CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Prior to Saturday night, Clemson scored on its opening possession of a game seven times. But seventh-ranked Miami was playing with one of the better scoring defenses in the country. It also had its now famous “Turnover Chain” and it led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
So when the Hurricanes won the toss and elected to kick the ball off to top-ranked Clemson, they liked their chances. It was the first of many mistakes for Miami in Clemson’s 38-3 victory in the ACC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium.
Clemson (12-1) took the football from its own 32 and quickly went down the field in 10 plays to score the game’s first touchdown, all the Tigers really needed in the 35-point win.
Running back Travis Etienne plowed over the Miami defenders on his way to a 4-yard score to complete the 68-yard drive and set the tone for what kind of night it was going to be for the Hurricanes.
“We wanted to set the tempo for the game by the way that we played,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “Our guys were focused and I felt like we had a really good plan and found some open spots there. The guys went out there and made some plays. That has just kind of been our formula to go out there and get up early and then let our defense got to work.”
The drive really got going on the Tigers’ third offensive play of the night. Facing third-and-six from their own 36, quarterback Kelly Bryant found wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who was sitting down in Miami’s zone coverage, for a 14-yard gain to midfield.
Two plays later on third-and-two from the Miami 42, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud ran for four yards around the right side to convert another third down and then Bryant found Renfrow again, down the seam this time, for 23 yards on the next play to set the Tigers up at the Miami 15-yard line.
From there, Bryant moved the ball to the 4-yard line with back-to-back keepers and then Etienne got it into the end zone with his 4-yard touchdown with 10:36 to play in the first quarter.
“We have the mindset each and every week, no matter who we play, to just attack,” said Bryant after he completed 23-of-29 passes for 252 yards and two total touchdowns on his way to MVP honors. “For us on offense, we just continue to play.”
The Tigers continued to play alright. They scored the next two times they had the ball as well. On their second possession they needed just seven plays to go 71 yards, capped when Bryant went 11 yards around the left side with 3:02 to go in the second quarter.
On the third drive, running back Adam Choice banged it home off the left side of the line for a 1-yard score and a 21-0 lead with 12:52 to play in the opening half.
Clemson totaled 180 of its 331 total yards on those three offensive possessions to start the game.
“We have been talking for a long time now about the triple-crown,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We knew this was the last race until we got to the playoffs so we wanted to start fast and our guys took ownership of it.
“They knew how important it was to get a lead and not just get a lead, but continue to play once we had a lead. Anytime that we can come out and open up with 14 points or 21 points, it takes the pressure off our defense and it allows them to be aggressive. We always want to come out on that first drive and score points.”