Clemson clinched a berth in the Sugar Bowl and as the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff following an impressive 38-3 victory over Miami in the ACC Championship Game on December 2.
“I have probably enjoyed this team and this journey as much as any team that I have ever been around,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said afterward. “They just refused to buy the narrative.”
The Sugar Bowl appearance will mark Clemson’s first trip to New Orleans for a bowl game since playing LSU there in 1959. The Tigers have not played a game in New Orleans since 1981.
“It has been 25 years since I played in the Sugar Bowl, and we played Miami in 1992,” Swinney said. “I don’t know who we are going to play but we are ready to go the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and eat some beignets.”
The Tigers (12-1) of course will play Swinney’s alma mater, Alabama, for a third straight year in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Superdome on New Year’s Day.
However, from the outset at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the Tigers dominated No. 7 Miami in the ACC title game.
Kelly Bryant and company came out and took the opening drive and went straight down the field for a touchdown. The defense shut down Malik Rozier and the Miami offense all night. It was arguably Clemson’s best performance of the year.
The win gave Clemson its third straight ACC Championship, the first time that has happened since the program won three straight from 1986-’88. It is just the third time in Clemson history the Tigers have won three straight ACC titles. It also happened in the 1965-’67 era.
Clemson left no doubt in front of 74,372 fans at Bank of American Stadium, the second largest crowd in ACC Championship History. The 35-point win marked the Tigers’ largest margin of victory over a ranked team in school history.
Clemson scored the first three times it touched the football, while quarterback Bryant, the game’s MVP, completed an ACC record 15 straight passes to start the game. The Tigers also converted their first seven third downs while racing to a 21-0 lead.
Bryant finished the game completing 23-of-29 passes for 252 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain, which made the score 38-0 with 1:01 to play in the third quarter. Bryant’s 23 completions tied his career-high, which he set against South Carolina the week before.
While Bryant and the offense got things started, the defense finished things off. Led by Christian Wilkins and the Tigers’ dominant defensive front, Clemson held the Hurricanes (10-2) to 214 total yards, while forcing three turnovers.
Rosier was just 14-of-29 for 110 yards and two interceptions against the Clemson defense. He was also sacked four times.
The Tigers came out and took the opening drive of the game 68 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a 4-yard Travis Etienne touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:36 to play in first quarter. Clemson was 3-for-3 on third down, including a 13-yard completion to Renfrow on the first set of downs.
Bryant ran it in from 11 yards out on the Tigers’ second possession, which capped a 71-yard scoring march that took 3:07 off the clock for a 14-0 lead with 3:02 to play in the first.
Adam Choice made the score 21-0 with 12:49 to play in the half. This time running back Adam Choice rumbled in from a yard out following a 16-yard punt by Miami’s Zach Feagles to give the Tigers the ball at the Miami 41.
Clemson finished the first half with 231 yards and was 7-for-10 on third down, while Miami was held to 64 total yards, three less than the Tigers’ rushing total of 67 yards.
The Tigers extended their lead to 24-0 on a 46-yard field goal by Alex Spence. It was career-high for the junior kicker, who had not made a kick longer than 31 yards all season.
Tavien Feaster later rumbled in from 11 yards out to make the score 31-0 and then Cain and Bryant hooked up for their 27-yard score for the 38-0 lead.