CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Top-ranked Clemson rolled past No. 7 Miami 38-3 at Bank of America Stadium Saturday to clinch its third consecutive ACC Championship title.
As head coach Dabo Swinney said in his post-game press conference, this year’s team was supposed to be “just okay” after losing so many starters after last season. However, the Tigers proved that wasn’t the case as they are now making their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff, facing fourth-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins has emerged as one of the team’s top leaders both on and off of the field. His energy, passion and excitement for the success of his teammates have really contributed to the success.
Before he answered any questions in his postgame press conference Wilkins made it a point to give credit to First Sargent Frank Thomas, who sang America the Beautiful before the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.
“That’s just a time to reflect,” Wilkins said, “definitely appreciate and look and see how proud you are to be an American. That was remarkable. I was singing right there with him. A lot of my teammates were singing right there with him. A good time to reflect and appreciate, for sure.”
The Tigers (12-1) showed up early scoring a touchdown on their first drive. After Miami recovered a fumbled punt by Ray-Ray McCloud, they missed a field goal and the Tigers drove back down the field making it 14-0 before the start of the second quarter.
“(It is) definitely good to have a hot start always,” Wilkins said. “Whoever goes out there first, you know your mentality is to set the tone for the game, set the tone for the first half, whatever.”
The goal of Wilkins and the rest of the Tigers was to finish strong and that’s exactly what they did, scoring 17 more points in the second-half to run away with the victory.
“Offense did a good job of starting off hot,” Wilkins said. “Went right down the field, scored a touchdown. Then defense got a three-and-out. Cut to the fumble, we had to go back out there again. Definitely, just big getting off the field again after the missed field goal and everything.
“We just really had the mentality that we never were satisfied really. Just had to finish the whole time. Tried to stay locked in. Even when we were rotating guys, putting the younger guys in, just kept encouraging them. Those are all meaningful snaps to them and everything. We stayed locked in all the way throughout.”
Wilkins led the Tigers with seven tackles, had 0.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss in Saturday’s game. However, he was quick to credit his quarterback, Kelly Bryant who spent his entire season proving people wrong. Bryant who was the ACC Championship game MVP was 23-of-29 for 252 yards and two total touchdowns. He also set an ACC Championship record with 15 consecutive completions.
He will get the opportunity to lead the Tigers in a rematch with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
“Kelly has just been great all year,” Wilkins said. “Just the guy he’s become. Just stayed his-self, been true to himself the whole time. Have all this hype, now he’s proven he can play, hasn’t let that go to his head. He’s still the same goofy Kelly. Now he’s emerging as a leader for us even more.
“(Bryant) knew he had to step up and be a leader, contribute on the field. Now he’s even more so of a leader. Guys looking up to him. He’s one of the first guys to come over and congratulate the defense when we get a three-and-out, making big plays like that. That doesn’t go unnoticed. He’s great with that. He’s really embracing it. He’s been great for us all year.”