The corner fell for the double move, and the quarterback threw a 40-yard score to go up 7-0 just two minutes in the game. Not Trevor Lawrence, but true freshman Sam Howell.
Football isn’t played on paper. On paper, Lawrence would have made the same throw to Higgins or Ross en-route to a thirty-point blow-out. If it was, Clemson would have won about 51-20 and Chase Brice would have played the fourth quarter out.
Clemson won by one point on the scoreboard, but North Carolina “outcoached [us] and outplayed [us]” – direct quote from Coach Swinney to Coach Brown.
Football is a human game, and that’s where North Carolina won – everywhere but the scoreboard.
While Clemson outgained the Tar Heels in yardage 331 to 290, they had six procedural penalties and one turnover to North Carolina’s three penalties and no turnovers.
Clemson was going to pull ahead until an Etienne fumble – then North Carolina capitalized and jumped ahead of Clemson 14-7 in the middle of the second.
A late first half drive from Clemson tied the score up at 14 all, and neither team took advantage of their opportunities in the third quarter.
Clemson scored the go ahead touchdown early in the fourth with a 38-yard Lawrence to Higgins score on the infamous back shoulder fade.
Game over for most upset bid teams. Not North Carolina.
Sixteen plays, eight and a half minutes, 75-yards, and two fourth down conversions later, North Carolina scored. 21-20, 76 seconds left in the game.
Brown’s hands signaled ‘Two” before the touchdown signal was called. Triple option out of shotgun, one play and three yards to seal the game.
Sam Howell kept the ball and was stuffed short of the goal line, but Mack had one last trick up his sleeve: A perfectly executed onside kick.
A perfect kick, but North Carolina’s coverage unit overran the kick and thus Clemson recovered to win the game.
It wasn’t just a story of North Carolina – Clemson had its fair share of great moments in the ugly win.
Trevor Lawrence completed thirteen of his first sixteen passes before only completing five of his last fourteen passes. The last pass was the lone touchdown throw that won the game.
Said pass was thrown to Tee Higgins, who caught six of his eight targets for 129 yards and the game winning score.
Excluding the first and last drives of the game, Venables’ defense held North Carolina to 140 yards on ten drives. Integral to the effort was star hybrid player Isaiah Simmons, who logged ten tackles (2.5 for loss), a game-changing sack where he personally defeated two defenders to sack Sam Howell, and a pass break up.
Clemson has transformed from a senior-laden team to a team with eighty underclassmen in 2019. Some lessons have to be re-learned – that winning is never a given, that any given Saturday even applies to the powerhouses of college football. Sometimes the lessons result in a loss, sometimes they don’t.
Clemson normally struggles early in the season, but not like this. For Clemson’s long term ambitions and the coaching staff, this is a blessing and a teachable moment – a sloppy game that ended in a win. The lesson will be ingrained in the team for years to come – but without the consequences of a loss.