CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s shot at winning a seventh ACC Championship in the last eight years begins and ends with Drake Maye.
How the ninth-ranked Tigers contain the North Carolina quarterback will go a long way in deciding the outcome in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our guys this week,” Clemson defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin said.
Maye is not only the ACC’s Player of the Year, but one can make a strong argument he is the best player in the country. Pro Football Focus grades him as the highest-graded quarterback in the country. The redshirt freshman, who also won the ACC’s Rookie of the Year honor, has a 91.6 grade.
He is averaging 320.6 yards per game, which leads the ACC, while also rushing for 629 yards, which leads his team.
“He obviously pulls it down and extends plays with his legs, but they also have some design quarterback draws, RPOs, designed within their scheme,” Goodwin said. “Where he is reading the box or is reading the coverage post snap and knows when to pull it down.
“He runs well enough to present a huge challenge for us this week.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called Maye the best quarterback the Tigers have seen this year, and that says a lot considering who they have already played this season.
“He is a great football player,” Swinney said. “He is a guy that is probably leading for the Heisman going into the Georgia Tech game. “That was probably his worst game. He just missed a few plays. He does not miss many. He is a very good player.”
Georgia Tech got after Maye. The Yellow Jackets sacked him five times and held him to 202 yards on 16-of-30 passing. It’s the only game this season where he did not throw a touchdown pass. Georgia Tech also picked him off one time.
“It is going to be a huge challenge for our guys up front to be disciplined in our rush lanes and condense the pocket,” Goodwin said.
Clemson (10-2, 8-0 ACC) has 36 sacks this season, including 19 in the last five games.
“Which have to attack from a defensive front standpoint,” defensive end K.J. Henry said. “We have to compete. He has been in the Heisman talk and breaking all these records, and he has earned that, but that does not mean we bow down just because he is a great player.
“You have to go out there and give him fits and compete.”
Clemson and No. 23 North Carolina (9-3, 6-2 ACC) will kick off at 8 p.m. Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.