No. 7 Miami at No. 1 Clemson
Through the first three games of the season, Dabo Swinney likes where his young defensive ends are at. With Xavier Thomas and Justin Foster both out, Clemson has turned to younger players such as sophomores K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll, as well as true freshman Myles Murphy.
Henry and Mascoll are both redshirt sophomores, and though they have been in the program three years, this is the first time they have started and have to play as much as they have played. The results have so far been pretty good, but the level of competition steps up tonight when the top-ranked Tigers host No. 7 Miami.
The Hurricanes (3-0, 2-0 ACC) are led by quarterback D’Eriq King, who has led the Miami offense to the top of the ACC in terms of total and scoring offense.
“This is a big test. First of all, (the Hurricanes) are good up front,” Swinney said. “You are playing a three-phase quarterback. He can beat you with his mind, legs and arm and that creates a lot of pressure. So, it is a big test for them.”
The good news for the Tigers (3-0, 2-0 ACC) is they go against talented quarterbacks everyday in practice. They have experienced what a talented quarterback such as King looks like. Now the question is can they transfer that knowledge to the playing field.
“They have made good progress, but still from a game experience (standpoint) it is still a work in progress there. That will definitely be a big challenge for us (tonight),” Swinney said.
Below are some other key matchups to watch for in today’s game, which kicks off at 7:44 p.m.
Who has the edge?
Brent Venables vs. Rhett Lashlee: These two have met before. In 2016, Clemson held Lashlee’s Auburn offense to less than 300 yards and to just 87 rushing yards. However, on that night in Auburn Lashlee did not have a quarterback like D’Eriq King, a guy, as Swinney said above, can beat the Tigers in so many different ways. Lashlee’s offense will give a defense a lot of eye candy, so Clemson’s young defense will have to be disciplined and not fall for it. Miami’s offense is predicated off the big plays, which is a result from all the motions and shifts they do in pre-snap. Venables will try to counter with some confusion of his own. Look for Clemson to try and throw a lot of exotic looks at King, stuff he likely has not seen before. Venables’ goal will be to keep King in the pocket and force him to have to find holes in the coverage and make contested throws.
Miami’s tight ends vs. the middle of Clemson’s defense. The Hurricanes have two of the better tight ends in the country in juniors Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory. In fact, Venables calls them the best tandem he has ever had to coach against. Jordan is like a receiver, who can line up anywhere and put pressure on a defense. He is a matchup nightmare. So far, no one has been able to stop him. He leads Miami with 15 catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Mallory is more of a traditional tight end, but the Hurricanes use him in the passing game as well. He has the ability to really hurt a team down the seam. That is not good news for the Tigers, whose weakness to this point in the season is at linebacker and at safety. The Tigers struggle in the middle of the field and Lashlee is sure to test this area often in tonight’s game.
Travis Etienne vs. Miami’s defense. Etienne is the X-factor in this game. With all the talk leading into it being about Trevor Lawrence vs. D’Eriq King and Venables vs. Lashleee, the game really comes to what Miami does to try and stop Clemson’s best player. Are the Hurricanes going to load up the box to stop Etienne like everyone has already done this season? Probably so. However, if they do that can they contain the Clemson running back in the passing game? Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has found other ways to get Etienne the ball other than running the rock and it has worked out well for Etienne and the Clemson offense. Last week he set a school record with 114 receiving yards. Etienne as a receiver puts a lot of pressure on a defense and as effective as he has been, it will force defenses to stop loading up the box, which in turn will open up Etienne as a runner again. Miami has not played anyone close to Etienne’s talent as a running back.
Bottom line: I have gone back and forth with this one, as far as the score. I think Miami is a much-improved team, but I don’t know if they have all the pieces in place just yet to be a true contender for the College Football Playoff. I think the Hurricanes are definitely a top 15 team right now, but they still have issues on the offensive line which they can mask and scheme around most teams. But Clemson is not most teams. However, with Brent Venables defensive schemes, the athletes and just the studs Clemson has on defense, the Tigers will get a few more stops than Miami and will pull away late. Expect this to be a tight game for a while though.
Score prediction: Clemson 45, Miami 31
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