Miami and Clemson are set for a championship game with a spot in the Playoff on the line.
The No. 1 Clemson Tigers will take on the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes in the ACC Championship Saturday at 8pm, and a spot in the Playoff is on the line. The two teams last faced off in 2015 in a rout of a football game that Clemson won, 58-0. The Hurricanes and Tigers come into the game heading in different directions. Miami lost its first game of the year last week, whereas Clemson beat up its in-state rival, South Carolina, 34-10, for its fifth consecutive win. The Hurricanes need to turn it around quick, or else they will find themselves on the outside looking in at the Playoff this season.
Storylines Heading Into The Game
Miami Falls to Pitt, Suffers First Lost of Season - Last Friday, Miami lost its first game of the year in a stunner against Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes were a mess on both sides of the ball. The Panthers came into the game with just four wins, an offense that ranked in the country’s basement, and was starting a true freshman quarterback making his second-ever start. Still, the Hurricanes’ defense gave up 24 points, roughly six more than they have allowed per game on the season. The offense looked worse. Miami put up just 14 points against a defense that was allowing more than 26.0 points per game at the time. Hopefully, that poor effort will serve as a wake-up call for the Hurricanes.
Clemson Red Hot Heading Into Title Game - The Tigers got the nod as the No. 1 team in the nation in the penultimate CFP rankings following their 34-10, systematic beat-down of South Carolina Saturday night. Quarterback Kelly Bryant finished 23-for-34 passing for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Clemson also rushed for 184 yards as a team. Defensively, the Tigers looked just as terrifying as usual, holding the Gamecocks to just three points and 127 total yards before the final drive during which all of the backups were in the game. Clemson is riding a five-game win streak and looks to be hitting its stride at the right time.
Will Malik Rosier Rebound? - Oh boy, was Malik Rosier awful in the game against Pittsburgh. Rosier finished an abysmal 15-for-34 for 187 yards, although he did throw two touchdowns. Rosier played so poorly throughout this game that he was pulled for a drive by head coach Mark Richt early in the fourth quarter. Rosier is not one of the premier passers in the country, but so far this season he has done enough to keep his team in games and lead big drives when necessary. His success is critical to Miami’s chances of upsetting Clemson.
40.0 - Clemson’s sack total, second in the nation. The Tigers’ defensive front gets after it and terrorizes opposing quarterbacks. It is the lifeblood of this formidable defense. What makes it so effective is that so many different players among the front seven can get to you on any given play. Five players have at least 4.0 sacks, four players have at least 7.0 tackles for loss, and seven players have at least five quarterback pressures. Clemson can get to you by rushing four, or it can orchestrate devastating stunts and blitzes involving its linebackers. Miami’s offensive line needs to prep for, by far, its toughest test of the season.
243.3 vs. 258.2 - Clemson’s passing yards per game vs. Miami’s. Neither of these offenses is particularly pass-heavy. Clemson ranks 54th and Miami ranks 41st in passing yards per game. However, both offenses rely on their quarterbacks a great deal to create. The Hurricanes rank just 65th in rushing yards per game, which forces Rosier to move the ball through the air perhaps more often than Richt would prefer. Bryant is asked to do less thanks to a versatile run game that ranks 28th in rushing yards per game and is tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns. Still, Bryant is asked to create with his legs as a part of that rushing attack and his mobility is useful in the passing game as well when plays break down. Although neither team throws the ball an extreme amount, the quarterbacks and passing games are still important points of their offenses.
18.3 - Miami’s points allowed per game. Clemson’s defense is phenomenal, but we should not neglect the strength of Miami’s defense. The Hurricanes rank 15th in scoring defense, sixth in sacks, and, of course, first (by far) in having dope gold chains. The Turnover Chain is the very fabric of this Miami team. The Canes rank eighth in interceptions, ninth in fumbles recovered, third in total turnovers gained, and first in turnover margin. For Miami to win this game, it needs to do what it does best, break out the Turnover Chain early and often, and stunt all over the Tigers.
DE Clelin Ferrell, DE Austin Bryant, and the Rest of the Clemson Defensive Line - Clemson’s defense runs through its defensive line. Ferrell, Bryant, Christian Wilkins, and Dexter Lawrence are an elite unit that savage opposing offenses. The quartet have combined for 20.5 sacks, 37.5 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback pressures, and countless nightmares. Teams don’t run well on Clemson. Teams don’t throw well on Clemson. This defensive line is an enormous reason why. They will play an even larger role than normal against Miami Saturday because of the potential errancy of Rosier. If these four can do what they’ve done all year — harass Rosier and force errant throws and turnovers — the Tigers will be well on their way to winning the ACC title game for the third year in a row.
QB Malik Rosier - It’s very difficult to overemphasize how important it is for Miami that Rosier have an above average game Saturday night. As stated, Clemson’s defense is demonic, and anything less than Rosier’s absolute best will end in sorrow for the Hurricanes. Rosier has never been efficient: his career completion percentage is a miserable 54.6 percent. Nor has he ever been particularly prolific: his career yards per attempt is just 7.54. But he has shown the ability to make clutch throws, lead big drives when his team needs him most, and find ways to win. There is no chance that, against this defense, Rosier has a flawless game. But if the Hurricanes want to win this game, they need Rosier to return to his winning ways.
This game reeks of Playoff implications. If Clemson wins, things work out very simply. The Tigers are in and the Hurricanes are out. If Miami wins, the Playoff scenario gets a bit trickier. Miami as a one-loss ACC champion with three wins against top-15 teams deserves a bid, and almost certainly will receive a bid. But that isn’t guaranteed. There is still the chance that even if Miami wins this game, the committee deems Alabama’s resume stronger and gives the Tide the spot. Again, if Miami wins, it will likely get into the Playoff, but it isn’t assured.
There is also the chance that Clemson stays in the Playoff conversation even if it loses. As the No. 1-ranked team, even if it’s by a small margin, the Committee has said that it thinks the Tigers are currently the best team in the country. So, with some help – i.e. Oklahoma and Wisconsin also lose – Clemson could still find itself in the Playoff defending its title.
Miami is a fun team to watch, but at the end of the day Clemson will be too strong of a team to overcome. The Hurricanes’ offensive line is tied for 65th in sacks allowed, and the Tigers’ defense will harass Rosier with impunity, racking up the sacks and forcing turnovers. Bryant and the Clemson offense might run into a few issues of their own, but will eventually find a rhythm and put enough points on the board to secure a victory. Clemson wins 20-6, and advances to this year’s College Football Playoff.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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