Clemson hosts Miami on Saturday night, as a pair of top-10 teams battle in Death Valley for college football’s top game for Week 6. The Tigers have won 32 regular-season contests in a row, and coach Dabo Swinney’s program enters Saturday’s game ranked No. 1. The Hurricanes are one of the most-improved teams in the nation behind quarterback D’Eriq King and a dynamic offense. However, Saturday’s trip to Clemson will be the toughest game this team has faced in 2020. And considering where both teams rank coming into this matchup, another meeting in the ACC Championship Game in December wouldn’t be a surprise.
Clemson entered the 2020 season as the favorite to win the national title. Through three games, the Tigers have showcased why they have all of the pieces to make that prediction a reality. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne lead a high-powered offense, and the defense is holding opponents to just 4.3 yards per snap. Clemson easily dispatched Wake Forest 37-13 in the opener, defeated The Citadel 49-0 on Sept. 19, and beat Virginia 41-23 last Saturday.
Miami coach Manny Diaz needed an offseason reboot of his program after a disappointing 6-7 debut last fall. Diaz made significant changes to his offensive staff and hired SMU coordinator Rhett Lashlee to call plays in Coral Gables. Lashlee’s arrival, along with King’s decision to transfer to Miami, has brought needed improvement to the ‘Canes offense. As a result, Miami is off to a 3-0 start after beating UAB (31-14), Louisville (47-34), and Florida State (52-10). While the Hurricanes are a big underdog for Saturday night’s game, this matchup gives Diaz a chance to see just how far his team has developed in one offseason – and potentially set the stage for a rematch in the ACC title game.
Miami holds a 6-5 edge in the all-time series against Clemson. The Tigers won the last meeting 38-3 in the 2017 ACC title game and won 58-0 in ’15. Clemson is 3-1 in the last four matchups against the Hurricanes.
Miami at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -14
When Miami Has the Ball
Manny Diaz’s offseason reboot for the offense has paid big-time dividends. Behind new play-caller Rhett Lashlee and quarterback D’Eriq King, the Hurricanes enter Saturday’s game averaging 6.7 yards per play and 43.3 points a contest. Those numbers are a significant uptick for a group that ended 2019 with a shutout loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. Also, Miami averaged only 25.7 points a game and 5.6 yards per snap for the entire campaign. The chess match between Lashlee and Clemson coordinator Brent Venables should be an entertaining back-and-forth battle all night.
Dynamic is the best way to sum up King’s all-around ability. The Houston transfer connected on 67 percent of his passes for 736 yards and six touchdowns, while adding 157 yards and one score on the ground through three games this year. King has provided needed stability and playmaking ability to the offense and will be a handful for Clemson’s defense to contain. The senior’s mobility is an asset against a strong pass rush, but he’s showcased his accuracy and ability to push the ball downfield into tight windows. In last week’s win over Virginia, Clemson’s defense allowed dual-threat quarterback Brennan Armstrong to put up 359 total yards, including 89 on the ground. Can the Tigers contain King in the pocket and win the battle up front against an improved offensive line? Clemson’s front has been disruptive with 13 sacks and 27 tackles for a loss. Additionally, this unit is holding teams to just 4.3 yards a snap in 2020.
Miami’s upset hopes rest with a huge performance from King, but the supporting cast has to step up. Tight end Brevin Jordan (15 catches) is the go-to target, while Mark Pope (11), Mike Harley, and Dee Wiggins (eight each) round out the top weapons at receiver. Drops and inconsistent play have been issues at times this fall, and the Hurricanes rank eighth in the ACC with nine completions of 20-plus yards. The Tigers are holding teams to a completion rate of just 50 percent and allowed just one completion of 40-plus yards. Miami’s ground game has been tough for opposing teams to stuff this fall. Cam’Ron Harris (311 rushing yards) and freshmen Donald Chaney and Jaylan Knighton bring big-play ability and production to the backfield. Clemson is only giving up 2.2 yards per rush this season, so running room could be limited. For Miami to win, staying out of 3rd-and-long situations, finding ways for King to make plays and having balance on offense will be essential.
When Clemson Has the Ball
Clemson enters Saturday night’s showdown averaging 42.3 points a game and 6.8 yards per snap. The Tigers have scored at least 37 points in all three contests in 2020. And it’s no secret why this unit has been so effective this fall: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. Clemson also boasts one of the top offensive lines in college football, and the receiving corps is starting to put the pieces in place after losing Tee Higgins to the NFL and Justyn Ross to a season-ending injury.
Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 19, 2019, and has been on fire through the first three games of ’20. The junior has connected on 73.3 percent of his passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns. Additionally, Lawrence is averaging 11.3 yards per attempt and ranks second among ACC quarterbacks with four completions of 40 yards or more. With the departure of Higgins and Ross, restocking the receiving corps was a priority this fall. Amari Rodgers (12 catches), Frank Ladson (nine), and tight end Braden Galloway (seven) top the list of options, but Etienne (nine) will also play a huge role in the passing game. Few defenses in Lawrence’s collegiate career have found a way to slow him down. The junior is lethal with accuracy to all levels of the field, can slide or move around in the pocket to buy more time, and simply doesn’t make mistakes. Containing the Clemson passing attack will be a challenge for a Miami secondary that has allowed three plays of 30 yards or more and surrendered 307 yards against Louisville.
Disrupting the Clemson passing game starts with winning the battle up front. Miami pass rushers Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips have combined for 17 quarterback pressures, while the entire defense has generated 10 sacks. The battle in the trenches extends to the rush defense. The Hurricanes are giving up 3.96 yards per carry and rank 10th in the ACC against the run. Etienne is capable of breaking a big play on every run. Can Miami keep Etienne in check and get to Lawrence? If Clemson’s offensive line keeps Lawrence’s jersey clean, as the matchup against Louisville indicated, there are plenty of plays to be made against this secondary.
Clemson is the clear favorite to win the ACC and arguably the best team in the nation. Miami has taken a significant step forward in Manny Diaz’s second year in charge. For the Hurricanes to pull off the upset, D'Eriq King has to have a huge game and both sides of the ball have to win battles at the line of scrimmage. Stopping Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne is going to be a major challenge for Miami’s defense but a few timely stops would be all Diaz’s group needs to stay within striking distance. The guess here is King gives Clemson’s defense some trouble, but the Tigers eventually get a handle on the ‘Canes offense. And on the other side of the ball, Lawrence and Etienne put this game away in the second half.
Prediction: Clemson 38, Miami 24
Podcast: Week 6 Prediction and Preview