The Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1 ACC) are set to host No. 6 Clemson on Saturday at noon on ABC. The Tigers are entering the game (6-0, 3-0) and have one of the most dynamic players in the entire country in QB Deshaun Watson. Year-in and year-out, Clemson possesses one of college football's most explosive offenses and disruptive defenses.This year looks the same, but the numbers pose an interesting matchup with the Canes. Let's take a look at how Miami stacks up against a relatively unfamiliar conference opponent.
(All statistics from ESPN)
Clemson: 35.2 ppg, 448.5 ypg, 267 pypg, 181.5 rypg
Miami: 33.7 ppg, 443.8 ypg, 307.5 pypg, 136.3 rypg
Deshaun Watson: 116-170 (68.2%), 1,410 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs, 8 sacks, 156.8 rating
*rushing - 56 att., 234 yards, 4.2 avg., 2 TDs
Brad Kaaya: 134-219 (61.2%), 1,745 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT, 7 sacks, 144.2 rating
Artavis Scott: 39 receptions, 443 yards, 11.4 avg., 4 TDs
Rashawn Scott: 33 receptions, 446 yards 13.5 avg., 4 TDs
Wayne Gallman: 106 att., 584 yards, 5.5 avg., 5 TDs
Joseph Yearby: 92 att., 517 yards, 5.6 avg. 5 TDs
On paper and statistically, Miami and Clemson match up well offensively. Each team has one of the two top QBs in the ACC, both spread the ball around and take their shots downfield, and both have a feature back that are heavily counted on. Clemson is also converting 43.3 percent of their third downs, while Miami, though improving, is still an abysmal 32.9 percent on "money downs," good for T-113th in the country. However, there are two major differences when it comes to these offenses. First, the offensive line. Clemson has had their struggles up front, but they continue to churn out big plays, give Deshaun Watson time, and open up running lanes for their backs. Miami, on the other hand, can never seem to have a consistent game on the ground. Their running backs seldom make it to the second level of the defense without being untouched, and Brad Kaaya takes an absolute beating almost every time he drops back.
Another difference is QB play. It is no secret that Brad Kaaya isn't a mobile quarterback. Clemson's Deshaun Watson is. Granted, Kaaya is a better passer and thrower from the pocket, but Watson can extend/make plays that Kaaya simply cannot. The key for Miami's defense will be to get Watson on the ground in any way, shape or form before he crosses the line of scrimmage. The Canes have had their struggles with mobile QBs in the past, and Watson will most likely be the most talented one Miami has seen in recent memory.
Clemson: 16.7 points allowed, 281.7 yards allowed, 167.5 passing yards allowed, 114.8 rushing yards allowed, 15 sacks, 7 INTs, 4 recovered fumbles
Miami: 22.7 points allowed, 379.3 yards allowed, 212 passing yards allowed, 167.3 rushing yards allowed, 15 sacks, 11 INTs, 4 recovered fumbles
Here lies the Achilles' heel for the Hurricanes: the defense. It is well-known and well-documented that Miami struggles mightily at times on defense. Although it seems as if Miami gives up 80-yard drives each possession, that is not the case. The Canes will play solid, even lights-out defense one drive, then have constant mental lapses and breakdowns the next. It is the inconsistencies that drive the program and fanbase crazy, and it is those same inconsistencies that opponents look for every game. Great teams look for those weaknesses and exploit them, and Clemson is no exception.
The biggest gap between these two teams is on the defensive side of the football. Although Miami is among the nation's best in turnover margin (plus-13) and forcing turnovers, the Canes often struggle to get off of the field. Miami is averaging roughly 100 more yards allowed per game than Clemson, and more than 50+ passing/rushing yards per game. Miami is also giving up six more points (or a touchdown) per game than the Tigers. Clemson typically plays an aggressive 4-3 scheme that thrives when they get after the quarterback. They replaced eight starters from last year's defense, but continue to play well despite the turnover. The aforementioned immobile Kaaya will be depending on a porous offensive line in front of him.
Miami is pretty evenly matched with Clemson on one side of the football, but on the other...not so much. On the sidelines, Clemson has the edge as well, for obvious reasons. Miami can score on any opponent they face, it is just a matter of play-calling, execution, and avoiding mistakes like drops and penalties that continue to plague Miami. However, after careful, thorough, complete, (and obvious) evaluation, Clemson has the edge in all aspects of the game. If there is one thing for sure, Miami has the better kicker (who gets used way too much).
If, if, if, IF (!!!!!) Miami decides to show up and play a complete, physical 60-minute ball game, the Canes can come away with the upset victory. Miami needs to score early, score often, play physically up front, and let their players make plays. That last point cannot be emphasized enough. Miami played well enough in the second half to beat FSU, but football is four quarters. If the Canes can play up to that level for a full game, there is no telling what this team is capable of accomplishing. BUT, that remains to be seen.