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Monday Musings: late game defensive heroics save the Canes

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Random, unedited Canes tidbits from the recesses of my noggin straight onto your computer screens.

NCAA Football: Miami at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

You know, when I signed up to write an analytical article, I decided to go for Monday. I’m an intense person (as those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know) and run a little on the hot side during and right after a game. I like to have that two-day window to relax, maybe re-watch some (or all) of the game, and just take it all in. To reflect, if you will.

And, in doing so, I’ve come across a more balanced analysis of games. As I sit here right now, I look back on the game with a much greater appreciation than I did around 3:30 pm on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy Miami got the win, but there was so much I had just seen that had bothered me that, after some time to reflect on it, really doesn’t chafe me like it did during the game.

1) That all being said, I won’t pass this up though: I was beyond hot at Rhett Lashlee for what had to have been the most conservative series of offensive play calls late in a game with a lead that I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m still not happy about it, as it could’ve cost UM the game. With Miami leading 25-24 and the defense forcing a punt, Miami got the ball with a little over 2 minutes left. First down, handoff up the middle: 2 yards. Second down, handoff up the middle: 2 yards. They sold out with 8 defenders in the box, crashing the line. Third down, SLOW DEVELOPING DESIGNED QB RUN TO THE OUTSIDE. Blown up for a two yard loss. I’m not a coach, but running the ball into the teeth of a defense stacked and waiting for the run for the purpose of burning timeouts is a waste. One first down would have put the game on ice. That was the time for Lashlee, who I believe is an offensive genius, to have drawn up his three best, most creative plays. Instead, it looked like Phillip Fulmer or Lloyd Carr circa 1997 with a narrow lead. It was ultra-conservative and could have killed the game and the season.

Fortunately, the reason it all worked out.....

2) ....is because the defense rose up when they needed to. I watched most of the game live, but missed most of the third quarter when I had to go get Christmas pictures taken with my wife (don’t judge). I flipped the radio back on after, and it was 24-13 Virginia Tech. It was disappointing, but didn’t feel surprising, as I predicted a high scoring game last week.

But, for the second straight week, when it mattered, this defense absolutely came through, time and again. Not just once, but over and over again. After Miami took the lead, they held for three more times in the final six minutes to preserve the win. Three! Didn’t let the Hokies even get into Miami territory, which is incredible, given how routine it seems teams progress into field goal range for at least an attempt. The front produced constant pressure, covered tightly, and confused Herndon Hooker with their looks. Bradley Jennings’ drop of an interception shows just how confused they had Hooker back there. I’ve been hard on him this year, but credit Blake Baker for a great gameplan, and on the players for executing it. Manny Diaz said this morning that that was Baker’s baby there in the fourth quarter. Well done, coach.

3) Jaelan Phillips has turned into what we hoped he could. When Greg Rousseau opted out, I looked to Phillips’ upside and opportunity. While many went back and forth over Rousseau’s decision on Twitter, it was really moot in my mind, as it doesn’t matter what we thought. It was done. It was time to write about and get excited about the opportunity of a player who has completely overhauled his body and rediscovered his unique talent over the past year. On the verge of giving up football, Phillips has emerged as one of the premier defensive lineman not just in the ACC, but also in the country. 8 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Y’all, that’s elite-level stuff. Not gonna lie, I really, REALLY hope he comes back next year (although he’s getting drafted and probably making an NFL team; maybe Manny can talk him into improving his draft stock). We’re not 7-1 without him.

4) And credit to Te’Cory Couch, as well. I’ll admit I’m one of the later ones to come around on Couch, but wow, did he have a heck of a game yesterday. First start, and he played like he deserved it and then some. I saw today that he kept his starting spot for Georgia Tech this weekend over Al Blades, Jr. Nice to see the coaches rewarding strong play later in the year instead of going with what has been comfortable or routine. It’s also nice to have three cornerbacks you can rely upon as starters if you need them. With 13 players sidelined last week for COVID/injuries/(insert speculation here), that’s a heck of a luxury to have.

5) Gilbert Frierson was also all over the field from his striker position. Eight tackles, two sacks, and was generally playing like his hair was on fire (in the best of ways). Bravo, sir.

6) I just get more and more excited watching this WR group play each week since their post-Clemson renaissance. Dee Wiggins had 8 catches for 106 yards, Mike Harley Jr. had 6 for 51, and Mark Pope had 4 for 50 and a touchdown. Pope running free in the fourth quarter of a rivalry game to give Miami the winning margin is something we’ve been dreaming about for years. Something we’ve been writing about on social media. When are we going to see Mark Pope the five star show up? Well, he, Wiggins, and Harley are here, and they’re quickly starting to establish themselves as a dynamic group. Keep it up, fellas.

7) Prediction: Georgia Tech-Miami. Miami opened at -19, and - returning home - this just feels like a game where the Miami defense that’s been playing well in spurts is going to eat on Saturday night against a Georgia Tech team that hasn’t stayed within 3 scores of anyone except Louisville since the opener against FSU. Miami’s offense is starting to hum, with Brevin Jordan returning to give Miami a full compliment of skill position players. Miami (finally) flexes its muscles Saturday night. Miami 42, Georgia Tech 20.