Wow, it's tough to find appropriate superlatives to adequately describe what we saw at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. Needless to say, the Hurricanes found themselves victimized by a perfect storm of talent, preparation, execution and will from a Clemson team that is clicking on all cylinders. Simply put, it is rare to go on the road and man-handle any team in the ACC that way, let alone a proud program like Miami, that--while not as good as it once was--has recruited well and was playing decent football recently. Consider that this Miami team beat Nebraska and Virginia Tech, and they came very close to beating FSU in Tallahassee just two weeks ago. For those reasons, most expected a close, hard-fought game in South Florida, but it was the exact opposite. Clemson flexed its muscles and enforced its will on the Canes from the opening snap and never looked back. They handed Miami its worst loss in program history, and catalyzed the termination of Al Golden. In my preview, I predicted a 21-point win for Clemson, and I suspected there was the possibility it could be even worse, but a 58-point win and a shutout is certainly not something I expected, and I don't think even Dabo or any of the players did. Of course, the score was influenced considerably by Brad Kaaya leaving the game in the second half with a concussion, but it is perfectly clear that his presence would have made little difference. Miami was simply out-manned and outplayed in every facet of the game. It was just one of those anomalous things that happened and grew on itself, kind of like the 63-17 win over South Carolina in Columbia, and both Clemson and Miami fans will remember this one for a long time.
For the third time in the last four games, the offense got off to a fantastic start and scored on its first two possessions. They made it look like they were playing against air at times on Saturday. The trick play call by Tony Elliott on the opening drive worked to perfection and gave Jordan Leggett his 6th touchdown in the last 5 games. He is the first tight end in Clemson history to score a TD in 5 straight games, and y’all know we’ve had some good ones. I voted for Leggett on my first-team All-ACC ballot, and he’s making me look smarter by the week because the majority of the voters overlooked Leggett. I asked Elliott about that play call and how he knew it was the right opponent and right time in which to run the play. Chad Morris had run that play several times, going back to his first year as Coordinator. I believe the first time he ran it at Clemson was the 2011 Auburn game, and it yielded a big gain for Ellington, but I’ve also seen the defense not bite on it a couple of times. One thing is for sure: it couldn’t have worked better than it did against the Canes. Elliott said it was just some things he saw on film about their defense and their likeliness to fall for the play. For example, Miami has an aggressive defense that likes to rush the passer, and they have a propensity to jump offsides. He also said it helped that Miami hadn’t played us for several years, so there was a good chance they wouldn’t have seen us run the play in past games. Elliott said they had that play in the script and had been practicing it for the past couple of weeks, just waiting for the right opportunity to use it in a game. And boy, did he pick the right spot!
The offense rushed for an incredible 416 yards and 6.6 yards per carry! It was evident early on that Miami was unable to stop the run, and Elliott did a great job of exploiting that. When the passes were there for Deshaun, he executed efficiently. He was 15-19 for 143 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. He also rushed for 98 yards with another touchdown. His QBR for the game was 159.5.
The Wayne Train went over 100 yards for the 4th time in the last 5 games, with 118 yards and a touchdown on 5.4 yards per carry. The three-game stretch prior to the BC game, in which Gallman rushed for over 100 yards per game, represented the first time that has happened at Clemson since 2005!
Clemson’s offense has demonstrated remarkable balance all season long—exhibiting the ability to both run the ball and throw the ball effectively. They threw for over 400 yards against Boston College and rushed for over 400 against Miami. That is the first time ever that a Clemson team has done that in the same season—let alone in back-to-back games!
When a player as talented as Artavis Scott only has ONE reception for 7 yards, and you still hang 58 points on Miami on the road, that’s when you know you have a balanced and powerful offense. One of the best things about a blowout of that magnitude is that it allows you to get a lot of valuable game experience for your backups. In particular, the younger guys on the offensive line got a ton of reps. Morris played 41 snaps, Hearn 43 snaps, Falcinelli 33 and Fruhmorgen 46. That will pay dividends down the road. They were also able to rotate guys like Dye and Fuller into the game to develop some depth at the running back position. Of course, perhaps the most exciting glimpse into the future was Kelly Bryant’s play. He scored his first two touchdowns of his career, including a 59-yard run. He is improving by the week and getting better as a passer. He is going to be yet another special quarterback for the Clemson offense when Watson’s time is through. I asked Dabo after the game if Bryant was close to taking over the backup spot, and Dabo said “he made a big move.” That led me to believe the answer leans toward yes, and that suspicion was strengthened when the depth chart Monday morning listed Bryant and Schuessler as co-backups.
It was nice to see Peake lead the team in receptions with five on Saturday. He has had a frustrating first half to the season, but he has done a lot of little things that have had big impact on games and gone largely unheralded. Such as the great block that sprung Gallman free for a long touchdown run early in the GT game. Or the huge 3rd down catch at Louisville that allowed Clemson to score a touchdown rather than a FG and ultimately made the difference in the game. And again at Miami, Peake made another great block down field on Deshaun Watson’s long run early in the game. Peake has been a great leader and example for the rest of the team, and I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time before he makes a big touchdown catch or two and is given some of the credit and attention he deserves.
As with the offense, the grade speaks for itself. Miami had the #1 passing offense in the ACC coming into the game and only one interception. The Clemson defense intercepted Kaaya on Miami’s very first possession and limited the Canes to just 93 passing yards! It’s hard to shutout anyone on the road—let alone a team with the athletes that Miami has. The defense didn’t just shut down Miami’s passing game. They held the Canes to 53 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per carry. The most remarkable thing is probably the fact that Venables was able to play many of the backups, and there was no drop off for the first time all season. In just about every other game, the defense had allowed some big plays late in the game, followed by points. In many cases, there were missed assignments or other mental break downs resulting in points. That was not the case on Saturday. In fact, Jefferie Gibson probably had the hit of the day when he laid out a Miami receiver in the second half. Players I’ve talked to since August camp have consistently said Gibson is the hardest hitter on the team, and we were able to see that manifest in a game on Saturday. Van Smith also had a tremendous performance, leading the team in tackles and recording both a TFL and an interception in less than two quarters of play. They also worked D.J. Reader back into the mix, and he looks to be every bit as imposing as he did back in August. I can't wait to see how good this defense is in a few weeks when Reader is back in peak playing condition!
Shaq was a beast in the first half, as usual, racking up 2 more sacks, and Dodd probably should have had a sack and a caused fumble, but the call on the field was overturned. Miami was only 4 of 17 on 3rd down conversions, and the defense tripled the Canes’ interception total for the season with 3. Just another dominant performance by this unit, and the scary thing is that they are getting better by the week!
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
If we were inclined to nit-pick and find a minor flaw or two with the 58-0 beating, they were committed by the special teams. Ray-Ray dropped a punt and Huegel missed a PAT that would have given Clemson a new school record for margin of victory in an ACC road game. Also, we finally saw Artavis Scott break a long punt return, and it was negated by a block in the back. All-in-all, however, special teams played well. Huegel made his lone FG attempt from 30 yards, and the coverage on kicks was good. Lakip had several touchbacks, and Teasdall averaged 42.2 yards per punt, with 2 inside the 20. However, a missed PAT and a turnover on a dropped punt could be very costly in a tight post-season game. Hence, the corresponding grade.