During this morning’s edition of “The Huddle” on the ACC Network, analysts Eric Mac Lain, E.J. Manuel and Mark Richt weighed in on tonight’s top-10 matchup between No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami and gave their biggest keys to the game and opinions on the biggest matchups to watch when the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Death Valley.
Manuel zeroed in on the matchup that everyone is excited to see — the quarterback showdown between Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Miami’s D’Eriq King.
“I think the key is the quarterbacks — Trevor Lawrence, are we going to continue to see the greatness that he’s shown since his first day at Clemson? I think we will,” Manuel said. “And then D’Eriq King, I think he’s a primetime impact player. You’ve got to keep your eyes on him at all times, and even if you try to spy, he’s not going to take off and run — he’s going to throw the football. He’s accurate. This guy’s a true quarterback. If anybody’s talking about he’s a running back or a DB at the next level, no — this dude is a quarterback and he’s going to show that tonight.”
Manuel also pointed to Miami’s trio of talented running backs — freshman Donald Chaney, Jr., junior Cam’Ron Harris and freshman Jaylan Knighton — as other potential difference-makers in the contest.
“Those three guys catch the ball out of the backfield, they can run between the tackles, they can bruise you, they can run over you,” Manuel said. “So as soon as one gets tired, another one’s coming in, and these guys can make extreme plays. I’m telling you — this Miami team is legit. These guys match up about as well as anybody I’ve seen play Clemson in a while, I guess I would say almost similar to LSU last year in the national championship game. So, I do think this is going to be a firework-type game tonight. I cannot wait to see it.”
Mac Lain, meanwhile, wondered if new Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the Hurricanes will try to exploit Clemson’s defense with King through the quarterback run game after seeing Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong rush for 89 yards on 22 carries in the Cavaliers’ 41-23 loss to the Tigers a week ago.
But looking at the other side of the ball, Mac Lain knows Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have a plan in place to try to limit King and put his players in the best position to be successful against a Miami offense that enters the contest ranked eighth in the country in scoring at 43.3 points per game.
Mac Lain also pointed out that Clemson defensive tackle Tyler Davis will be back in action tonight for the first time since suffering an MCL sprain in the second half of the Tigers’ season opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 12.
“Did Virginia find a flaw or a weakness in this tenacious Clemson Tiger defense? That’s going to be the biggest thing to find out,” Mac Lain said. “When you look at the tape and you see what Virginia was able to do … I know Miami doesn’t rely upon QB runs, but after seeing what the Tigers gave up, maybe Rhett Lashlee will consider it.
“Clemson has the best defensive coordinator in the country. I can guarantee you that he’s going to get his guys in the right calls, he’s going to get the right play in to contain King, to make him feel that pressure all night long by bringing guys from different levels, coming from different areas. And the Tigers are getting All-American candidate Tyler Davis back, defensive tackle, and that is going to be a huge relief for these Tigers on that interior defensive line.”
Richt, too, looks forward to seeing how the chess match between Venables and Lashlee plays out with Miami coming off a bye week and the Hurricanes having additional time to get ready for Venables’ unit that has allowed just 12 points per game thus far this season, which is good for seventh best nationally.
“There’s another matchup that I’m excited to watch, and that’s the matchup between Coach Venables and Rhett Lashlee, the new coordinator for Miami,” Richt said. “He’s already been a big difference in why Miami’s offense has changed, almost as much as D’Eriq King. They came hand in hand, and I’m not ready to say Coach (Bill) Belichick and (Tom) Brady yet, but those guys, they’re definitely keying off each other’s ability.
“And the thing about it is Lashlee had two weeks to get ready, Venables only had one. That’s a little bit of a disadvantage. And Venables, he likes to see those defensive signals. He likes to see the formations before he makes his calls. Miami loves to go fast, so that’s going to make it a little bit tougher on Venables to do what he likes to do.”
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