Football Preview: Miami at Clemson

Clemson

CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) – The Tigers are preparing for their toughest test of the season so far as top ranked Clemson welcomes No. 7 Miami to Death Valley Saturday night.

No. 1 Clemson

The Tigers continued their spectacular play last week in a dominant win over Virginia, 41-23 to improve to 3-0 on the season. 

Trevor Lawrence has been extremely efficient so far this fall, completing over 73% of his passes to go along with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Through three games in 2019, Lawrence had five touchdowns and five interceptions. He and the Clemson offense have moved the ball with ease. Half of their drives this year have ended in scores, and a considerable number of those failed drives have come late in the second half with reserves in. 

And although it starts and ends with Lawrence, a huge factor in this team’s consistent success on offense has been running back Travis Etienne. The senior rushing performance has given the Tigers a balanced attack while also contributing significantly in the receiving game out of the backfield. He’s dominated the touches, rushing 39 times for 243 yards (6.3 ypc) and two scores, and has caught nine passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. Lawrence is a distant second with 14 carries, and Darien Rencher is the only other player with double digit rushes. And as a receiver, Etienne is third on the team behind only Amari Rodgers (12-206-3) and Frank Ladson Jr. (9-179-2). He’s been huge, which comes as no surprise given he’s a two-time defending ACC Player of the Year. 

The aforementioned Rodgers has delivered as a primary target and is averaging over 17 yards per reception. Ladson is averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. This offense isn’t afraid to take its shots, and can gets the yards after the catch as well. The Tigers have struck a great balance with over 160 yards rushing and over 300 yards passing per game. They can hit you from all angles. 

As for the offensive line, they’ve played quite well entering week four. Lawrence has been sacked only five times through three games, and there have been a bevy of rushing lanes for Etienne to hit. This group is still growing and improving, but if they’re playing this way already it’s a good sign for what’s to come. 

Defensively, Clemson has overpowered opposing offensive lines. They’ve been able to put consistent pressure on quarterbacks, leading to sacks or errant throws. The Tigers have brought down the quarterback 13 times this season, and they’re getting that kind of production out of both their linebackers and defensive linemen. Myles Murphy narrowly leads the team with two sacks, but there are several who’ve contributed one or 1.5 sacks so far. MEanwhile James Skalski has lived up to his reliable reputation, and Baylon Spector has been a tackling machine. He currently leads the team with 20 total tackles. 

They haven’t collected a lot of turnovers, however. Just three in three games, two of which came on interceptions of Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong last week. But they haven’t needed them. Clemson ranks 11th in opponent third down conversions this season as they’re allowing a conversion on just 29% of attempts. They’ve successfully shut down the run, too. They surrender just 90 yards on the ground per game, and a little over two yards per carry. A problematic flaw, on either unit of this team, has yet to be exposed.

No. 7 Miami

The Hurricanes have taken care of business through the first three games of the season after defeating UAB, Louisville, and Florida State. Their most dominant performance came just this past week against the Seminoles in which Miami thwarted the ACC rival, 52-10. 

There’s no doubt they’ve played well. And while some have knocked them for their strength of opponent so far, the same can be said for Clemson. What we do know, is that Miami quarterback D’Eriq King (#1) is very much a dual-threat. 

A grad-transfer from Houston, King has completed over 66% of his passes for six touchdowns this season. He’s added 157 yards on the ground and a score as well. And he’s protected the football with no turnovers. 

They use the run to set up the pass with Cam’Ron Harris (#23) as their lead back. King, Donald Chaney Jr.(#2), and Jaylan Knighton (#4) are all utilized on the ground as well. As a team, they’ve rushed for nearly six yards per carry on the season, and Harris already has 300 yards and five touchdowns. 

Their receiving corps is highlighted by their tight end Brevin Jordan (#9). Jordan is a big play threat on any down, especially with King’s ability to extend plays. Jordan has been the go-to receiver and already has three touchdowns this season. Mark Pope (#6), Dee Wiggins (#8), and Mike Harley (#3) round out the other quality targets on the perimeter. And they’re not afraid to use their backs in the receiving game, either. Knighton took a pass 75 yards to the house against Louisville. 

On defense, the Hurricanes have forced six turnovers this season, and their +3 turnover margin is one of the better margins in college football (13th). It’s a solid defense, one that ranked inside the top fifteen nationally in 2019.  They have a lot of athletes on the unit, especially in the secondary, and challenge every throw. Most of their four interceptions this season have come off of deflected passes. They play tight coverage, and rally to the ball. They’re often in the right position to make a play. Amari Carter (#5) and Bolden Bubba (#21) are two dynamic playmakers at safety. They play the run extremely well, and can creat big plays at any moment. They, along with Gurvan Hall Jr. (#26) look to continue a proud tradition of Miami defensive backs. D.J. Ivey (#8) and Al Blades Jr. (#7) are the outside corners, and are both experienced cornerbacks that bring good length to the position. 

Quincy Roche (#2) and Jaelan Phillips (#15) form one of the better defensive end duos in the nation. Roche is great all-around, and has two sacks to go with ten tackles this season. Phillips is extremely athletic and rangy. He sets the edge well, and displayed great awareness and focus on an interception against FSU. Nesta Jade Silvera (#1) may be the best player on the line. He’s a force on the interior, great against the run and can present a solid pass rush as well. They have one of the better d-lines in the country, and is the strength of this defense. 

Zach McCloud (#53) is used often to blitz from the second level. He, along with Gilbert Frierson (#3), Bradley Jennings Jr. (#44), and veteran Sam Brooks Jr. (#6) make up the linebacker corps. 

It’s an opportunistic defense, and a more traditional one than what Clemson has faced this year. Miami doesn’t throw a whole lot of tricks at opposing offenses, but rather they stick to what they do and execute it well as Dabo Swinney, Tony Elliot and Trevor Lawrence detail below.

Matchup

Both teams get ready for their biggest test yet as #7 Miami travels to Death Valley to take on #1 Clemson. 

While the Tigers have had a lot of success through the air the first few weeks, they may lean more on the run, at least to start, against the Hurricanes. It will be a big challenge for the Tigers offensive line as they prepare to face one of the better defensive line groupings in the FBS. Blitz pickups, along with winning one-on-matchups on the outside will be key to finding success in the passing game. But if Clemson is able to sustain long drives, and wear down the Miami front on the ground, they’ll be set up nicely for another big win. 

While the defense has played some athletic quarterbacks already this season, they haven’t encountered one quite like King. He is lethal through the air and on the ground, so the Tigers can’t afford to sacrifice everything on the back end to keep King contained. The defensive line needs to get pressure early, and a likely safety “shadow” on King will have to make some plays to stall the Miami offense. 

Overall, Clemson still comes in as a heavy double-digit favorite at home. They’re expected to come away with another convincing win en route to a 4-0 start. If they avoid turnovers on offense, that’s likely the case. But if Hurricane defense can force Clemson into either a turnover or some quick three-and-outs to start, they can take advantage and jump on the Tigers. Should that happen, though, holding onto a lead against the top ranked team in the nation would present another daunting task. 

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