The 6-0 Tigers will play just their second road game of the season this Saturday at noon when they face the Miami Hurricanes in Sun Life Stadium. The game will be nationally televised on ABC.
The spread opened at a tight -3 for Clemson, but quickly shifted to -5 and as of Wednesday was up to -6.5 (ESPN). With a great matchup on tap, we asked Cam Underwood about QB Brad Kaaya, the 'Canes expected offensive approach, and much more. A big thanks to Cam for taking the time to help us preview the Hurricanes!
STS: Shakin the Southland
SOTU: State of the U
STS: Brad Kaaya has the most pass attempts, completions, and passing yards in the conference. He'll battle with the other premier QB of the ACC when Watson and the Tigers come to Miami. How will Kaaya challenge the Tiger defense on Saturday?
SOTU: Kaaya is the total package at QB. He'll challenge the Clemson defense in the same way he does every opponent: with accurate and timely passes, distributing the ball to his backs and receivers (14 different players have caught a pass this year), and taking control of the offense to make sure the Canes are in the right play.
Kaaya enters Saturday's game with outstanding numbers: 61.8% completions, an ACC-Leading 1,795 yards, 10 TDs, and only 1 interception. He can make every throw on the field, and has taken his game to the next level this year. It would not surprise me if Kaaya had another virtuoso performance against the Tigers defense.
STS: Clemson's young defense has held opponents to just 2.98 YPC. Do you expect a pass heavy attack for the Hurricanes, or will they work to establish the run?
SOTU: I anticipate the Hurricanes' offensive attack to be pass heavy in every game, but especially so against Clemson. Miami's offensive line has been, in a word, horrible. That Kaaya and the skill position players have been able to have the success they've enjoyed through the first half of the season with the poor play of the OL is incredible.
Last year with a veteran OL, Kaaya was frequently seen directing the offense by taking snaps under center. This year, he's been nearly exclusively in pistol or shotgun alignments, even in most goal-line situations.
When faced with tougher defensive fronts (2nd half of the Nebraska game, the Florida State game, and even the Virginia Tech game), the run game struggled mightily. I don't see any reason why this trend won't continue against Clemson. While the yardage might not be great, Miami will still have to TRY to run the ball. That formula, coupled with a 300+ yard, 2 TD performance from Kaaya, was enough for the Canes to be victorious. Miami will need similar to have a chance on Saturday afternoon.
STS: Miami has surrendered 4.90 YPC to opponents this season. With former Clemson OC Chad Morris now in Dallas, co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott have found success running a more rush-heavy offensive attack. If Clemson looks to control the game with RB Wayne Gallman and the ground game, do you believe the Hurricane defense can slow them down?
SOTU: Miami struggles to stop the run. Sometimes, it's alignment errors. Sometimes, it's missed tackles. Other times, it's blown assignments like we saw on option runs that went for big gains or TDs in both the Florida State and Virginia Tech games.
With a defensive line that is talented in theory but lacks production on the field, and a linebacking corps that is now down 3 players, 2 of them starters, with season-ending injuries, the front 7 may be overmatched by the Clemson offense both on talent and on scheme. There will be effort. There will even be some plays for negative runs. But, overall, I don't really see how the defensive front will curtail a talented and diverse Clemson run game (including the quick screens which are basically an extension of the run game).
STS: How does the big rivalry game win over VT change the long-term outlook for Al Golden at Miami? Is there still optimism around the program?
SOTU: The win over Virginia Tech was great. I was in the stadium, yelling my head off for 4 quarters. It was thrilling, exhilarating, and awesome. What it wasn't, however, was anything that changes the fact that Al Golden is clearly on the hot seat.
I've said this on our blog before: there is no singular result that will determine Al Golden's fate. There isn't a specific loss that gets him fired, and there's not a specific win that ensures he'll be here next year. That includes the VT win. It's nice, it helps us gain momentum, but it doesn't reshape the whole environment of the team, this season, or this program.
That being said, there IS optimism around this program. Having the #6 team in the country coming here to play gives us another chance to get the signature win we've been unable to capture for the better part of the last decade. Brad Kaaya is the ACC's best QB. There is a plethora of talented skill position players. The 2016 recruiting class is great. And the list goes on and on.
So, while there is optimism, there's still the reality that until things change in the W/L results, Al Golden is on the hot seat.
STS: Aside from Joseph Yearby and Brad Kaaya, who should Tiger fans keep an eye on from the 'Canes?
SOTU: Miami has several players who Clemson should know about. They are:
WR Rashawn Scott - the 5th year senior is the ACC's 2nd leading receiver and Kaaya's main target. He's a tough, physical, dynamic playmaker who figures to be targeted early and often in this game.
WR Stacy Coley - the most talented WR on the roster, Coley is just rebounding from one of the worst Sophomore slumps I've ever seen. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field on any play. Miami has been moving him around between X and slot this year, so as to give him multiple places from which he can impact the game. His coming out party was the FSU game, and he carried that performance into the VT game last week. He'll look to make it 3 strong games in a row on Saturday afternoon.
DB Deon Bush - easily the best defender Miami has on the roster. Bush has flourished from both his normal starting safety spot, and at nickel DB, a spot he's playing for the first time this year. When he missed the 4th Q of the Nebraska game and the first half of the Cincinnati game after a targeting ejection, the defense was weakened. With Bush, the defense plays better.
CB Artie Burns - Burns leads the ACC and is T-3rd nationally with 5 interceptions. His game has finally matched his physical skills (Burns was a record-setting hurdler in High School), and he's put everything together through this half the season. He has good size at 6'1" and the speed to keep up with nearly and receiver. He's not being talked about much Nationally due to Miami's record, but Burns is a very good player who should be known around the ACC at a minimum.
CB Corn Elder - He's the jack of all trades on this team. He plays CB. He plays Nickel. He returns kicks. He returns punts. Elder had the interception in overtime of the Nebraska game to set up Miami to kick the winning FG, and he's made plays all over the field. He's a shorter player at 5'9", but he's fast, he's tough, and he could pose problems for Clemson in a number of ways.
STS: Finally, if you want to put it out there, what's your prediction?
SOTU: I think Clemson is building something special this season, and even though Brad Kaaya will do everything he can to keep Miami in the game, it won't be enough for the Canes.
Final Score: Clemson 35 Miami 27
Another thank you to Cam Underwood for joining us for this Q&A session. If you'd like to see the other half of the Q&A it is posted on State of the U.