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Game 7 Preview: Clemson Travels to Face Miami

“There comes a time when you have to stand like men!”

NCAA Football: Miami at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back from the bye week everyone! It is truly put up or shut up time for Clemson’s 2023 team as the difficult stretch of the schedule is upon us. Forget the epic meltdown Miami had against Georgia Tech and subsequent self destruction in the third quarter at Chapel Hill last week, this is a team with talent and ability and the Tigers need to bring it much better than two weeks ago to win this game.

I would say the defense is progressing as I would hope at this point of the season. This is a top 10 unit nationally and has played better as the season has gone on. Getting alpha corner Nate Wiggins back, along with fellow starter Sheridan Jones, is a welcome sight before facing a very capable Hurricanes passing attack. It was very encouraging to see Toriano Pride play some great football against Wake to give the team more credible depth in the secondary (and hope for 2024 with the likely loss of Wiggins to the NFL).

Offensively, the team really took a step back after some very encouraging signs up at Syracuse. I’ve been a coach for a long time now and though I work with high school kids, it still can boggle the mind how mercurial young people can be even at the college-aged level. The focus just wasn’t where it needed to be against a team a lot of the guys likely felt would be easy to beat. All it takes is the lapse of one guy to often ruin a play, and we heard Garrett Riley mention “playing with 10 too often” in his remarks. That certainly has to get cleaned up this week and moving forward. Miami, NCSU, and especially Notre Dame feature some tough, physical defenses who can make the Tigers pay for lapses in focus in a way Wake Forest wasn’t able to. The ACC title game looks more and more out of reach based on how other contenders have done, but getting beyond 10 wins and keeping this season from becoming a clear step backwards begins Saturday night in Miami Gardens.

Clemson offense vs. Miami defense: Clemson faced a “shell” defensive approach from Wake much like they did from Duke in the first game. Wake took their chances that Clemson couldn’t put together consistent drives if they limited big plays and, for the most part, it worked out. The Tigers still ran for 200 yards and are on pace to be close to that 200 yards per game goal I had for this unit before the season, but neither Will Shipley or Phil Mafah are all that adept at creating truly explosive runs the way a Travis Etienne did. Travis Etienne was a special talent and it’s becoming increasingly clear just how much he brought to the team. Shipley and Mafah are still the bell cows of this offense and UNC showed that you can hurt this Miami team on the ground. I expect, though, that the Hurricanes will be much more aggressive with their fronts and coverages than Wake was two weeks ago. The Clemson OL will need to be on point with their communication to allow Cade Klubnik and the WR corps to hopefully create some explosive plays like they did vs. Syracuse.

The Tigers should be more dangerous offensively with the return of last year’s top WR Antonio Williams. We haven’t really seen how Riley will deploy Williams and Tyler Brown together just yet. Brown had his worst as a Tiger against Wake Forest, but he still presents the most explosive option on the field and should, in theory, open things up more for Williams if both are out there together.

Miami’s defense has had several stretches of dominant play this season and will challenge the Clemson offensive line. Miami has the #3 ranked defense in the ACC behind Clemson and Duke but recently faced one of the best offenses in the ACC in North Carolina. Clemson will have to use the run game and quick pass game to help mitigate the Hurricanes rush. Miami had a lot of success getting to Drake Maye early in their game last week but UNC adjusted by leaning on the run game before being able to hurt Miami with explosive pass plays. Hopefully the Tigers will look a lot sharper coming off the bye week on this side of the ball.

Clemson defense vs. Miami offense: Miami’s offense has been much, much better in year two of the Mario Cristobal era. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has had a strong season overall and the Hurricanes average right under 502 yards a game. Clemson’s losses can be directly attributed to turnovers and the Hurricanes can say the same thing. They were statistically dominant vs. Georgia Tech but turned the ball over five times, including the hilariously ridiculous decision to run a standard play vs. take a knee that resulted in a lost fumble. They held a lead last week in Chapel Hill but four more turnovers completely flipped that game in the second half. Clemson will be looking to continue the turnover trend for Miami this weekend.

When Miami isn’t turning it over, they are pretty potent, particularly throwing the ball. Van Dyke didn’t play against Clemson last year and the Tigers completely suffocated Miami’s offense in a 40-10 win. In fact, Clemson has completely dominated Miami every time the two teams have played since the Hurricanes won in Death Valley in Dabo Swinney’s forgettable second season in 2010.

I expect the Hurricanes to play like a desperate team because their once promising season is now on the serious brink of falling apart with games against Florida State and Louisville still on the horizon. They have a QB that can definitely sling the ball if Clemson isn’t able to bother him. It is a very good thing the secondary will be back to full strength for this game. North Carolina did a good job making Miami one dimensional, but the Hurricanes still put up nearly 400 yards passing and 31 points. Clemson’s offense clicking like we hoped so allowing Miami to score more than 30 points would make it difficult for the Tigers to win A shootout will favor Miami if it comes to that.

Special Teams: Miami has an outstanding placekicker. Clemson, well, does not. Clemson fans will need to hope this game doesn’t come down to kicking. The Tigers had a bad turnover on a punt return against Wake and still have struggled mightily to generate any major positive plays in this phase of the game. It will be interesting to see if Antonio Williams returns to punt returner or if Tyler Brown holds on to that job. Kick returning has become nearly obsolete with kickers booting it for touchbacks nearly every time. Clemson blocked a few kicks last year but haven’t appeared to try that hard to do it this year so far. Maybe we will see something great in this phase, but I certainly don’t have my hopes up.

Overall: This feels like a huge crossroads game for both of these teams for 2023. The loser will have 3 league losses and will be totally eliminated from any hope of Charlotte. Worse than that will be the wave of negativity that will surround the program that takes the loss. Both teams still have difficult games left to play as well. Clemson, despite the lackluster performance vs. Wake, has won two straight and typically plays very well after the open date under Dabo Swinney. I think this game will be a four quarter war much the way the 2009 game was that went to overtime. It will come down to the team that can avoid the self destructive turnover that has plagued both in 2023. I like how the Tigers are playing defense and having Wiggins back pushes me to take Clemson.

Clemson 33-Miami 28