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Miami Hurricanes vs Clemson Tigers: Matchup to Watch

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The chess match on the sideline will go a long way in determining the outcome Saturday.

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Miami historically has been incredibly good against the #1 team in the country and will get another crack this weekend against Clemson. Much has been written the past 2 weeks asking the question, “Is Miami back” which is way premature for this writer, but steps towards being back can be answered Saturday at 7:30PM.

Clemson is elite on both sides of the ball, so the Canes will have to come with their best effort to pull the upset at Death Valley. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will get all the headlines, but there is a chess match that intrigues me more than anything else.

Rhett Lashlee was brought to Miami to jump start the offense, and he has done exactly that. Now he will face off with one of the best tacticians on the defensive side of the ball.

Matchup to Watch

Normally his column will focus on a player vs player, or position group vs position group, but the most fascinating aspect is Rhett Lashlee vs Brent Venables. Lashlee is quickly earning a reputation as a mastermind as a play caller, and his breakneck speed offense is giving DC’s problems. D’Eriq King’s ability to use his legs and arm make Miami a difficult ask for any defense to handle. How will Clemson attack the Canes? How will Lashlee adjust to the best scheme he will face all season?

Venables was brought to Clemson to fix a terrible defense, and fix is exactly what he has done. Clemson gave up 70 to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl and Dabo Swinney realized for the Tigers to be elite they needed to upgrade at DC. Since Venables arrival the Tigers defensive rankings have been near the top in college football every year.

PPG Rank

24.8 48th

22.2 24th

16.7 3rd

21.7 24th

18.0 10th

13.6 2nd

13.1 1st

13.5 3rd

12.0 7th

Clemson has been off the charts stopping teams from putting points on the board, and with the propensity for their offense putting up big numbers, Rhett Lashlee’s offense will have to put up monster numbers. Going back to 2017, the Tigers have only given up 24 or more points 6 times and are just 3-3 in those matchups. 24 seems to be a particularly important number so Miami must find ways to capitalize and score when the opportunities present themselves. Venables also has the tendency to dial up more pressure if his defense feels stressed. Screens and quick accurate throws are imperative out of Miami’s offense.

Lashlee would love to go tempo, but Miami must stay ahead of the chains and be able to run the football effectively. So far in 2020, this does seem to be a vintage Clemson group which is giving up 2.3 YPC and 270 yards in just 3 games which is 90 yards per game. Miami is much better on the ground with King, Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr. and the Canes must continue to have a 2 way go.

Here is what Venables said about the Canes ground game.

“It starts with the run game and their ability to run the football really, really well,” Venables said. “They got explosive players. Both the guy that is receiving the snap and the guys that he is handing it off to and then they’re RPO guys that behind you. Some of the most dynamic skilled personnel in all the college football rivals anybody. And so that is a challenge in its own, but one we’re incredibly excited about.”

Miami has faced 3 different approaches in 3 games and so far, Rhett Lashlee and his group have been up to the challenge. Clemson will combine the best athletes Miami will face all season long, along with the best defensive coordinator in the country. How Miami, and more importantly, Rhett Lashlee handle the pressure that Clemson will bring will go a long way in determning the outcome of the game.

Clemson has holes on the defensive side of the ball, but Brent Venables has the wherewithal to disguise a lot and try to confuse the offense. Miami can put up points, but can they get to 24 and make this a game? Let the chess match begin.