The top-ranked Clemson Tigers (11-1) and the Miami Hurricanes (10-1) will meet in an ACC Championship that will decide one of the four College Football Playoff participants. The two teams will meet on Saturday from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, with the game starting at 8:00 EST. The game can be seen on ABC.
After an inexplicable loss to Pitt last weekend, the 7th-ranked Hurricanes are going to have to play up to their young squad’s full potential. The Hurricanes have big wins this year over the likes of Notre Dame and Virginia Tech (13th at the time), and by big margins. But they’ve also failed to play too far above the likes of Georgia Tech, Florida State, and North Carolina, and lost to a 5-7 Pitt team.
Clemson, meanwhile, has been rolling through opponents since their own embarrassing loss to now-4-8 Syracuse. After dispatching South Carolina in easy fashion on the road, they’re fully prepped and near the top of their game.
The Tigers are making waves with their run game, and QB Kelly Bryant has taken well to having more responsibility within the offense. It also helps that Clemson has only given up 652 yards in the past three games combined. That’s an incredible feat that truly shows the power of one of the nation’s best defenses.
Miami still has their turnover-chain working in full force though, as they forced their sixth-consecutive multi-turnover game. Still, they’ll come in as 9 ½-point underdogs.
Make no mistake: this will be a close game. Miami plays its best in big contests (Virginia Tech, Notre Dame beatings), and has plenty of ways to disrupt Bryant. The difference will be running backs, and the ability of the defensive line play to combat them. That’s where Clemson has enough of an advantage.
They’re in the top-five against the run, and have mammoths on the line. Travis Homer (866 yards, 6.3 YPC) has been dynamic for the Hurricanes, but these will easily be the toughest holes to fit through. There aren’t many teams who can even put up 100 yards rushing on the Tigers. FSU, with a prized freshman in Cam Akers, only managed 21 yards on 24 carries.
And when someone does finally find their mark on the ground, they can’t find it through the air. QB Malik Rozier will be relied upon to make a significant amount of plays in this game. He’s wildly inconsistent early in games, and that’s what could lead to a Clemson W. But his play once he settles in is two levels better, and it’s what will keep the Tigers in check late.
Travis Etienne (12 touchdowns, 7.4 YPC) and Tavien Feaster (744 totals yards, 6.4 YPC) will eventually gash a Miami front that’s above-average, but not overly special against opposing RBs. The Hurricanes’ pass-rush has nine players with multiple sacks. Their 3.55 sacks-per-game is the most in college football. But they barely crack the top-50 against the run, and that’s where most of their troubles will lie.
The Clemson o-line is out of the top-50 (53rd) in sacks allowed, so they may crumble to the pressure of The U pass-rush. But Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will find a way for Bryant to get the ball out quick, and they’ll methodically take down the will of the Hurricanes.
But that will take time and patience against a team as good as Miami. Don’t be surprised if this game comes down to the final drive.