When Miami has the ball...
Kyle Wright will be making his second career start against Clemson on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback showed good poise in putting Miami in a situation to tie the game against Florida State in the opener. Wright will look to build confidence by finding his security blanket, Greg Olsen, early in the game. The Miami offense is going to try and deliver a kill shot early. Do not be surprised, if Miami goes vertical on their opening play. In reviewing the film from Clemson-Maryland, Clemson’s secondary has questions to answer.
Miami will look to get more production from its receivers. Lance Leggett and Ryan Moore are dangerous targets. Against Florida State, Moore was the receiver Wright looked for deep. The Hurricanes will likely stay away from Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge. This is a game where Sergio Gilliam, Chris Clemons, CJ Gaddis, and Michael Hamlin need to come of age. Miami offensive coordinator Dan Werner loves to throw to the tight end, and then stretch the field vertically. Wright has a big arm, but he is still maturing as a decision maker.
Wright hopes to have Tyrone Moss in the backfield. Moss is improved as a runner, but he is more vital in pass protection. Derron Thomas and Charlie Jones can handle running the football, but there is a big drop-off in picking up the pass rush. If Moss is unable to play significantly, Miami could turn to fullback Quadtrine Hill. Hill is a powerful runner and a solid blocker. Miami must protect Wright better than they did against FSU.
For Clemson’s defense, it will be no secret what Miami will do. The question lies in whether or not Clemson can stop it. Charles Bennett and Gaines Adams will have a battle on their hands with Eric Winston and Rashad Butler. The battle on the outside may be a scratch, so the interior may play a big factor in the outcome of this game.
Cory Groover and Donnell Clark are expected to start for the second consecutive week. If they are able to win the battle on the inside, it could open things up for Vic Koenning’s defense. Stopping the run and pressuring Wright are the two keys for Clemson’s defense.
When Clemson has the ball...
Clemson has a newfound running game behind an underrated offensive line and two talented running backs. Last year, Reggie Merriweather had his coming out party in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers were able to spread Miami out and run right at the ‘Canes last year. The Tigers will look to exploit Miami on the ground once again.
The Hurricanes were young last year at several key positions on defense. They are year older and wiser. However, they are still not the over imposing presence you expect from Miami. Orien Harris will anchor the defensive front, but Clemson can run opposite of him. The big difference from a year ago, maybe Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence.
Spence has put together two successful gameplans. When it comes down to it, Spence holds a big advantage over Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Spence will stay committed to the run and ride his horses in James Davis and Merriweather. Spence showed last week that he knows when to put the ball in Charlie Whitehurst’s hands.
Miami is becoming more aggressive on defense, which may open opportunities for Clemson downfield. Do not expect Clemson to come out throwing the ball all over the lot. This offensive is committed to running the football. It is a strategy that benefits Clemson on both sides. This offense is asked to protect the defense by controlling the clock. Later in the year, Clemson may be capable of winning games defensively, but right now Clemson’s fate lies in the hands of the offense.
This offense has a lot of confidence after coming from behind in the fourth quarter in both games. If this game is close in the fourth quarter, this team knows it can win the game.
This is why you cannot put too much focus on the preseason. Three weeks ago, Miami would have had a sizeable edge over Clemson. Now Jad Dean is 6-6 on field goals, and Stuckey has one punt return for touchdown. Devin Hester was expected to be the premier return man in the country, but he is battling a turf toe and mental issues.
Hester was awful versus FSU. The hidden yardage that was lost by him not fielding punts and fumbling punts was a major issue. Despite his performance, do not expect Clemson to take many chances with Hester.
Both teams have had issues with snaps. A bad snap nearly cost Clemson two victories, while a bad snap prevented Miami from tying the game against FSU. In what will be a tight battle, a big special teams play could swing the game in one direction or the other.
This is the biggest home game in eight years for Clemson. If Clemson upsets Miami, then the program has taken the next step. For Clemson to prove they are a legitimate title contender in the ACC, they must continue to win at home. Miami is starving for a win and will bring everything they have on Saturday. Clemson is difficult to beat at home, but Miami will avoid the 0-2 start, by pulling away late.
Prediction: Miami 31 Clemson 24