Second Look: Clemson versus Miami


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Christian Wilkins gestures to the crowd Saturday night
Christian Wilkins gestures to the crowd Saturday night

Clemson punched its Playoff ticket in style by dominating an overachieving Miami Hurricanes group, backing up the talk of hitting its stride at the right time.

Here’s how they graded against Miami:

Offense: A-

ACC Championship Game MVP Kelly Bryant. That about sums up the effort.

Against one of the nation's top pass rushes, Bryant started and finished in a rhythm by connecting on his first 15 passes and his final seven, which included some effective screens, throws on the run and great touch on deeper passes:




Continuing a trend from the South Carolina game, Bryant completed five of his six passes of 15-plus yards at a 20.5 yards per attempt rate (per ESPN).

And while the defense had Miami’s offense handled, the effective passing game was needed, as the Hurricanes stacked the box at points and largely contained the Clemson ground game.

A few scrambles and key short-yardage runs were there, however. Tavien Feaster got in on the action as blocker and a runner:


Ray Ray McCloud had an interesting night, but his versatility is clearly a weapon key to playing and winning multiple games ahead. McCloud touched the ball nine times on offense (six receptions, three carries) in addition to two punt returns. He even got in on a nice block on a Bryant scramble TD:

There was talk of an offense hitting its stride after the South Carolina game, although it wasn’t the most efficient effort. Against a defense the caliber of Miami’s, this one was impressive. Clemson outschemed and outplayed a team that’s contained some solid offenses this season. It’s the kind of big-game experience that will serve an offense with a new set of playmakers well going into the Playoff.

Numbers to know: 9 – Bryant completions of 20-plus yards over the last two weeks, after 14 such completions in the first 10 games. 3 – Consecutive games with touchdown drives on the opening series. The Tigers have scored eight first-drive TDs this season (and scored nine times total). They’ve scored on their first two drives or more in five games, which the 2016-17 Tigers accomplished in only four total games. 1.88 – Clemson’s yards per carry, a season-low. The previous worst was 2.67 versus Auburn in week two and the average had been at four yards or above in the previous six games.

Defense: A+

Miami was undermanned, but mostly, just overmatched.

Clemson’s defense dominated at all levels, holding the Hurricanes to season-lows in plays (59), yards (214) and yards per play (3.63).

Christian Wilkins set the tone by matching his season-high in tackles (7) and also breaking up two passes. Having a healthy Dexter Lawrence beside him did wonders to wreak havoc as well:





While the talk of the week revolved around the Miami defense’s turnover prowess, Clemson stepped in and forced three in a row in the second half, which turned into two second-half touchdowns. Start-to-finish, the Clemson secondary made plays and made things difficult for a first-year starter in Malik Rosier:



The building depth of Brent Venables’ group down the stretch has been a common theme, and that was on display in nearly closing out a shutout. The discipline shown by the second and third-string is a product of the experience gained so frequently this season:

The boost of Lawrence and Kendall Joseph being back was evident in the last two games, and the prospect of starters in Tre Lamar and Mark Fields likely returning for the Sugar Bowl gives Clemson a strong case as the best defense among the top-four teams. Get a couple more efforts on offense and defense like Saturday and that trophy case could be getting some company.

Numbers to know: 6 – Miami passing yards on third down, where they connected on just 3-of-10 throws and went 0-for-5 on third-and-long. 7 – Opponents Clemson has held under 50 percent on completions this season, keeping Rosier to 48.3 with two interceptions. 4 – Wilkins pass breakups in the last two games.

Special teams: B

The career-long Alex Spence 46-yard field goal sneaking in-and-over over the goalpost was the highlight of the night. The Ray Ray McCloud fumble after getting tripped by a teammate was the lowlight. Everywhere in between was solid enough to keep the momentum going from strong performances on offense and defense.

The Spence make is a much-needed confidence-booster going into the Playoff, giving Clemson some options on fourth down around the opposing 30.

Numbers to know: 5 – Spence makes in his last six attempts, breaking the 40-yard barrier for the first time in his career against Miami. 31.3 – Will Spiers' yards per punt, a career-low.

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