Burns: It is more than it is

by - Correspondent -
Which Clemson team will show up in Miami?
Which Clemson team will show up in Miami?

When it comes to the Clemson football team’s 38-3 win over Wake Forest last week, it is more than it is – it is what the Tigers make of it. The absolute mauling of a decent conference team was a complete and suffocating performance of offensive potency and defensive dominance.

If they continue the momentum and upset the Hurricanes Saturday in Miami, fans would look back at a statement that the Tigers have come of age, that quarterback Kyle Parker is rapidly progressing, that young coach Dabo Swinney can constructively use a bad mood. If they falter badly, the outburst against the Demon Deacons would just add more evidence that Clemson’s Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation is deserved. Remember losing to Wake 45-17 before beating No. 3 Florida State 26-10 in 2003? Remember beating No. 11 Miami 24-17 before losing to Duke 16-13 in 2004?

Listening to DeAndre McDaniel and my gut, I expect this team to show up Saturday - as the capable Dr. Jekyll, with intensity. Against Miami (5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference), quarterback Jacory Harris and as much athleticism as Clemson (3-3, 2-2) will face all season, that may not be enough.

The Hurricanes are the third top-15 team the Tigers have faced this year. They are ranked No. 8 by the Associated Press, No. 9 by USA Today, and they’re No. 10 in Bowl Championship Series standings. The Tigers have lost to then-AP No. 15s Georgia Tech and Texas Christian. Georgia Tech (6-1, 4-1) is now No. 11 in the AP, No. 13 in USA Today and No. 12 in the BCS. The Yellow Jackets lost to Miami 33-17. TCU (6-0 overall) is No. 10 in AP, No. 7 in USA Today and No. 8 in the BCS.

Three keys may make the difference:

- If the Clemson defensive front and Bamberg Bookends Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers can pressure Harris, the wind could be sucked out of the Hurricanes and would-be blitzers could better read and react to the dynamic attack of Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Harris passed for 386 yards in a 38-34 win over Florida State but completed just nine of 25 attempts for 209 yards in a 31-7 loss to No. 15 Virginia Tech. He was sacked six times while completing 20 of 26 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown in a win over Central Florida last week, but he won’t find the same success against McDaniel and Clemson’s secondary if he’s harassed as much – though he ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency. Clemson’s pass defense is ranked No. 7, total defense No. 11.

- If Parker can find the right times to forego pass attempts and scramble for yardage, he’d freeze Miami’s defense, challenge the Hurricanes’ discipline and ultimately open wider windows in which to throw. The redshirt freshman executed better than ever last week. He rushed seven times for a career-high 31 yards and a touchdown, and he completed 10 of 17 passes for 132 yards and another score.

- If the Tigers can produce another long strike or two, defense and special teams could carry the day. They’d stand a good chance of being within a key play of victory. Kick returners C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford should help win the battle of field position, and Richard Jackson should make enough field goals to keep it interesting late. Spiller has had plays of at least 60 yards in each game this season.

Lies and statistics

The numbers don’t always add up.

Wake dominated time of possession last week, holding the ball for 35:57 compared to Clemson’s 24:03, but the Tigers outgained Wake 382 yards to 178 yards. The Deacs entered the game converting more than 50 percent of their third downs but converted just 4 of 17 against the Tigers.

Clemson’s red-zone offense had been a major sore spot, but the Tigers scored touchdowns on three of four red-zone possessions last week and kicked a field goal on the other.

Swinney, 39, and Miami’s Randy Shannon, 43, are the youngest head coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Still, they could have baby-sat NFL coaches Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos, each 33.

Parker is just the second Clemson player to pass for 1,000 yards as a freshman. He’s thrown for 1,027 and six touchdowns this year. Charlie Whitehurst passed for 1,554 and 10 scores in 2002.

McDaniel has five interceptions in six games this year to tie for first in the nation. He’s one of 16 Clemson players from the state of Florida. Clemson ranks seventh nationally as a team with 10 interceptions. Miami has thrown seven picks and lost one fumble so far this year.

Jackson has made 15 of 20 field goals this year, three from at least 50 yards. He’s made all 16 of his extra-point attempts. As a team Clemson has made 104 consecutive extra points. Mark Buchholz made 88 in a row 2007-08.

Michael Palmer caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown last week. He and Dwayne Allen give the Tigers tight ends who make up for the lack of a receiver to compliment Ford, though Xavier Dye is progressing, and they’re an important part of offensive coordinator Billy Napier’s scheme, much as Miami’s tight ends are to Whipple’s.

Spiller is third in the nation in kickoff returns with a 37.1-yard average. He’s sixth in all-purpose running with an average of 190.8. He’d lead the nation in punt-return average if he had enough returns to qualify for the rankings. He has five punt returns for 182 yards and a 36.4 average.

Hater’s game

Posted by “Canes51” on Miami-Hurricanes.com about the prospect of Miami relying too much on Harris:
“Dear College Football World: Please continue to disrespect the Canes. It is this negativity that drives our players and fans. And when the time is right, you’ll pay. Trust us.”

No one is showing disrespect. Your best wins are against a team with three losses already, Oklahoma, and a team Clemson should have beaten, Georgia Tech, but you’re ranked in the top 10. Disrespectful is what it would be to suggest that your football team doesn’t even matter in your crime-infested port for drugs. It would be disrespectful to ask how a private school can’t afford to leave the state for a non-conference game, or if enough thugs, wannabes and women desperate for attention will show up to fill Land Shark Stadium more than half-way. It would be disrespectful to point out that “Land Shark” is lame.

Postgame shake

But I won’t be that disrespectful. I won’t ask “The Who?” instead of “The U.” Who could deny that the city rocks? I wouldn’t want to live there, but I could stand to make annual trips to South Beach. And your program has rebounded when I didn’t think it could under Shannon. Alongside former Clemson defensive coordinator John Lovett, Whipple seems to have sparked the Miami offense.

I think the first one to 24 wins.

Other Columns by Michael Burns

- Burns: C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s best, ever

- Burns: I hate it when Tommy Bowden is right

- Burns: Watch it the old-fashioned way

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