MIAMI – The Clemson defense was gashed for chunks of yardage at a time on Saturday, and wound up giving up 433 yards of total offense and 17 first downs to the offense of the 8th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.
However, the defense stepped up in crunch time and delivered when it had to – DeAndre McDaniel intercepted a Jacory Harris pass and returned it for a touchdown in a dramatic fourth quarter, and after Miami’s first play of overtime netted the Hurricanes a 1st-and-goal at the Clemson six-yard line, the Tiger defense forced a Miami field goal, setting the stage for Jacoby Ford’s game-winning touchdown.
McDaniel said it was just another example of the defense being able to make plays when the game was on the line.
“We did not play our best,” McDaniel said. “We knew it would be a hard game. We wanted to shut them out, because that is the goal of our defense. But the offense stepped up and had our backs. But we stepped up and made plays when we needed to at the end.”
McDaniel’s interception, in which he jumped a route and made the easy interception, was set up by defensive coordinator Kevin Steele on the sideline.
“Coach told me a few plays before that to jump that route,” McDaniel said. “They had completed that pass earlier, and he told me that if I jumped it, it was six. I jumped it and went to the house. I saw that player earlier in the game. I just tried to do the same thing with it.”
Harris was stellar at times against the Tigers, completed 17-of-27 passes for 256 yards, but he was also intercepted three times – two by McDaniel and one by Rashard Hall. McDaniel’s two interceptions give him seven on the season, which leads the nation.
Steele said he was pleased with the play of his star safety.
“He now has what, seven interceptions?” Steele asked after the game. “The best way to describe him, bottom line, is he is a guy that is a football player, period. He is a football player, and he loves to play. He is the kind of guy that is perfect for what we do. They had run the play earlier and completed the pass, and we did a little in-game coaching with him. Next time they threw it, he ran it in.”
McDaniel said the interceptions were simply a case of the secondary being patient with their coverages.
"We knew they would try to overload one side and pull their guards,” he said. “We had to stay back in some coverage things we were doing. We ended up making the plays we needed to. Everybody did their job, and you just have to have faith in the defense.
“We have enough talent to be the best defense in the country, and I know we didn’t show it at the beginning, but we showed it at crunch time. I have always wanted to play them, and I wanted to make some plays out there.”
Steele said that even though the defense gave up big plays, for now he will take solace in the victory.
"To have it where now some things didn't go right and you had to fight back and make up for some errors and still be successful and win it and beat the No. 8 team in the country at their place, you can't be anything but proud of these guys and the resilience of what they showed, “ Steele said. “And that's why I'm not so concerned. I'm frustrated. But we know how to get it fixed and we'll get it fixed. We'll get it fixed because the kind of guys we have."
After the Tigers won the toss in overtime, Clemson elected to put Miami on offense first, and on their first play from scrimmage, running back Graig Cooper dashed his way for 19 yards to the Clemson six-yard line, but Steele said he had confidence the defense would hold.
“In overtime they make a huge chunk play right off the bat,” Steele said. “I'm sure everyone standing in this room said 'oh no' Clemson better get ready to score a touchdown because one's getting ready to be scored here. It's first and goal and three plays later we are kicking a field goal."