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Clemson at Miami Q&A Preview

Clemson 4-2 (2-2) hits the road to face Miami 4-2 (0-2) in a game with major repercussions for both squads.

Miami is coming off a tough road loss at Chapel Hill and now must beat Clemson to avoid a three-game losing streak. Cam Underwood, the Managing Editor of State of the U, joins us to help preview the matchup. Be sure to follow him on X for more.

Ryan Kantor: After a 4-0 performance in non-conference play, the Hurricanes have started ACC play 0-2 with losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Given the crazy circumstances of the Georgia Tech loss, some thought they may quit if things get away from them in Chapel Hill. They indeed lost, but showed fight, battling back late to cut the final deficit to 10. Where do you think this team is mentally? Are they ready to give Clemson their best shot?

Cam Underwood: That’s a good question, and a light tough on the Georgia Tech part (but maybe the fact that I’m an actual Miami alum has me too close and emotional). I’ll say this: the mentality of the team seems to be fine. Everybody is saying the right things. From coaches to players, they’re in lock step on the message: the results aren’t good enough and everybody has to step up the work and do their job.

I honestly think it’s the fanbase — myself included — that’s a bit fractured mentally. Look, we’ve seen this movie repeatedly over the last 20 years: one (or two or five) things go wrong, then the season immediately goes off the rails. I want this one to be different, I want the coaches to get the team together and for a player to make a POSITIVE, program changing play. I just don’t know if they have the ability to do that, or if this is the beginning of the “same old, sorry ass Miami” that this program has largely been for the last 20 years.

Kantor: What is the biggest area (on offense or defense) where Clemson can exploit Miami?

Underwood: Other than mentally? Defensively, I’d say taking WR Xavier Restrepo away from QB Tyler Van Dyke as a receiving option and making him beat you with another receiver. Or, as Georgia Tech and North Carolina have both done, use Van Dyke’s uber-reliance on Restrepo against him and bait him into throws into coverage and intercept him.

Offensively, isolating Will Shipley on (insert Miami linebacker here) would be a smart idea. Miami’s LBs are aggressive and while Louisville transfer K.J. Cloyd and Wesley Bissainthe, who split time at the SAM backer spot, are fast, they can sometimes be slow to diagnose plays, putting them a step behind where they should be in coverage situations. But from an athletic mismatch standpoint, getting Shipley one-on-one with Kiko Mauigoa or Corey Flagg Jr. would be the more advantageous situation for Clemson to exploit.

Kantor: Conversely, what is the biggest area where Clemson fans should be worried that Miami could exploit the Tigers?

Underwood: Offensively, Miami has been one of the most explosive teams in the country. To this point of the season, the Hurricanes have a 16.3% explosive play rate. Simply put: one out of every six offensive snaps goes for 15+ yards (20+ if a pass). That’s elite. OC Shannon Dawson has found ways to get a variety of receivers and running backs into space, and that’s been a boon for the Canes this season. I’d watch out for big plays of that sort if I were Clemson. But, there’s recent evidence that Miami’s explosiveness can be curtailed; North Carolina held Miami to just 8 explosive plays last week. Clemson would be happy with a similar defensive performance, I’m sure.

Defensively, Miami’s DL is among the best in the country. They’re a little dinged up with starter Akheem Mesidor out for the last 4 games. Still, there’s plenty of talent both on the edge and interior, and that’s something Clemson will have to handle. Additionally, the safety tandem of James Williams and Kamren Kinchens are known for routinely making big plays all over the field. They’ve also been susceptible to getting beat, particularly in the passing game, so that’s something to watch as well.

Kantor: Florida State has been extremely vocal about their desire to exit the ACC. With SMU, Cal, and Stanford joining the conference, Clemson fans mostly want out as well. Do Miami fans and more importantly their administration want to exit too? Does UCF joining the Big 12 and having the potential to exceed Miami’s ACC TV revenue soon add any urgency?

Underwood: First of all, Miami AD (and former Clemson AD) Dan Radakovich was the first to bring up the revenue issues at a symposium last offseason. FSU just took his talking points and ran with them. That being said, Miami fans have long desired an exit from the ACC. The conference doesn’t care about Miami, doesn’t do them any favors in terms of scheduling in any sport, and the referees DEFINITELY haven’t been reasonable, either. So for the fans, we most decidedly want to get away from this terrible conference, and soon!

In terms of the administration, it’s hard to get a good read, since Miami’s a private school and isn’t beholden to the same transparency structures as public schools, but I’d be shocked if there’s a desire to stay in the ACC.

Does Full stop: no. Nobody cares about Central Florida. Miami’s been focused on the revenue issue since before Central Florida made that deal, and continuing to focus on our situation is going to inform the path forward. But, seeing the big numbers that are going to schools — plural — in other conferences is sure to be a talking point. But a singular focus on Central Florida for reaction and movement? LMAO. Please. Absolutely not.

Kantor: Mario Cristobol won the Pac-12 or at least Pac-12 North in each of his last three seasons at Oregon before getting a handsome paycheck to come home to Miami and bring the “The U” back to the glory days. We always knew it was more about recruiting and toughness and less about offensive innovation and wise game management, but the failure to kneel to win the game against Georgia Tech was still pretty incredible — especially because the same thing happened to him at Oregon in a game vs. Stanford. How optimistic were you about the hire initially, and now a year and a half in, what’s your perspective?

Underwood: I was very optimistic about the hire of Mario Cristobal initially. He’s a proven coach, an incredible recruiter, and as stated in the question, has a track record of the kind of success Miami has been sorely lacking for 15+ years. I didn’t think it was going to be a 6th National Championship in a year, but replacing a 1st time head coach who was learning on the job and in over his head with a veteran coach who played and won a pair of National Championships here at the U was an unquestioned win, in my opinion.

I’m still optimistic that Cristobal can get the program where he wants it, mainly from a roster talent perspective — because that will be the thing that propels the team forward — but the issues with game management and inconsistency are more glaring than I thought (hoped? expected?) them to be. That decision at the end of the Georgia Tech game was the worst game management error I’ve ever seen. And Cristobal is known for being a bad game manager. But MY GOODNESS that was atrocious. And, honestly, could be the singular moment that tanks Miami’s season.

Again, I didn’t expect a National Championship this early in the Cristobal tenure, but whatever steps forward had been seen previously, that supreme gaffe of mismanagement puts Miami back near or at square one, in my opinion. And, before your readers say “Cam, you’re overreacting,” I’ve seen this movie over and over and over again for the last 20 years. Just trust me, guys. That was a MASSIVE event.

Kantor: Miami has an insane nine turnovers in their past two games. If not for the turnovers, they likely win one or both games. Clemson’s penchant for turnovers and missed field goals has also been the primary culprit in their two losses. Putting Clemson and Miami on the same field together could make for a very interesting evening of football. What are your expectations for the contest?

Underwood: The hope that I had that this would be the year that Miami finally beat Clemson is gone. Miami hasn’t beaten Clemson at home since 1956, haven’t won any of the last 4 games between the schools, and have been outscored by a combined 178-30 in those games.

Miami is reeling and I don’t think the ship gets going in the right direction this week. I have Clemson winning by double-digits. Which, if it’s under 20, would still be the most competitive game Miami has played against Clemson since 2010.

Final score: Clemson 35 Miami 24

For more, check out my answered to Cam’s questions over on State of the U.