Clemson returned to the ACC Championship game for the third straight year to take on the Miami Hurricanes. Georgia and Oklahoma had convincing victories in their conference championship games. Would the Tigers do the same? In a word, yes. They had perhaps the most dominant performance of the day.
Miami kicked off and Travis Etienne returned it to the 32. The Tigers came out throwing and moved down the field. On 3rd and 2 at the Hurricane 42, Ray-Ray McCloud converted it on a jet sweep to keep the drive going. Hunter Renfrow had several key catches on the drive. Towards the end of the drive, Kelly Bryant’s legs carried the Tigers to 1st and goal at the 4. Etienne then punched it in with a powerful run, showing that he is not just a quickness/speed back. The opening drive looked quite good for the Tigers. Except for one ugly throw that Renfrow got under anyway, the execution against the speedy Miami defense was excellent. The Tigers led 7-0.
Miami started their first drive at the 25. On 2nd and 11, the Hurricanes almost completed a long pass when K’Von Wallace got caught out of position. The Tigers held on 3rd down and forced a punt, but McCloud muffed the punt when he got hit by a fellow Tiger as he was trying to make the fair catch. Miami recovered it. On 3rd and 6, the Tiger defense smothered a throwback pass for a loss to force a field goal attempt. It went wide left, denying the Hurricanes points off the turnover. The Tigers took over at the 29. McCloud caught a long pass but fumbled the ball. Fortunately TE Milan Richard was hustling down the field and recovered it. Etienne running and a McCloud catch got the Tigers to 1st and goal at the 8. After losing 3 yards slipping on a run to the right, Bryant ran it to the left and beat a Miami defender to the corner of the end zone. The score was 14-0. Clemson was looking like the number one team in the country.
Alex Spence had a rare kickoff into the end zone to give Miami the ball at the 25. The Tiger defense had a good series and forced the 3-and-out. The punt only went 16 yards and the Tigers took over at the Hurricane 41. At the end of the 1st quarter, Clemson was at the 16. Adam Choice was running the ball very well behind some good blocking by the offensive line. With 1st and goal at the 1, two runs by Choice didn’t get the ball in. He wouldn’t be denied on the third try as the Tigers went into a rarely seen Power-I formation and he punched it in. Clemson was up 21-0.
The Hurricanes took over at the 19 after a decent Spence kickoff. Miami managed to get a 1st down, but after that the Tiger defense mauled them mercilessly and forced them to punt. This punt was quite a bit better than the last one, and McCloud made the fair catch at the Clemson 15. McCloud had several catches with Bryant making some really crisp throws, and Richard got a first down on a catch out to the 37. On 2nd down Bryant mysteriously ran out of bounds instead of throwing it away, but on 3rd down he escaped pressure to convert 3rd and 16 with a throw to McCloud. Two incompletions, Bryant’s first of the game, led to 3rd and 10 and Miami brought pressure, forcing Bryant to throw it away.
The Hurricanes took over at their 20 after fair catching the punt. The Tiger defense forced another 3-and-out and the offense took over at the 25 after the punt. The Tigers got 6 yards on a Tavien Feaster 1st down run, but two Bryant incompletions later, they had to punt. The Hurricanes took over at their 39 with about 3 minutes left in the half. They moved down the field and got to a 3rd and 7 at the Clemson 44. Christian Wilkins, who was having a monster game, batted the 3rd down pass. The Hurricane punt was downed at the Tiger 1 with about a minute left. Miami used timeouts after 1st and 2nd down, hoping to get the ball back. The Tigers couldn’t convert on 3rd down and 4th down came with 2 seconds left. Clemson then ran the clock out on the first half, leading 21-0.
Miami took the 2nd half kickoff and fumbled it, but recovered it at the 24. The Hurricanes got to the Tiger 40 on a good run by QB Malik Rosier, but were forced to punt after that with Dexter Lawrence getting a sack on 3rd down. McCloud had a 19-yard punt return to give the Tiger offense the ball at the Miami 44 after a 15-yard face mask penalty on the Hurricanes. They got to the 29 but then were forced to try a FG. Spence just got the 46-yard kick through the uprights. The Tigers led 24-0.
Miami got the ball and completed a pass, but Ryan Carter knocked the ball loose and Dorian O’Daniel recovered it. The Tigers couldn’t do much with it though, and a 3rd down sack of Bryant forced the Tigers to punt. Miami took over at the 16 and moved out to the 35 but on 3rd down a tipped pass landed in the arms of Carter for the interception. The drive started well but a holding penalty had them at 1st and 20. McCloud picked up 19 yards on a catch and run to get the Tigers out of the hole. Feaster ran it in from 11 yards out to put Clemson up 31-0.
Miami went into a wildcat offense and moved the ball pretty well, but a tipped pass landed in the hands of Clemson LB Kendall Joseph, who ran it back to the Hurricane 13. On 1st down C.J. Fuller had the ball stripped but Sean Pollard recovered it at the 27. Bryant then hit Deon Cain down the sideline for the touchdown to make the score 38-0. Miami fans must have been having flashbacks to 2015 as the 4th quarter rolled around. The Hurricanes didn’t do much with their possession and punted it back to the Tigers.
Hunter Johnson came in at QB for the Tigers but they got to 4th and 22 and punted. Miami’s will was broken at this point and their offense couldn’t even get much done against the Tiger reserves. The drive ended at 4th and 10. They punted and put the Tigers at their own 11. Zerrick Cooper led this Clemson possession at QB. Two Fuller runs got a couple of yards and then Cooper had a long throw to Tee Higgins, but he couldn’t pull it in. Clemson punted and Miami got the ball at the Tiger 47. with 10:24 left. The Tiger defensive reserves gave up nothing to the Hurricanes and forced another punt.
Johnson came back in at QB for the next drive but the Tigers couldn’t get a 1st down and punted. The rugby kick ended up touching a Miami player and Clemson recovered it, but the ruling was that the Miami player was blocked into the ball which nullified the touch and the Hurricanes retained possession. The Hurricanes moved into the red zone and ended up kicking a FG to avoid the shutout. The score was 38-3 with 3:29 left. Clemson then ran the clock out.
There shouldn’t be any question about the number one team in the country for the CFP committee next week. Oklahoma looked good in their win over TCU and should be ranked second. Auburn’s loss to Georgia will shake things up a bit and as I write this, Ohio State is up on Wisconsin 27-21 with about 2 minutes left. Should that game play out with an OSU win, my bet is that Alabama will move into the top 4. Check back with us at STS over the next few days for reviews of the dominant performance by Clemson. How do you think the playoff rankings will shake out? Let us know in the comments section below.