Story by Yousaf Khan
This will probably be the biggest ACC Championship in history as current #2 Clemson and #3 Miami will face off in on December 2 at 8 PM in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. I am sure this what the ACC envisioned when they expanded and added Miami to the conference back in 2004. However, the Hurricanes have had several average years and this will be their first time playing in the championship game as they have re-emerged as a national power in the second year of the Mark Richt era. On the other side is defending national champion Clemson, who has made the national championship game 2 years in a row and continues winning under coach Dabo Swinney. As long as they both win their remaining 2 games, (Clemson has the Citadel and South Carolina, Miami has Virginia and Pitt), we should be in for a colossal game.
Let’s take a look at the matchups:
Miami Offense vs Clemson Defense:
The Hurricanes are led by dual threat QB Malik Rosier and he is up for ACC player of the year after producing 2,410 passing yards, 20TD’s/7 Int’s on a 57% completion percentage. On the ground he has added another 339 yards and 4 rushing td’s through 9 games. His biggest attribute maybe his clutch factor though as he twice led late comebacks vs FSU and Georgia Tech for dramatic game winning drives. Running back Travis Homer has filled in nicely for injured Mark Walton. He has shown some explosion on the ground and catching out of the backfield. On the receiving end, Miami has a plethora of explosive pass catchers in WR’s Braxton Berrios, Ahmmon Richards, Jeff Thomas, and Darrell Langham along with tight end Chris Herndon. The Canes do struggle in 2 key offensive categories which has made them somewhat streaky at times and stagnant on offense earlier in the year. Miami ranks 126/130 in third down conversions at 29% and also struggle in redzone offense as they have to settle for a lot of field goals instead of touchdowns.
Defensively, the Tigers are loaded and have a plethora of future NFL talent. It starts up front with an imposing defensive line led by future 1st rounder defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. They cause so much havoc that it frees up defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant to make plays. They both have 7 ½ sacks and 38 sacks overall by the defense. At linebacker, Dorian O’Daniel is having an all-American season with 85 total tackles, 9 ½ tfl’s, 5 sacks, and 2 Int return touchdowns. The Clemson defense has struggled in a few games, in the loss to Syracuse and to NC State, allowing 27 and 31 points respectively. Head Coach and offensive play caller Mark Richt will need to call a good game and keep his quarterback out of third and long situations to avoid the dangerous pass rush.
Clemson Offense vs Miami Defense:
Replacing the best player in program history would be a tall task for most but QB Kelly Bryant has held his own in replacing Deshaun Watson. Bryant has produced over 10 td’s rushing along with 608 yards on the ground to go along with 1,924 yards passing and 7 td’s/5 int’s. The Tigers have a plethora of rushers that are interchangeable in Etienne, Feaster, Choice and Fuller who all have at least 3td’s. Tampa’s Deon Cain leads the receiving corp along with Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud. The Tigers do struggle sometimes in the passing game but have been an excellent rushing team averaging 220 yards on the ground a game.
The Canes defense this year has reminded many of the old Canes defenses of the 80’s/early 90’s and early 2000’s. The swag is back and everyone is going crazy over that gold turnover chain. The Hurricanes have produced 4 turnovers each in their last 4 games and have the best turnover differential at plus 15 among power 5 teams. To say the least the Canes have been balling on defense lately. As with Clemson, it starts up front with defensive line for the Canes as they go 7-8 deep on the line in Chad Thomas, Joe Jackson, Trent Harris, RJ McIntosh, Demetruis Jackson, and Kendrick Norton. Next up in the talented trio of sophomore linebackers in Shaq Quarterman, Mike Pinckney, and Zac McCloud. Safety Jaquan Johnson leads the secondary and corner Michael Jackson has 4 picks on the year. While the Canes have given up some yards on the season, especially on the ground, they seem to lock up in the redzone and when the game is on the line producing stops and timely turnovers.
Other Keys – Special Teams, Coaching, Intangibles:
Miami has the edge in special teams as they have a proven kicker in Michael Badgely, good return man in Berrios, and pretty good kick coverage. Coach Swinney along with defensive coordinator Brent Veneables get the nod in coaching coming off a national championship. However, Mark Richt and defensive coordinator along with turnover chain inventor Manny Diaz are no slouches and have the prowess to win this game. The intangibles would be almost even to me for differing reasons for both teams. Clemson has been in these big games so many times and definitely has the experience when the lights are on. Miami has an edge about them this season starting with a major hurricane affecting them for a few weeks, the momentum building with each win, and that swag coming back to the U thanks to the turnover chain.
Prediction: If this prediction was 2 weeks earlier, I would have taken Clemson by a touchdown and a third straight trip to the playoffs. However, with the way Miami has blasted Virginia Tech and Notre Dame along with recent Clemson struggles against NC State and FSU, I am favoring the Canes now.
I like the Canes to win a close one 27-24 and move on to the playoffs for the first time.