CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When they went into the locker room at Bank of America Stadium following Saturday’s 38-3 victory over No. 7 Miami in the ACC Championship Game, Clemson’s defensive players were telling defensive coordinator Brent Venables, “We got them tonight.”
Venables smiled and replied, “Got what?”
What the top-ranked Tigers got was the satisfaction of proving they had the best defense in the ACC this year and all the talk about Miami’s front-four and its Turnover Chain was just that, talk.
“They would be the first one to tell you that they do pay attention to that,” Venables said.
Venables was right. Clemson cornerback Ryan Carter said they took it personally in the week leading up to the championship game. All everyone has been talking about is the Hurricanes’ Turnover Chain and how their defense was the best.
“We definitely took it personal,” Carter said. “It was something hearing … honestly we heard about it all season. It was something we kept hearing and hearing. We just wanted to make an emphasis that we can create turnovers, too.
“We are just as good of a defense collectively and I think we do a great job creating turnovers and that is what we tried to do tonight. We definitely took that as a chip on our shoulder and it really just fueled us tonight.”
It fueled the Tigers (12-1) to the tune of three forced turnovers, while the Hurricanes’ defense had just one.
To bring home the point even more, Clemson’s only turnover had nothing to do with anything Miami did, it came when freshman wideout Tee Higgins accidently tripped punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud as he was trying to make a fair catch.
The Turnover Chain never came out again.
“Something like that can definitely back fire that is why we try to harp not to let that emotion carry over and get too out of whack if they get a turnover,” Carter said. “It was important to keep your composure and try to stay focused on that next drive and that next play.”
Clemson kept its composure and kept the Hurricanes (10-2) off the scoreboard on the ensuing possession. After taking over at the Tigers’ 37 following the fumble, Miami could only drive the ball to the 29.
It didn’t get any points off the turnover as kicker Michael Badgley was wide left on a 46-yard field goal attempt.
The Tigers have turned the ball over just 14 times this season, and of those 14 turnovers, the opponents have scored on just five of them—two touchdowns and three field goals—for a total of 23 points.
“That is big,” Carter said. “That just goes back to how our defense looks at each team each week. When there is a turnover, we try to make sure we don’t take it as ‘Okay, we have to make a stop. We have to make a play right here.’
“I thought we did that great tonight on the messed up punt return. A lot of us got together, all of us together, ‘We can make a stop man. We can hold them to a field goal or anything. Anything is better than a touchdown.’ Guys just took pride in that and making stops and getting off the field.”
Miami made a 22-yard field goal with 3:29 left to play in the game, but that did not come off a turnover and it did not come against Clemson’s first-team defense. The Tigers held the ‘Canes to just 214 total yards with 54 of those coming on that last drive for Miami.
The Hurricanes had just 10 first downs and were 3-of-16 on third down conversions.
“Our guys played really well,” Venables said. “They were very, very focused tonight. They were very well prepared. They just had a hunger and focus to them that is hard to overcome.”