Postgame: Reggie Merriweather | Postgame: Charlie Whitehurst
Postgame: Eric Coleman
The Tigers, who returned to the Orange Bowl for the first time since winning their national championship in 1981, pulled off another stunner when it ousted No. 10 ranked Miami 24-17 in overtime Saturday night.
This stunning, shocking and improbable Clemson victory might just signify that the turnaround is complete. The Tigers have won four in a row and now stand just one more win away from qualifying for their sixth straight bowl game under head coach Tommy Bowden at 5-4 overall and 4-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It's very similar (to the Florida State game last year)," Bowden said. "The other one, professionally, was big in that regard. But as far as for the program and some credibility, we've now one four in a row, is big. But as far as last year, employment is bigger than a (win)."
What makes the win so impressive is the fact that the Hurricanes were coming off a loss last week to North Carolina and had lost just four previous times under head coach Larry Coker.
The win, truly came from nowhere.
"They kept giving us the ball and opportunities and we knew we would eventually get our offense going," said Clemson wide receiver Airese Currie, who had seven receptions for 128 yards. "We came out and just made plays and that's what you have to do."
The biggest play for Clemson came in overtime with it facing a second-and-10 at the 25 when the Tigers got a very fortunate break when a pass interference call was issued on Kelly Jennings against Kelvin Grant in the end zone. The penalty moved it to just outside the 10 yard line.
Three plays later, tailback Reggie Merriweather plunged across the goal line from two yards out to give Clemson a 24-17 lead in overtime. Miami then got its turn to try and tie things up and it appeared early that the Hurricanes were going to do just that.
However, on fourth-and-goal from the 5, Miami quarterback Brock Berlin threw a pass to Lance Leggett in the right corner of the end zone, but Tigers cornerback Tye Hill broke up the pass to give Clemson the very improbable victory.
The Hurricanes coaching staff wanted a pass interference call made against Hill, but it was to no avail.
The reason the Tigers were able to make plays is because their defense got the offense the ball.
After Miami scored 10 quick points in the first quarter, the Clemson defense stymied the Hurricanes' offense and held them to just seven points the rest of the way, including none in the second half.
At one point in the second half, the Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2 ACC) had four straight three-and-outs, and five total in the second half.
"We just had to settle down and play," said defensive coordinator John Lovett. "We came out in the second half and just stayed with it. Tackling was the big thing. We missed some tackles in the first half, and we wanted to just make sure we tackled and we thought we'd be alright."
|"I thank the coaches for giving me a chance to prove myself," Merriweather said. "And I did that tonight. It's only going to get better from here because we're going to build on what we did tonight."|
"To beat ‘The U,' as they call it, is amazing," said defensive tackle Eric Coleman. "Not too many teams do that. And for us to come down here in our first time and do it, it's amazing."
Earlier in regulation, it appeared Grant might have cost the Tigers a chance to win it when the big and fast receiver got behind the defense and might have gone all the way for a 74-yard touchdown, but the perfectly thrown ball by quarterback Charlie Whitehurst bounded off his hands and fell to the ground with 5:33 left to play in regulation.
With the Clemson defense forcing the Hurricanes into four consecutive three-and-outs, the Tigers were in prime position to take the lead, but placekicker Jad Dean missed his third straight field goal, with the last one coming from 44 yards out with 7:43 to play.
Clemson stunned the half-filled Orange Bowl early in the fourth quarter when it ran a trick play off what would have been a very short field goal attempt by placekicker Jad Dean from the right hash mark.
Dean lined up for what seemed to be a 26-yard field goal and holder Cole Chason took the deep snap as usual. But instead of placing the ball to the ground, he did a blind flip over his head to Dean, who was sprinting to the right.
Dean caught the flip and, aided by a Steven Jackson block, ran past to the Miami 3 for a first down. A facemask penalty on the play moved it even close to the 1, where on the very next play, Merriweather recorded his second touchdown of the game to tie it make it 17-17 with 13:47 left to play.
Merriweather finished with 20 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns.
"I thank the coaches for giving me a chance to prove myself," Merriweather said. "And I did that tonight. It's only going to get better from here because we're going to build on what we did tonight."
The Tigers put together a nice looking drive midway through the third quarter, which was capped by a 27-yard touchdown run by Merriweather to cut Miami's lead to 17-10 with 8:00 remaining in the quarter.
As had been the case for much of the first half, Clemson put it self in position to get some points, but was unable to capitalize because of another missed field goal by Dean. His 47-yard attempt as time expired was wide right and the Hurricanes went into intermission leading 17-3.
Just before the end of the first half, Miami made the situation even more difficult for the Tigers when Gore scored his second touchdown of the game. This one came from 14 yards out with just 19 seconds left. Also on the play, four Clemson defenders missed a chance to tackle him.
Clemson escaped without any damage in the second after Whitehurst was intercepted by Miami superstar Devin Hester at the Hurricanes 37. Miami moved it to the Tigers 17, but was wide right on a field goal attempt from 39 yards.
The Tigers had ample opportunities to get some points in the first half quarter, but penalties and a sack hurt their cause, as has been the case most of the season.
On back-to-back possessions, Clemson moved it to the Hurricanes 28 yard line, but a sack on the first possession pushed the Tigers out of field goal range. On the second possession, a penalty and a reception by Duane Coleman that lost three yards pushed the Tigers back to the 36, where Dean missed a 53-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The miss, which had plenty of distance, was Dean's first of the season. Clemson finally got on the board following a field goal by Dean, who booted a career-long 48-yard field goal right down the middle. It was the seventh consecutive field goal he's made this season.
The Hurricanes increased their lead to 10-0 following a 35-yard field goal by Jon Peattie with 6:07 remaining in the first quarter.
It didn't take long for Miami to take out its frustrations from its game against North Carolina the previous week as the Hurricanes took the game's opening possession and marched 68 yards for a touchdown in just five plays as Gore scampered 23 yards untouched to give them a 7-0 lead with 12:56 left in the first quarter.
Whitehurst, who had three sure interceptions dropped by Miami defenders, finished the game 21-of-37 for 258 yards and an interception. It was the first time he surpassed the 200-yard mark since he did it against Georgia Tech in the second game of the season.
It was a good night all the way around.
"We missed three field goals and dropped a touchdown pass so it looked like it wasn't our night," Bowden said. "If we make those field goals and the touchdown, it's a two-touchdown game and we don't even go into overtime and it doesn't come close."