On Saturday, the Clemson Tigers and the Miami Hurricanes will play for a chance at an ACC Title, and a likely berth in the College Football Playoff.
Miami has come out of nowhere to be on the brink of their first bid into the playoff, while Clemson has lived up to their billing, and currently sit at #1 in the country.
Clemson is making their third straight conference championship game, while Miami is making their first.
The Tigers have used a stout defense all year long to stifle opponents and give up less than two touchdowns per game, and less than 300 yards a game on average.
Miami, prior to their 24-14 upset loss at the hands of Pittsburgh, had been getting it done late in games., with Malik Rosier leading a handful of game winning or game sealing drives. Miami made waves in the national standings after blowing out Notre Dame. The Hurricanes currently sit at #7 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
The last time these two met, Clemson blew out the Hurricanes 58-0. However, this game projects to be much closer than that.
Miami will have to make due without one of their top receiving options, Ahmonn Richards, who underwent season ending knee surgery on Wednesday. They have been missing Mark Walton, who recently declared for the NFL Draft, but are now down another top weapon. Expect Braxton Berrios to get targeted early and often. Malik Rosier should look his way at least 10-15 times throughout the evening. With Clemson’s secondary being young and inexperienced, Berrios and Chris Herndon IV could be in for big days.
Of course, giving Rosier time to throw is one of the keys to this game. The front four for Clemson is one of the best in the nation, led by first round prospects Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell. Something will have to give when Miami’s offense takes the field. Clemson is an elite run stopping team, while Miami’s strength lies in the running game.
Putting the ball in Rosier’s hands 30 times leaves him susceptible to turnovers. With the way Kelly Bryant and Clemson’s offense has had trouble moving the ball at some points in the season, giving them a short field is a huge help.
Miami’s defense needs to force Bryant to make tough throws down the field, where he lacks touch. The secondary can’t allow Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud to get in space, as they can make multiple defenders miss and make something out of nothing.
Also, preventing Travis Etienne (featured) from getting to the next level out of the backfield will be another key for the Hurricanes. He’s slippery as a runner, and can make people miss in tight spaces.
The difference in this game however could come down to Miami’s ability to get stops within their own 30-yard line. Clemson has had trouble with field goal kicking all year, using three different place kickers, with the three combined going just 9/16. Force Dabo Swinney to make tough decisions on 3rd and long and on 4th down. Getting one or two turnover on downs could turn this game on its head.
Despite the injuries to Miami, this should still be a close game. This one could come down to the last 7:00 minutes, where Miami has been dominant and plays their best football. However, this is a Clemson team that is experienced, and is looking for their 3rd straight ACC championship.
Either way the winner of this game will play in the College Football Playoff, unless things get really crazy.
Clemson wins 28-20 and gets to their third straight College Football Playoff. Miami will likely settle for Orange Bowl berth against the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game.
Cover Photo via Fan Rag Sports