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Three things to watch: Clemson

Can Miami get pressure on Trevor Lawrence with just its defensive linemen?

Miami defensive lineman Jaelan Phillips (15) wears the turnover chain next to teammate Bubba Bolden (21) during Miami’s blowout victory over Florida State on Saturday, September 26.
Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes will play their toughest game of the season tonight when they travel to take on Clemson on the road at 7:30pm in a battle of top 10 teams.

The Hurricanes are a heavy underdog in tonight’s game and will need a near perfect effort to top the heavily-favored Tigers.

Clemson has never lost an ACC game with Trevor Lawrence at starting quarterback. Additionally, since 2015, Clemson is 44-2 against ACC opponents.

What will Miami need to do to pull an upset on the road tonight? Keep reading for three things to watch during tonight’s game.

Can Miami get pressure with just its four defensive linemen?

No matter who the Hurricanes play, they will always present the opposing offensive line with issues at the defensive end position.

Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche are matchup nightmares for any offensive line, even Clemson’s.

Manny Diaz and Blake Baker’s defensive scheme works best when it is pressuring the quarterback. With how dangerous Travis Etienne is catching the ball out of the backfield, Miami will be most effective tonight if it can rush the passer effectively with just its four defensive linemen.

That would leave seven defenders to cover five Tiger skill players and allow the Hurricanes to mix and match zone or man-to-man looks against Lawrence.

Is pressuring Lawrence with four possible? With Phillips and Roche, anything is possible.

It certainly won’t be easy, and Miami will still blitz from time-to-time, but look for the Hurricanes to attempt to get pressure with four to best set up its back seven for success.

How will the Hurricanes stop Travis Etienne?

Baker was not afraid to pay Etienne a lofty compliment earlier this week during media availability.

When was the last time Miami faced a running back that could reasonably be called “the premier back in all of college football”? Likely Dalvin Cook from Florida State, and we all remember how that went.

Etienne eclipsed the 5,000 career yards from scrimmage mark in Clemson’s victory over Virginia last week and has 65 touchdowns in 46 college games. He is an elusive runner who can also break tackles with his power moves and has good enough hands to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield.

How will Miami defend Etienne? This storyline will likely determine whether or not the Hurricanes have a chance to win tonight.

Miami looked suspect at times trying to defend Louisville’s running attack two weeks ago as it allowed 209 yards rushing to the Cardinals. Etienne will make the Hurricanes pay much more severely than Louisville did if Miami struggles to tackle or isn’t in good position.

In the running game, it will likely fall on Bradley Jennings Jr. and Zach McCloud to tackle Etienne in space from their linebacker positions. In the passing game, look for strikers Keontra Smith and Gilbert Frierson to have eyes in the backfield on Etienne as well as safety Bubba Bolden at times.

How will the weather effect tonight’s game?

If you trust the weather forecast, the Hurricanes and Tigers are in for a wet one tonight.

While there isn’t expected to be much wind, some forecasts are calling for up to an inch of rain today in Clemson, South Carolina.

What will Miami’s high-powered offense look like in the rain? Which team is better-suited to play in rainy and wet conditions?

To answer the first question, we just don’t know. We have seen Miami run the ball effectively all season, which you must do in the rain to have a chance to win.

But that has been against defenses far more inferior than Clemson’s unit. Will Miami’s offensive line be able to create running room for Cam Harris, Jaylan Knighton, Donald Chaney Jr. and D’Eriq King in a downpour?

That remains to be seen.

In my opinion, playing the game in heavy rain does not help Miami. Clemson has the best running back in the country in Etienne and an offensive line good enough to control the line of scrimmage.

Additionally, Lawrence has one of the strongest arms in college football. The rain will not prevent him from making throws across the field unless he struggles to grip a wet ball.

While King has been very effective throwing the ball, he has been errant throwing deep passes somewhat often this year and has missed multiple opportunities for big gains with throws that miss open receivers.

Those deep throws won’t be any easier in the rain with a wet ball.

This less rain the better tonight for the Hurricanes.