Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, it’s not often that we get to see a top-10 showdown in Death Valley, but here we are! With No.7 Miami (3-0) coming to town—a game that was only scheduled after COVID reshuffled the deck—it’s the first top-10 matchup in Death Valley since the Tigers beat Louisville in 2016. Auburn in 2017 and Texas A&M last year were close, but they were just outside of the top 10. Miami was unranked in the preseason, but I predicted that they would be a top-10 team with the addition of transfer QB D’Eriq King, and that has proven to be the case. The entire team is playing with a new swagger and confidence because of what he has been able to inject into the offense, and he is a legitimate Heisman candidate, which is also reminiscent of that 2016 Louisville game when the top two Heisman Finalists, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, went head-to-head.
As you all know, ESPN College GameDay will be in Tiger Town for the prime-time showdown! It’s the second time already this season that the Tigers will be featured on GameDay and the third time in four weeks for the Canes. This will be the 17th time GameDay has featured Clemson since 2015, the most appearances by any school over that time period. This will be just the 12th meeting all-time between the Tigers and Canes. Miami has a 6-5 advantage, but the Tigers have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 96-3, handing the Canes their worst loss in program history, 58-0 at Miami Gardens in 2015. Ironically, the road team has won the last 5 meetings, not including the last meeting in neutral Charlotte for the ACC Championship. 3 consecutive meetings—2004, 2005 and 2009—went to overtime, and the Tigers won 2 of those, both at Miami. The Tigers are 0-2 all-time against Miami in Death Valley, including the epic triple-overtime thriller in 2005. I was a young Clemson grad in the stands that day, and when Charles Bennett sacked Kyle Young on 3rd down to get the ball back so Charlie Whitehurst could win or send it to overtime, I believe it was the loudest Death Valley has ever been, before or since.
I spoke with Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Rece Davis and Desmond Howard this week, and you can see those interviews HERE. I asked Fowler about playoff expansion, moving the Heisman vote and whether Trev and Trav could both make it to New York. I asked both Kirk and Rece about the incredible streaks the Tigers have put up since 2015 and whether the perception nationally is somewhat desensitized to it because of the timing, coming on the heels of Alabama’s unprecedented run. As I predicted, Kirk said that the perception of the ACC has hurt Clemson a little bit, so I came back to Rece and pointed out that outside of last year, the ACC has been much better than those in the national media think. Just 4 years ago in 2016, the ACC was hands down the best conference in the nation, going 10-4 against the SEC head-to-head overall, 4-1 in ACC/SEC bowls, and of course, Clemson beat Alabama for the National Title. In 2017 and 2018, just one game separated the two conferences in head-to-head games, and Clemson waxed the floor with Alabama in 2018. The SEC’s second-best team that year, UGA, was blown out by Texas in the Sugar Bowl that year as well. Admittedly, the ACC was bad in 2019, but in the 4 years from 2015 through 2018, the ACC and SEC were a dead-even 23-23 head-to-head, and Clemson was 2-2 against Alabama! In the 5 years from 2014 through 2018, the ACC is 28-26 against the SEC and 9-8 in bowls! So when you hear the talking heads on ESPN say over and over that the ACC has been down for years, that is absolute nonsense, and what Clemson has been able to do since 2015—four national championship games in five years, 76-5 overall record, 44 straight weeks in the AP Top 5, 35 straight non-playoff wins—much of that is unprecedented in the history of college football, and the national media needs to wake up. They need to stop making up imaginary narratives about the ACC being weak and realize how special what Clemson has done is. By the way, Clemson is 21-3 versus ranked opponents since 2015. That is a better win percentage against ranked teams than both Alabama and Ohio State, so whatever illusions one might have about the ACC being weak for years, that statistic doesn’t lie.
All that being said, even the national media agrees that the ACC is strong this year, and the conference currently has 4 teams inside the top 8! So perhaps if the Tigers are able to beat Miami comfortably and go undefeated in conference for the 3rd straight year, there will be some revisionist history for the Tigers’ unparalleled accomplishments since 2015.
Time to get off my soap box and move on to Saturday night’s big showdown!
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers look to win at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 5 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in the nation to win 5 consecutive conference championship games….If Clemson goes 14-0 this season (they play one less regular season game than normal), the senior class will tie last year’s group at 55-3, the best record of any senior class in history….At 72-5, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 4 wins better than Alabama and 11 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson has the second-most wins since 2011, trailing Alabama by just one win….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 9 more than Ohio State and 8 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .807. Nick Saban’s is .788. Dabo also holds the best all-time ACC win percentage at .828. Bobby Bowden’s was .813….Clemson is tied for No.15 all-time in total games played as AP No.1 (17). If the Tigers remain No.1 through the end of the season, they will pass Michigan for No.12 all-time and be the 3rd team in history to go wire-to-wire AP No.1 (1999 FSU and 2004 USC).....Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 80 weeks, passing USC for the fourth-longest streak all-time and one week behind Florida for 3rd all-time. Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 44 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and tied with USC for ninth-longest streak all-time. The next-longest active streak is Georgia at 11 weeks. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 all season, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. One more, and the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; two more and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 25 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley. The Tigers are an FBS-best 42-1 at home since 2014….
The transfer of QB D’Eriq King from Houston to Miami has been one of the biggest talking points of the off-season, both inside the ACC and nationally. He has revitalized not only a woeful Miami offense that was shutout 14-0 by LA Tech in their bowl game to cap a 3-game losing streak, but he has injected a swagger and confidence in the entire team that we haven’t seen at Miami since their hot start and No.2 ranking in 2017. That season, however, ended badly for the Canes, losing at Pitt and getting crushed by the Tigers in the ACC Championship Game. It’s a new regime with Head Coach Manny Diaz, however, now in his second year, and he has a new Offensive Coordinator in Rhett Lashlee. If new OC and transfer QB has a familiar ring, it should. We saw LSU take that formula to a 15-0 National Title and ending Clemson’s 29-game win streak.
Time will tell if Miami will parlay their new additions into a championship, but D’Eriq King is not quite as prolific as Joe Burrow was in his historic season last year. They have very different skill sets, however. King doesn’t have the pinpoint accuracy on deep balls that Burrow displayed all last season, but King is far more dangerous with his legs and improvisation. Through 3 games at Miami, King has completed 67% of his passes for 736 yards, 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has been sacked just 3 times and rushed for 157 yards with another TD, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. King broke Tim Tebow’s record for consecutive games with a pass TD and rush TD, but that was snapped in their second game at Louisville. Perhaps he wouldn’t have the record if he played in the ACC rather than at Houston, but it’s an impressive record nonetheless. King is at his best when the pocket breaks down and he improvises. He runs like a running back, seldom sliding feet first and sacrificing his body for tough extra yards and first downs. His only weakness, as I see it thus far, is consistent accuracy on deep balls. Most of his long completions have come when receivers have been wide open and run for lots of yards after the catch. He has not been very accurate on long throws over 25 yards, however.
At running back, 5’10, 210-pound junior Cam’Ron Harris (#23) is off to a great start. He has averaged just over 100 yards per game with 5 touchdowns. You will undoubtedly hear Desmond Howard mention on GameDay that Harris has averaged 8.2 yards per carry in their 3 games, which is impressive, but don’t forget that Travis Etienne averages almost 8 yards per carry for his career! Puts it into perspective, doesn’t it? Harris has both speed and power, and he has 9 catches for 34 yards. Look out for 5’10, 190-pound freshman Jaylan Knighton (#4) in the backfield as well. He only has 96 rushing yards so far but averages 5.3 yards per carry. He has a touchdown both rushing and receiving this season to go along with 4 catches for 110 yards.
The Canes have a pair of good receivers in 6’1, 172-pound junior Mark Pope (#6) and 5’11, 180-pound senior Mike Harley (#3). Pope has 11 catches for 142, and Harley has 12 for 110, but neither has found the end zone yet this season. That’s because their biggest threats in the passing game are a pair of tight ends. 6’3, 245-pound junior Brevin Jordan (#9) has 15 catches for 212 yards and 3 touchdowns and is poised for an All-American season. He is a matchup problem, and so is 6’5, 245-pound junior Will Mallory (#85), who has just 2 catches for 27 yards and one touchdown this so far this season, but he’s a big threat in the passing game. The Canes also have a tall WR in 6’3, 195-pound junior Dee Wiggins (#8), who has 8 catches for 94 yards and a TD this season.
You may recall new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee from when he was at Auburn. He is a Gus Malzahn protégé, and Brent Venables went up against him in 2016, his final season at Auburn. Lashlee’s first season as Auburn OC was 2013, when he had Nick Marshall and nearly won the national title, losing in the final seconds to Florida State. You can expect Lashlee’s offense to go very fast tempo, and it will be predicated on the run. In D’Eriq King, Lashlee has the same type of mobile quarterback that he had in Nick Marshall, but King is a better passer.
Defensively, the Canes are beginning to resemble themselves again. They are not quite at the level of Clemson or Alabama yet, but they have some big-time athletes on the defensive side. Despite losing projected NFL first-rounder Greg Rousseau at defensive end, the Canes have a pair of very talented bookends in Jaelan Phillips (#15) and Quincy Roche (#2). Phillips is a 6’5, 266-pound redshirt junior transfer from UCLA, and Roche is a 6’3, 245-pound redshirt senior. One of the better individual matchups to watch on Saturday will be the Tigers’ offensive tackles, Jackson Carman and Jordan McFadden, against those ends. Roche already has 2 sacks this season, and Phillips has an interception with several quarterback pressures. On the back end, 6’1, 192-pound junior Al Blades, Jr. (#7) has 2 of the secondary’s 3 interceptions this season. You guessed it, he’s the son of Miami legend Al Blades and nephew of Bennie and Brian Blades. Starting safety Gurvan Hall (#26) will miss the first half due to a targeting penalty in the second half of their last game against FSU. Senior co-starter Amari Carter will play in his absence.
Like the Tigers, Miami has been very sound in special teams and is a complete team. Yet another transfer, Jose Borregales, has taken over the kicking duties after defecting from FIU. He is a perfect 15-15 on PAT’s and 6-6 on field goals, including a 57-yarder, exceeding his career long of 53 in each of his previous two years at FIU.
Miami is currently ranked No.8 in scoring offense (43.3 points/game), No.12 in rushing offense (232.33 yards/game), No.25 in passing offense (266.7 yards/game) and No.12 in total offense (499 yards/game). The Canes are No.14 in scoring defense (19.3 points/game), No.41 in rush defense (146.67 yards/game), No.28 in pass defense (230.3 yards/game) and No.27 in total defense (377 yards/game). They are No.20 in sacks per game (3.33) and tied for No.11 in turnover margin (+3 for season).
The Tigers have had to listen to criticism all week that they “only” beat defending Coastal Champ UVA by 18 points and that the defense didn’t play well because they gave up 23 points. Well that may be the perception from the average Clemson fan who has been spoiled by the dominance of Brent Venables and his defense, but it’s not exactly reality. Sure, the Tigers didn’t play their best defense last week and had a few bad plays, but this is a young unit, and I’ve maintained since the preseason that the defense would be a work-in-progress. By the end of the season, I expect them to be every bit as good as last year’s group and probably better. In addition, they were without starting DT Tyler Davis, who has missed the past two games with an MCL sprain, and 23 points is not a lot in today’s game. Look at Alabama, allowing 24 at home last week to an A&M team that only scored 17 at home against Vandy. That was also a very good UVA team with a solid quarterback who will have a great career and one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Venables and the defense had one game of film to watch on UVA this season, and they hit the Tigers with some wrinkles for which they weren’t prepared. Having said all that, I could tell that the players take the criticism personally and will have a chip on their shoulder this week. You can also bet that Venables came down hard on them in practice all week. You can read my recap of last week’s UVA win HERE.
The Tigers are ranked No.7 in scoring defense (12.0 points/game), No.11 in rush defense (90.0 yards/game), No.23 in pass defense (213 yards/game) and No.13 in total defense (303.0 yards/game). They are No.9 in scoring offense (42.3 yards/game), No.40 in rushing offense (161.3 yards/game), No.15 in passing offense (316.0 yards/game) and No.17 in total offense (477.3 yards/game). The Tigers are No.7 in sacks per game (4.33) and tied for No.27 in turnover margin (+1 on season).
From an injury standpoint, the Tigers are in great shape. Not only will they get Tyler Davis back, but Dabo said on Wednesday that he hopes Xavier Thomas will suit up. He was hoping Thomas would be able to dress for the UVA game but was unable to after missing a mandatory COVID test. CB co-starter Mario Goodrich finally made his season debut last week, grading well in the game, and WR Brannon Spector returned to action as well. WR Joseph Ngata has been banged up and has not recorded a catch since the opener at Wake. Hopefully, he will be heavily involved in the passing game on Saturday night because this offense will be on a different level when he is in the full swing of things. In the meantime, Amari Rodgers and Frank Ladson have been carrying the load in the passing game. Incidentally, Ladson is from Miami, so I'm sure he's been looking forward to this game! Rodgers has 3 touchdown catches in the last 2 games and nearly came up with a brilliant 4th in tight coverage last week. DE Justin Foster will likely not make his season debut, although Dabo continues to tell us that he is day-to-day.
Trevor Lawrence has been in the zone since the season started. He is as accurate as he’s ever been and is making all the right reads and decisions. He has thrown 314 passes without an interception and needs just 66 more to break Russell Wilson’s ACC record. UVA had 5 interceptions in its opener against Duke, but Trevor survived that test, and he’ll have another good one against a good Miami secondary and excellent pass rush.
Travis Etienne tied Tim Tebow’s record for most career games (38) with a touchdown and needs just one TD on Saturday to break the record. He is as explosive as ever in the ground game but has also become a big-time weapon in the passing game. He went over 100 yards receiving last week for the first time in his career and is the only Clemson back other than Spiller to ever do that. Etienne has also become a weapon on punt returns, taking one 44 yards against The Citadel to set up a TD. It’s amazing how far he’s come as a pass-catcher since his freshman year when he couldn’t catch a cold, and it’s a testament to how hard he’s worked and his dedication to come back for his senior year in order to improve his game. I’m not sure people nationally and even the national media appreciate how special Etienne is just because he rarely plays in the 4th quarter with all the blowouts the Tigers have had. The guy is 3rd all-time at 7.8 yards per carry, ahead of the likes of Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Barry Sanders and countless other Hall of Famers, but Travis still doesn’t seem to be revered nationally as much as he deserves. And now that he is a complete back with his ability to catch the ball and pass protect, he is all the more special.
Despite replacing 4 starters on the offensive line, the Tigers’ starting group has been outstanding, as expected. They have allowed 2 sacks per game, but a couple of those were on Trevor. The line has been superb in the run game as well, but this will be their biggest test so far against the Canes.
Finally, the Tigers’ special teams have been a real strength so far this season—as good as it’s been for years. BT Potter is a perfect 4-4 with a career-long 52-yarder. Will Spiers has been consistently good on his punts, the coverage units have been very good and the Tigers have seen big returns on both punts and kickoffs, including a 52-yard return by Dixon to open the UVA game last week. Both Clemson and Miami have looked like two of the most complete teams in the nation so far.
In addition to Miami native Frank Ladson, Chez Mellusi, who scored a touchdown last week, is from Naples, which is in South Florida, and starting OG Will Putnam is from Tampa.
Be sure to check HERE two hours before kickoff for a final list of unavailable players for the game!
This is going to be fun to watch, and I can’t wait! Two legitimate Heisman candidate quarterbacks going head-to-head with an ACC Championship and a seat at the College Football Playoff on the line. It’s just too bad that the Tigers won’t have the typical 85,000 screaming fans and the same electric atmosphere to which we’re accustomed from Death Valley at night. The weather will also play a major role, as it looks to storm throughout the entire game. It could very well be a repeat of the 2015 Notre Dame hurricane game, and there could be a lightning delay or two! The weather makes a score prediction a little more difficult, but what I do know is that the Tigers have more talent across the board and are deeper than the Canes. I think a wet ball will exacerbate King’s struggles with deep ball accuracy, and that will mitigate the Canes’ vertical threat, meaning Venables can play press-man coverage and cover zero with safety blitzes without being at great risk of being beat deep. As mentioned before, tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory are matchup problems, and King will make things happen with his legs, so the Tigers will give up some points. However, with Tyler Davis back and the defense with a big chip on its shoulder, I think the Tigers will be able to come up with more stops than the Miami defense.
It will be interesting to see if Ngata has a big game for the Tigers, and I expect Braden Galloway and Davis Allen to have a big impact. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better matchup of tight ends in any one game this season! I can’t wait to see what kind of wrinkles Dabo and Tony Elliott have in store for us. You can bet they’ve been withholding some plays in the early going. Don’t be surprised to see a little trickery like a pass by Etienne or a flea flicker. Some are wondering if we will see the jumbo package for the first time this season. I don’t think we will unless the score gets out of hand. The Tigers will eventually debut it in a blowout game at some point. I don’t think they will risk it in a tight game against a top-10 team, especially with the new players they will be using for it.
The Canes have shown a lot of confidence and spirit early on, but they haven’t been tested the way they will on Saturday night. If the Tigers jump out to a big lead early, will the old Miami rear its head? We’ll have to wait and see. Las Vegas currently favors the Tigers by 14, which is a big spread for a top-7 matchup, but I think the Tigers will cover that and emphatically announce to the college football world that they are still the undisputed kings of the ACC. Make it 26 straight home wins (longest active), 36 straight non-playoff wins, 26 straight ACC wins and 47 straight Saturday wins, extending their all-time record!
The Prowl toward a 6th consecutive ACC Title, 6th consecutive College Football Playoff, 3rd consecutive National Championship appearance and 4th National Title continues…….
CLEMSON 45 Miami 27
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