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Miami @ Clemson, Game Preview



#16 Miami Hurricanes @ Clemson Tigers

Kick Off:  Its a nooner.

Television:  ESPN2

Radio:  104.9 WCCP  (

Head Coach: Randy Shannon (21-17 at Miami, in his 17th season with the University)

Depth Charts: Miami returns 13 starters (6 offense, 7 defense)

Basic information for both squads (thanks


Complete CUAD Media Preview

ESPN Game Preview

Recent History between Clemson and Miami:

Each of the last three contests between these teams has been an exciting game to watch.  Clemson has been fortunate enough to win both games in Coral Gables and Miami came up to Clemson and won an exciting outing at Death Valley in 2005.  The '04 contest was a 24-17 Clemson victory behind a comeback effort that included a fake field goal and an OT stand against a good 'Cane offense led by Frank Gore.  Miami got its revenge in '05 via a 36-30 triple overtime thriller in the Valley.  This game will be remembered for how loud the stadium was and for the pure in-game excitement.  in '09, the Tigers again were able to go to South Florida and pull out a 40-37 victory in another overtime contest between the two squads.  This one was back and forth all afternoon, ending with a big overtime catch by Jacoby Ford to seal the deal (it is also notable that Richard Jackson was able to boot a medium range field goal late in the 4th quarter to send this one into OT).

300 of Miami's yards last year came on just 10 plays. Most of that was due to bad angles and tackling.

Here at STS we really enjoyed the Clemson wins, ranking the '09 win as the 2nd best of the 2000's and the '04 game as the #6 game on our list.  I encourage you to read our thoughts and the comments on both games through the following links:  Countdown #2: Clemson at Miami 2009 & Countdown: #6, Clemson at Miami  2004.

What to expect out of the Canes:

Miami will run a simplified West Coast style attack that has been coined by some as Whipple-ball.  Dr. B put together a nice piece on Whipple and his philosophy that I highly recommend each of you reading if you want to know how Miami's attack really works:  Miami: Mark Whipple and the West Coast Offense.

Here is a little background on Whipple.  He attended Brown University and was their QB in the late-70's.  Obviously, he is an Ivy League grad so he is pretty sharp.  Whipple was the head man at New Haven in the late '80's/early '90's then at Brown from '94-'97.  He then moved on the UMass where he was able to lead the Minutemen to a 1-AA National Championship in 1998.  Whipple stayed there for a half dozen seasons before accepting a job in the professional ranks as the Pittsburgh Steelers QBs coach then as an offensive assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Whipple was named the 'Canes offensive coordinator in January of 2009.

Last year Miami had considerable success against us on the ground, putting up 102 yards in the 1st half alone. We believe that if Miami had stuck with their running game, the contest might've turned out better for them. Whipple loves to throw the ball too much. They return a stable of talented but young backs, and they run basically the same plays that we do with success. Last year's squad had more experience up front overall, but 7 of the top 10 linemen returned.

In the WR corps, they are fast and the top guys like Leonard Hankerson are very good; this is why we expect Clemson to show you the same things they played last week: mostly zone and not too many blitzes. Expect Miami to have success with crossing routes, and particularly some deep ones. They also like to hit a ton of comeback routes.

We feel that one of the things that has hurt Harris' productivity is the lack of underneath receiving threats. If you read the article linked above on the West Coast attack Miami uses, you'll see it is based on hitting underneath throws to set you up for longer ones. Miami has no solid TE this year, and the backs, while talented, are young and not the receiving threat they were (at least not yet). With Miami having no solid guy underneath, the defense is able to blanket deep routes and Harris makes the stupid move to force it into coverage, later than he should.

Miami's defensive efforts are strongly influenced by head man Randy Shannon.  Shannon is a Miami native and was a starting linebacker on the Hurricanes' 1987 National Championship squad.  Shannon has a deep defensive history at the college and pro level exclusively with the Hurricanes (grad assistant, defensive assistant, defensive coordinator, and head coach) and with the town's pro squad, the Miami Dolphins (assistant and LB coach).

The other significant influence is the 'Canes defensive coordinator, John Lovett.  You will probably remember Lovett from his days as Clemson's defensive coordinator from '02-'04.  You will probably also remember the Tigers giving up quite a few points at times under Lovett especially early in the '04 season.  Coach Tom Bowden eventually fired both him and Mike O'Cain following the 2004 season. Lovett is known for an aggressive man/man defense and he likes to play a 4-4 front quite often, but make no mistake, the scheme he runs now is Randy Shannon's, not his own. It was the same situation with Roof and Chizik.

The Canes feature a 4-3 front that is aggressive and flexible.  This defensive look has been a staple at the U for decades now, dating back to Jimmy Johnson's arrival in South Florida.  Dr. B put together another excellent piece earlier this week that explains the basics as derived and adapted by many of Johnson's former coaches and players.  I am anticipating a good bit of zone out of the Canes this week, which means that Clemson will have to find some soft spots in these zones and come down with the football. Miami also blitzes more now than in the past, though it is not that much overall, and they stunt very often.

Beware of Allen Bailey at DE, he's fast enough to give Hairston/Walker considerable problems. He has been seen to drop to the 3-technique, meaning he'll be on Cloy or McClain, on pass downs. Sean Spence at LB is another name you'll hear mentioned quite a bit. Miami's LB and secondary, while not as dominant as the DLine, are good tacklers and good in coverage. Miami also practices pattern recognition, like Clemson and Alabama. We'll have to earn it.

What Clemson will need to do to stop Miami's offense:  There is no doubt that Miami has talent on the offensive side of the football.  This talent is extremely apparent at the quarterback position.  Jacory Harris has the ability to be a slippery man to tackle yet has the mobility and passing abilities to make plays while he is moving around.  Jacory Harris has also made quite a few mistakes over the past year and a half, forcing footballs and giving the opposition gift interceptions just when it looked like the Miami offense is getting things going. When Harris is "on" and in a rhythm, he's stout. Clemson will give up some big plays BUT it is important that the Tigers capitalize when Harris does falter.  This is one guy who will give your defense opportunities to make plays against him but will also make your defense pay if they cannot make the most of his mistakes.  You really don't want to give him extra opportunities because this offense has the ability to be explosive.

What Clemson will need to do to get after Miami's defense:  One thing that I noticed Ohio State doing well was creating mismatches and opportune situations through their formations.  A popular formation that the Buckeyes used against Miami incorporated three eligible receivers--one of them was almost always the tight end--to one side of the formation and a lone receiver on the other.  This forced Miami into some combination coverages.  OSU took advantage of this by running off the lone receiver (and subsequently the man covering him), getting the inside eligible receiver (the TE) outside and running the slot man across the formation.  This simple concept resulted in quite a few easy yards for the Buckeyes off the crossing route. 

Also (as always) Clemson will need to be able to line up and run the football against what is likely the best defensive line we will face all year.  Ohio State had success running the ball which allowed them to utilize play action during their ballgame.  If Clemson can establish themselves on the ground and be smart in their playcalling, the Tigers can be successful on offense. It won't be as easy without David Smith providing the needed depth up front. If Cloy and McClain get tired, expect their backups to miss assignments, and that would be bad against this DL. Parker doesn't need to take the hits.

Special Teams will play a factor this week:  The third facet of the game will definitely be important this week.  The Canes have scored repeatedly this season on kick returns.  They are, plain and simple, dangerous in the open field.  Either returnman Lamar Miller or Travis Benjamin has the potential to take one to the house anythime the ball is kicked. Special teams itself kept Miami in the game against Ohio State when Harris kept making mistakes.

Unfortunately for Miami, they have given up some big returns to date this season also.  Clemson will need to shore up its coverage and will need Marcus Gilchrist to take advantage of each return opportunity he gets.  A special teams touchdown for the Tigers this week would go a long way to winning this contest.

I hate to continually harp on the Miami/Ohio State game, but it was the biggest test that Miami has had all season.  Miami proved that it had the talent to play with a Top-2 football team, they just couldn't get out of their own way.  Thus, we know that Miami has the players to make it happen.  The question is can they play mistake free football or will the interceptions and shaky special teams play come back to bite them again?

Here are some highlights from the Miami/Ohio State football game earlier this season.

Miami at Pitt Highlights:


From this week's Press Conferences:


I think you'll see a heck of a ballgame. For them, offensively, they're rushing for 32 times a game, throwing 33 times a game. They're multiple with their formations. They like to get in a lot of unbalanced sets, which create challenges for us on defense getting lined up and communication. They've got very talented skill. Their quarterback is a very good player who can make all the throws. He's a really good deep ball thrower. That's something they will do often. They like their offense in chunks. That ball will get sent down the field several times. We'll have to do a good job defending that. At wideout, No. 47 and 85, they're very good. 85 is a big receiver. 3 isn't as big but he can fly. They've played a lot of people at running back. They've got four and we could see all four on Saturday.

"For us, we have to get after this quarterback. That's the bottom line. We have to make sure it's not a comfortable day for him. We have to keep him on the move. We have got to do a great job. When they max-protect, which they'll do, we have to do a great job in our one-on-one coverage. You'll see a lot of stutters and double-move stuff. Another thing is we'll have to tackle well, because they do get yards after the catch.

"We'll play really, really good, then we'll have a dip and give up big plays. We have to make that team go earn it. We have to continue to do a good job with our turnovers.

"Their defense, as a whole, is the best we've played. With what Miami has in the secondary, I'd put their defense ahead of Auburn's. They're No. 1 in the nation in sacks. Overall, it's a very good unit. John Lovett, someone I'm very familiar with, this is his second year. I worked with him at Clemson. They have a lot more to their package this time as opposed to this time last year. No. 35 is leading the league in sacks. Bailey is a really good player. 44 is one of the top four or five tacklers in our league. He's a very smart guy who quarterbacks them on defense. They have a bunch of guys from that secondary who will play on Saturday.

"It's going to be our offensive line versus their defensive line. They're at the top in the nation in sacks and we don't give up sacks. For us, we have to make the plays that are there. There are plays there that we are capable of making. I'm looking forward to it.

Unbalanced sets are something they had success with against us in the red zone last year, and its pretty common for an NFL guy like Whipple to throw that at a college defense. Remember that defenders line up based on where the offensive linemen line up, and when they go unbalanced, then there may be only a Guard to the left or right of the Center, and no Tackle. Then your guys have to know how to play it.

Dabo issued a challenge for Tiger fans to show up and be loud, and you should not be complaining to him about the time of the game. I do believe there is some leeway given on gametimes when there is a choice, but Dabo has made his preference for 3:30 games known, so this one is not on him. If you want a 3:30 or 7pm game, you have to win. If we'd beaten Auburn, this would be primetime ABC/ESPN. Blame them. I don't know why any of you would bother complaining to TDP or Dabo Swinney when the game is televised nationally, because its not their choice (If they choose 1pm for a non-TV game, feel free to bitch away).

I'll be glad when the day comes when a Clemson coach no longer needs to challenge us to be loud.


What have you seen in Da'Quan so far this season where he's taken it to a different level?
"It's actually opposite of what people would think. He's not trying to make every play. He's doing his job and understands that if he does his job, the plays will come to him. It's not feast or famine. Everybody sees a guy who makes a sack or a TFL, but when there are runs popping out or contains lost and it's that guy's job, it's quick to say he had a great game because of sacks, but you can't say that those 80 yards given up might have been that guy's, too. And he would tell you this. He tried to make too much happen and sometimes left himself vulnerable. Now he's not doing that at all. He's doing his job down in and down out. He's got it figured out in that regard. That's a good thing. That's what we're trying to get them all to figure out. He's playing really good technique. He's mastered the play with his eyes. Obviously he's physical enough to dominate blocks. He's learned that if he does his job, he's talented enough to still make a lot of plays."

He's exactly right, when you play your assignment and realize that defense is about 11 guys doing their own job and not the guy beside them, then big plays often result and guys show out like Bowers has so far.

You talked about pushing the pocket.  Are you referring to straight back or laterally? 

 "Vertical -- pushing them back in his lap.  We have talented guys who can get a speed rush on the edge.  You don't want to have so much speed where you can't turn speed to power.  At the same time the edge rush is coming, those inside guys have to be able to either A or B, counter-move and get themselves loose or carry the blocker back to the quarterback's lap.  That's the pocket push we're talking about … where you get an edge rush and the inside movement, because he won't have the ability to step up."

How much  max-protect do they do?

"They do a good bit.  They're a big unbalanced team.  Even though they're an NFL offense, it's not something you see a lot in the NFL.  Some games there are 15, 16 snaps of unbalance."


What sticks out to you about their defensive line?
"It's kind of like Sears and Roebuck. You just open the catalog and pick what you want. That's kind of what they've got. They're all exactly what you'd order up if you're drafting a guy up front. Height, length, powerful, quick guys. Good pass rush. They do a good job of creating some one-on-ones in the pass rush with some games up front. A lot of that has to do with they're all working together. They cover really well. They match patterns really well. If the quarterback is holding the ball longer than usual, that front is talented enough to create some problems. That's why they're successful in those areas. And some things they do on early downs can give you problems from a tackle-for-loss standpoint."

Could you expand on the number of variables they added from last year?
"Just like anywhere, Coach Lovett goes in there his first year and he wants to make sure he can call the game. Mentally, the guys don't bust a lot of assignments. They're sound in what they do. They're where they're supposed to be. They're playing fast. Now, in his second year as they've become more comfortable - and it's a pretty veteran group - now he's able to add a few wrinkles here or there. Last year was relatively simple, although they were very talented. This year, there's just a few more variables in terms of what they're trying to do. I think that's a product of more experience, and it's also a product of Coach Lovett being there in his second season."


Jeff Scott:

How much do Miami's defensive backs like to challenge receivers at the line?
 "They do a good job of giving you a variety of different looks. And obviously certain situations - third down - they're going to come up and challenge you a little bit more in man coverage. But I think a lot of it has to do with the situational calls they have. But no question about it, they're big guys who can run. I expect to see a lot of man coverage, and then also a fair amount of zone coverage. It'll be one of the top challenges that we've had all year."

Do any of their defensive backs stand out?
 "There's not a huge drop-off with any of them, to be honest. They all look pretty sound in what they do. One of the strengths of their defense is probably their secondary play. Van Dyke, the corner, has been there for a few years. They'll play probably six different guys at those four positions. Very solid, and they've recruited very well at those positions. Miami has always been known for their skill guys and for their speed. No question watching them on video, you see about what you expect out of a Miami defense."


This is a huge weekend for Tiger recruiting, as several big names are planning to be in attendance. Current commitments planned are: WR Charone Peake, RB Marlin Lane, TE Eric MacLain, QB Tony McNeal, S Cortez Davis, DT Grady Jarrett, OT Shaq Anthony and C Ryan Norton. Prospects DE JaDaveon Clowney, DT Phillip Dukes, OLB Kris Frost, TE Jerrell Adams, Devonte Brown, Jeoffrey Pagan and Geraldo Orta are also planning to show up. While we both believe we will get WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson and Miami are his top two. As of now over 30 prospects for this year's class are expected to be there, and a ton for 2012.

One to watch as the season moves forward:  Christian LeMay...all sources say he may be looking elsewhere as Georgia's program is going into the shitter. Word is that he's scared of Tajh more than anything though.  Clemson is still after him though it may take a serious turn of events (i.e., coaching change) to get him out of Athens and into Tigertown. UGA tanking can only help with Shell, and UNC's problems will only help with DL Devonte Brown.