No. 7 Miami Takes On No. 1 Clemson: What To Watch

The Winner Of The Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game Will Secure A Spot In The College Football Playoff


Charlotte, NC — No. 7 Miami (10-1, 7-1 ACC) makes their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game Saturday where they’ll face the No. 1 team in the country, the Clemson Tigers (11-1, 7-1 ACC).

The Canes can thank the Tigers for their resurgence, due to their 58-0 loss to Clemson in 2015 leading to the termination of Miami head coach, Al Golden. The following offseason Miami hired Mark Richt to his alma mater. Richt has turned this program around and can lead the Canes to their first ACC Championship since joining the conference in 2004.

Richt will face off against Clemson head coach, Dabo Swinney in his fifth ACC Championship game. Swinney is looking for his third straight ACC title and a third consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff. With a combined 265 wins, this coaching matchup is intriguing as Richt is 1-1 against Swinney with his time at the University of Georgia.

Last year, the Canes lost three one-possession games. This season, they’ve learned how to win those close games but have been criticized for playing down to their competition, and no good road wins. Saturday’s matchup will be a de facto home game for the Tigers, with Clemson, SC just two hours and 15 minutes away from Charlotte, NC

Everything the Hurricanes have worked for over the last two years is on the line. Two years in, Richt has Miami on the brink of CFP berth, winning with swagger like the old Miami Hurricanes.

Next Man Up

Miami is limping into the ACC Title game with more significant injuries. Already without star running back Mark Walton, who went down against Florida State, Miami lost tight end Chris Herndon and receiver Ahmmon Richards to knee injuries.

The Hurricanes will look to senior receiver Braxton Berrios to lead a young receiving corps. True freshmen receivers Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley will get more reps, both are short and quick, and Thomas can score from anywhere on the field.

Miami is hurting at tight end, due to Herndon’s injury. Only one other tight end has recorded a catch this season, Michael Irvin II with five receptions. For size, Miami will look to receivers Dayall Haris (6’3″), Darrell Langham (6’4″), and Lawrence Cager (6’5″).

No More Slow Starts

The Hurricanes lone loss this season came last week, Pittsburgh got up early and did not yield the lead. Miami started off slow as they have all season, even in their prime time blowouts vs. Notre Dame and Virgina Tech, and couldn’t take over the lead from Pittsburgh.

Miami can ill-afford another slow start against the Tigers. Miami averages 4.9 points in the first quarter this season while Clemson puts up 9.6 points in the first quarter. In five of 11 games, the Hurricanes did not score in the first quarter at all. Miami quarterback Malik Rosier emphasized this week how crucial it is for the Canes to get off to a fast start Saturday night.

Stop The Run
PHOTO: Corey Fravel – 247 Sports

Clemson is going to come off the bus running the football. The Tigers have the nation’s 28th ranked rushing attack (214.7 yds/gm), featuring quarterback Kelley Bryant, running backs Tavien Feaster, and Travis Etienne. Each has at least 600 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. It starts with Bryant who has 164 rush attempts, then Etienne and Tavien can score from anywhere with their explosiveness

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have his hands full with slowing down the trio of Clemson playmakers. Diaz will cater to the Notre Dame game plan when facing the Tigers, as the teams are similar offensively. However, the Tigers are a lot faster than the Fighting Irish.

Make Bryant Throw Deep
PHOTO: Katie Dungan – 247 Sports

After stopping the run, Diaz’s second task is put Clemson in obvious passing situations making Bryant throw, preferably throwing the ball medium to deep. Clemson lives off throwing short passes with a lot coming at or behind the line scrimmage.

Bryant will try to dink and dunk all the way down the field, mixing in read option via all sorts of different formations. Miami must tackle well in space, and make Bryant go through his progressions while avoiding the Hurricanes defensive line who lead the nation in sacks per game (3.5).

Miami must create turnovers when Bryant throws deep, and score after they do. The Canes have only scored 77 points with 29 appearances of the Turnover Chain.

Control The Line of Scrimmage

Last week in the loss to Pitt, Miami abandoned the run game even though the game was close. Running back Travis Homer only had seven rush attempts while Rosier led the team with 12 attempts last weekend. Miami came out physical against Virgina Tech and Notre Dame; they’ll need that intensity up front against the Tigers Saturday night.

With three All-ACC selections, Clemson’s defensive line is among the best in the country. The Hurricanes must establish the run, so the play action is effective. It’s extremely tough to pass the ball when the opposing team knows you can’t run the ball.

Expect to see Homer get at least 20 attempts and more of the wildcat package featuring all-around athlete D.J. Dallas. Also, Miami must control the time of possession, as Clemson’s up-tempo offense can wear teams out defensively.

Own Third Down

The key to a close game or a blowout either way for the ACC Championship is third down. Miami has struggled offensively on third down this season. The Canes come into Saturday’s matchup ranked 121st converting just 30.7 percent of their third downs. Miami must convert third downs Saturday to sustain drives keeping Clemson’s offense off the field.

Clemson’s defense allows opponents to convert 28 percent of their third downs, sixth best in the nation.

Richt, who calls the plays for Miami must find a groove early and take advantage of Clemson’s aggressive pass rush and youth in secondary. Expect Rosier to have 15 plus rush attempts while passing deep on play action to keep the Tigers off balance and manufacture first downs.

Prediction: Almost no one is giving a Miami a chance. Clemson is the nine-point favorite Saturday night, which features 23 All-ACC selections (Miami 10, Clemson 13). A win vs. the Tigers Saturday solidifies their resurgence and quiets all the doubters, at least until New Years Day.

Miami 24 – Clemson 20