7:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Clemson -15, Over/Under: 59
For the second week in a row another Top-10 battle takes center stage as the top-ranked Clemson Tigers host the No.7 Miami Hurricanes in a crucial ACC clash from Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. It’s been quite a while, and though we’ve been teased on occasion, it appears that Miami (3-0, 2-0 in ACC) is finally BACK, though this particular matchup will go a long way towards cementing that notion. Simply put, coming into this season the Hurricanes have been living off their successful reputation for quite some time; a program that had won five National Championships from 1983 to 2001 simply hasn’t reached the heights that they had grown accustomed to since joining the ACC back in 2004, recording just one ten-win campaign, appearing in only a single Conference Championship Game, and ending a season occupying a place in the rankings on a scant five occasions. Overall, they’ve managed to put together an uninspiring 121-82 (.596) record over the previous sixteen years, which has been mired by head-coaching changes and sanctions levied down by the NCAA that have neutered their once plentiful talent base in southern Florida, and even worse, dropped them from national consciousness. Simply put, they had become irrelevant, by far and away their greatest sin.
However, now in their second season under the watchful eye of Head Coach, Manny Diaz, it appears that Miami has finally replenished their ranks, along with finally embracing the modern approach to offense which has quite frankly been something that the faithful have been clamoring for for ages. Diaz made two MAJOR acquisitions in the Offseason, the first being the hire of Offensive Coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, and the transfer of D’Eriq King (66.7%, 733 YDS, 7.9 Y/A, 6 TD, 0 INT, 154.2 RATE), which have together transformed the attack into a force to be reckoned with. Lashlee, a disciple of Gus Malzahn from his days at Arkansas State and Auburn, has implemented that familiar spread attack placing a heavy emphasis on tempo, which has led to the most prolific unit that the program has had in two decades; the Hurricanes have averaged 43.3 points (7th Overall) on a very balanced 498.0 total yards, including 265.7 yards through the air and another 232.3 yards on the ground. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that this current incarnation of the Offense is averaging a stellar 6.7 yards per play, a large leap over last year’s 5.7. The eye of this proverbial storm has been King, who transferred from Houston following a disappointing four-game run with the Cougars in 2019. One of the most versatile weapons in the country, King had accounted for 3,656 total yards and a whopping FIFTY touchdowns in 2018, bringing his dual-threat skillset to a program that had been starved for such a talent at that position. Needless to say, the senior has been a HUGE hit in Coral Gables thus far, completing an efficient 66.7% of his passes for 733 yards on 7.9 yards per attempt, with six touchdowns, while rushing for 157 yards another score, and above else committing ZERO turnovers. This change in approach has also fostered the development of a new wave of stars at The U, with Tailback, Cam’ron Harris (38 CAR, 311 YDS, 8.2 Y/C, 5 TD) proving to be a bonafide big play machine averaging a staggering 8.2 yards per carry, while Tight End, Brevin Jordan (15 CAR, 212 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 3 TD), looks likely to continue the long successful tradition of stars at that position. The opposite side of the football hasn’t been neglected either, with Diaz making sure that they remain in excellent hands; the former Defensive Coordinator oversees a unit that has allowed just 19.3 points (15th Overall) on 377.0 total yards, including 230.3 yards versus the pass and another 146.7 against the run, while continuing to create big plays with six takeaways through three contests. Defensive Back, Al Blades (10 TKL, 2 INT, 3 PD) has furthered the family tradition, while Defensive Linemen, Jaelan Phillips (8 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD) and Georgia Tech Transfer, Quincy Roche (10 TKL, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 SK), have more than alleviated the loss of star Edge-Rusher, Gregory Rousseau, who opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We still have a lot of football but I think it’s coming together pretty good right now.”D’Eriq King, Miami Quarterback
When we last saw Miami, they were busy hammering their bitter instate rival, Florida State, in a watershed 52-10 victory, the largest such margin between these schools since 1976, which was coincidentally the first year of Bobby Bowden’s long reign in Tallahassee. Though a lightning delay threatened to halt their progress, the Hurricanes overwhelmed the Seminoles, scoring a touchdown on each of their five possessions of the First Half, leading by thirty-five points after two quarters. King completed an efficient 29-of-40 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing another sixty-five yards on eight carries before finally being pulled from action with the game well in hand. Harris only rushed for forty-three yards on a dozen attempts, though crossed goal line twice, with eleven different players hauling in a reception for the hosts. In the end, it was as lopsided an affair as the final score indicated, with the ‘Canes besting the ‘Noles across the board, including total yards (517-330), first downs (33-23), rushing yards (200-151), passing yards (317-179), takeaways (3-2), and penalties (80-113). This victory marked Miami’s fourth in a row in a series that has been defined by streaks, with Florida State stringing together seven consecutive wins beforehand. Now with a week to rest behind them, Diaz & Co will look to test their mettle against top-ranked Clemson, which should serve as the ultimate litmus test for their progress thus far. They’ll hope that they put together a better performance than they did in their last meeting with the Tigers, a 38-3 debacle in the 2017 ACC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, this particular contest also serves as a proverbial measuring stick for Clemson (3-0, 2-0 in ACC) as well, who despite wearing the distinction of No. One in the Polls, has yet to truly be tested. However, that is not to say that the Tigers are unworthy of their ranking; Dabo Swinney has built this program into a bonafide powerhouse which some would argue has established itself as the elite program in the country, dominating the ACC to the tune of five consecutive league titles, appearances in five straight College Football Playoffs, and participating in four of the past five National Championship Games, of which they have won two of them. For all intents and purposes, this is what we all expected from Miami when they joined the conference sixteen years ago, and given their recruiting prowess it doesn’t appear that Swinney & Co will be slowing down anytime soon. So with that said, is it any wonder that they would enter 2020 as the top team in the Preseason Polls? Even as the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 eventually return to action, this group sits above them all until they’ve been removed. Simple as that.
If it feels that Clemson is predestined to win the ACC and earn a spot in the Playoff, you’re not alone, for they’ve more than deserve that notion with good reason, and that reason is TALENT. Under normal circumstances, this much returning talent would place any team into a position of power, but in this bizarre 2020 that has been rocked by COVID-19 causing so many players to opt out of the season altogether, it’s understandably hoisted them at the nation’s summit. Sure, they lost seven starters to the NFL Draft, bringing their remarkable total to thirty-one in the last five years alone, but they return the top Quarterback in the country, and his name is Trevor Lawrence (73.3%, 848 YDS, 11.3 Y/A, 7 TD, 0 INT, 199.1 RATE). The Junior has been branded as the next big thing since arriving on campus three years ago, and he’s done nothing to persuade anyone that he’s anything other than the first Quarterback picked in this upcoming Draft (or the following one should he decide to return to school). In thirty-three career appearances, he’s lost just once, which unfortunately came in last year’s National Championship Game, a 42-25 debacle against LSU. Apart from that, he’s been remarkably consistent, completing 66.2% of his attempts for an average of 236.2 passing yards on a healthy 8.9 yards per attempt, with seventy-three touchdowns in comparison to twelve interceptions, while also rushing for another 754 yards and thirteen scores, proving that he’s equally adept at making plays with his feet despite his towering 6-6, 220 lbs frame. Through three games thus far, Lawrence has apparently taken his pay to an even higher level, completing a career-high 73.3% of his passes for 848 yards on a staggering 11.3 yards per attempt, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, leading an Offense that has logged 42.3 points per game (8th Overall) on 477.3 total yards, including 316.0 yards through the air and another 161.3 yards on the ground. Even without last year’s prolific tandem of Receivers, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross (125 REC, 2,032 YDS, 21 TD between them), the former plying his trade as a rookie in the NFL and the latter unfortunately lost for the season after undergoing neck surgery, this group is not without weapons, with Seniors Amari Rodgers (12 REC, 206 YDS, 17.2 Y/R, 3 TD) and Travis Etienne (39 CAR, 243 YDS, 6.2 Y/C, 2 TD) filling the void. The former operated as the proverbial third wheel to Higgins and Ross, but has emerged as Lawrence’s go-to in the early stages of the campaign, reeling in twelve receptions for 206 yards and three touchdowns, proving to be much more of a threat downfield than he has throughout his career, averaging healthy 17.2 yards per catch. As for the latter, Etienne was a bit of a surprise return to school, but Swinney & Co are no doubt glad he did; with Higgins and Ross no longer available, the Tailback has featured more prominently into the passing game, continuing his development from last season in which he collected thirty-seven receptions for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Through three games, Etienne has totaled nine catches for 172 yards and a score.
“I guess we’re in a pretty good position when we’re kind of disappointed in an 18-point win… I’m really glad we got challenged in some new ways. Part of being a great team is making adjustments and getting better.”Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Quarterback
When we last saw Clemson, they received what many would call their first proper test in the form of Virginia, a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game. That particular matchup wasn’t much of a matchup at all, as the reigning ACC Champions obliterated the Cavaliers in a 62-17 rout on their way to another trip to the Playoff. While this latest meeting wasn’t quite as lopsided, it still wasn’t very close; Swinney’s charges never led by less than seven points, though the visitors did manage to cut the lead to 10-3 early in the Second Quarter. From that point, the Tigers broke the affair open with successive touchdown drives, and never looked back earning a 41-23 victory. With that said, this game was a bit closer than the final score would indicate; the disparity in total yardage was rather slim (466-417) in favor of Clemson, while Virginia outrushed them (147-137), amassed more first downs (25-22), and benefitted from the fact that the home side was flagged eight times for sixty-five yards, fifty fewer than the Cavs. However, the difference proved to be in the takeaway column, where the Tigers owned a commanding 2-0 advantage, intercepting Brennan Armstrong on two occasions. Lawrence completed 25-of-38 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another thirty-six yards on six carries, while Etienne was simply special, accumulating 1187 yards from scrimmage on nineteen touches, 115 of which came as a Receiver, with a touchdown scored both ways. Rodgers also factored into the decision, collecting receptions for seventy-two yards and a pair of touchdowns.