. That’s been our approach [all season long], and it’s worked for us so far.”

Taylor on the Deacon’s mentality going into Chapel Hill:

“We know they have a great quarterback, two good running backs and a solid receiving core. This is going to be our biggest challenge [in terms of a whole] offensive unit so far this season. Clemson had a lot of skill, but I think UNC is a lot more explosive.”

“We’re always the underdogs coming into games like this and we like that role. Keep picking us to lose. It’s fine with us. [We know that] If we do what we have to do, we can win each week.”

The Demon Deacons enter the matchup as 16-point underdogs, but the coach and players alike have confidence in the units that will take the field at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Tune in to the ACC network at 12 p.m. to see if the team has the prowess to down the Tarheels and keep hopes of another Big-4 championship alive.