Clemson ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and fourth nationally with 8.67 tackles for loss per game. The Tigers also are fourth nationally with an average of 3.33 sacks.
At the root of the high-pressure resurgence has been defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who has played with more purpose and control this season. Bowers had been productive in his first two seasons, but he never quite lived up to the lofty expectations placed on a player who was rated the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2008.
"He was trying to make too many things happen," Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said of Bowers. "But he's realized that if he does his job the plays will come to him."
Bowers said he has, indeed, adopted a different approach and mindset this season, and that the strategy is paying off. He's also toned his body, dropping about 18 pounds, and has dedicated this season to his late father, Dennis, who passed away unexpectedly last month.
"I had to become more of a student of the game," Bowers said. "In the past I would cut corners. Now I've taken it upon myself to do things the right way."
Bowers also has received substantial pass-rushing support from fellow end Andre Branch. Bowers and Branch both rank in the top 15 nationally in sacks. With 10 total sacks through three games, the Tigers are on pace to challenge the school's single-season sack record of 47 set in 1999.
THURSDAY NOTES: Clemson and Miami have gone to overtime in each of their last three meetings, with the visiting team winning on each occasion. No series in college football history has had four consecutive overtime games.
With 10 total sacks through three games, the Tigers are on pace to challenge the school's single-season sack record of 47 set in 1999. (Roy Philpott)
* Saturday's game marks the first of eight consecutive ACC games for Clemson. It is the first time in school history that the Tigers have played eight straight league opponents in eight consecutive weeks.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The key to Clemson's early success has been establishing the running game, which it has done without fail through three games. The Tigers' rushing attack was particularly impressive in an overtime loss at Auburn on Sept. 18, when Andre Ellington rambled for a career-best 140 yards. Although coach Dabo Swinney has indicated that quarterback Kyle Parker "will have to pass more" for the Tigers to win in the ACC, the team is built on getting the running game into overdrive first.
That may be even more important this week against Miami, which has a talented secondary and the ACC's second-best pass defense statistically. The Tigers' best weapon in the passing game may be tight end Dwayne Allen, who had five catches for 66 yards against Auburn and has a knack for finding pockets and seams and catching anything within reach.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Although it got burned a couple times for big plays on stutter-and-go routes by Auburn's receivers in its last game, Clemson's defense hasn't played poorly overall. But defensive coordinator Kevin Steele believes the unit is capable of much more, which is why he's made "a couple of changes that we think can help us."
Steele declined to elaborate on the changes this week other than to say they involved some "tweaks" in schemes and "making sure we're getting snaps to the right guys." Clemson's defensive front is deep and productive, but the linebacking corps remains a work in progress, with young players Corico Hawkins and Quandon Christian learning on the job. It will be interesting to see who receives more or less playing time as the ACC season unfolds.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're kind of like Sears and Roebuck -- you open up the catalog and pick what you want, and they're exactly what you'd order." -- Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier on Miami's defensive personnel.
SERIES HISTORY: Miami leads Clemson, 5-3 (last meeting, 2009, Clemson 40-37 in OT).