College Miami Hurricanes

Preview: No. 7 Miami Hurricanes vs. No. 1 Clemson

The No. 7 University of Miami Hurricanes will travel to face No. 1 Clemson Friday in the ACC Championship game Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Kickoff: 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Weather Forecast: 50 degrees; Mostly cloudy (Chance of rain: 5 percent)

All-time Series: Miami leads 6-4 (Last won: Clemson 58-0 in 2015)

Miami Hurricanes

Head Coach: Mark Richt (2nd season)

Record: 10-1 (7-1 ACC)

Ranked: No. 7 (CFB Playoff Rankings); No. 7 (AP Poll)

Top Players: RB Mark Walton; WR Ahmmon Richards; LB Shaquille Quarterman; LB Zach McCloud; LB Michael Pinckney; TE Christopher Herndon IV; DT Kendrick Norton; DT RJ McIntosh; DE Chad Thomas; DE Joe Jackson; DB Jaquan Johnson; QB Malik Rosier; OL Navaughn Donaldson; WR Braxton Berrios; WR Darrell Langham.

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: William “Dabo” Swinney (9th season)

Record: 11-1 (7-1 ACC)

Ranked: No. 1 (CFB Playoff Rankings); No. 1 (AP Poll)

Top Players: DT Christian Wilkins; QB Kelly Bryant; DT Dexter Lawrence; DE Clelin Ferrell; DE Austin Bryant; RB Travis Etienne; LB Tre Lamar; WR Hunter Renfrow; WR Deon Cain; WR Tee Higgins; CB Treyvon Mullen; OL Micah Hyatt; OL Tyrone Crowder; LB Dorian O’Donnell; LB Kendall Joseph; WR Ray-Ray McCloud.

The Storyline

The Miami Hurricanes laid a proverbial egg in its regular-season finale, putting on a disappointing performance as they lost 24-14 to a non-bowl eligible Pittsburgh team – ending their hopes of finishing year unbeaten for the first time since 2002.

Worst yet, Miami lost its No. 1 tight end Christopher Herndon to a knee injury during the game against Pitt. Herndon had posted career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns before being lost for the remainder of the season.

Adding more injury to the insult, UM also lost sophomore receiver Ahmmon Richards to a knee injury during practice in the week leading up to the ACC title game. Richards, a freshman All-American in 2016 and easily Miami’s most talented receiver, will also miss the remainder of the season after having surgery to repair his meniscus.

UM fell to No. 7 – from No. 2 – in the latest polls (both the College Football Playoff Rankings and the AP Poll), but the Hurricanes had already secured their spot in the 2017 ACC Championship game as the ACC Coastal Division title winner.

Claiming its first Coastal title since joining the conference in 2004, Miami still has put together a stellar season and has – at times – looked like one of the best teams in the country.

If Miami puts together a strong performance and wins the ACC championship, there’s a very good chance that the Canes would be moved back into the top four of the CFP Rankings and would have the chance to play for a national title.

Standing in the Hurricanes’ way is the defending College Football National Champion and defending ACC Champion Clemson.

The last time these two squared off (2015), Clemson completely dismantled the Hurricanes in a 58-0 drubbing. The silver lining: that huge loss sparked the firing of Al Golden and set in motion the process of bringing in Mark Richt and the current coaching staff that has revived Miami.

The Tigers climbed back to the top spot in the polls after their 34-10 win over in-state rival No. 24 South Carolina. Clemson, which has won five straight games since being upset by Syracuse on October 13, has proven once again that it is one of college football’s best teams despite losing its star quarterback from a season ago.

Junior quarterback Kelly Bryant has stepped in and led the Tigers offense – accounting for over 3,000 total offensive yards and 22 total touchdowns. Freshman running back Travis Etienne has also been a pleasant surprise for Clemson, as the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has rushed for a team-high 720 yards and 12 touchdowns.

While the Tigers offense has been efficient and highly effective over the past few weeks, Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney hangs their hat on their defense – specifically the defensive line.

The Tigers have two of the nation’s best interior defensive linemen in Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and pair of solid edge rushers in Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant.

Miami’s offense, which hasn’t looked fluid the past couple of weeks and will now be without two of its top passing game weapons, will have its work cut out for it.

In what can be considered a College Football Playoff quarterfinal game, Saturday night’s winner – especially if it is Clemson – will play in the semifinals while the loser will likely be destined for the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Injury Report

Miami

+ RB Mark Walton (ankle) is OUT for the season

+ TE Christopher Herndon (knee) is OUT for the season

+ WR Ahmmon Richards (knee) is OUT for the season

+ LB Jamie Gordinier (knee) is OUT for the season

+ WR Evidence Njoku (knee) is OUT for the season

+ LB Charles Perry (lower extremity) is OUT for the season

+ DE Demetrius Jackson (knee) is OUT for the season

Clemson

+ LB Tre Lamar (stinger) is QUESTIONABLE

+ RB Travis Etienne (undisclosed) is PROBABLE

+ LB J.D. Davis (undisclosed) is PROBABLE

Miami Keys To Victory

+ Create Turnovers – If the Hurricanes ever needed the “Turnover Chain”, it is in this game. Clemson has the edge in nearly every category on both sides of the ball, so UM’s defense needs to create turnovers to level the playing field a bit for its offense and give Miami as many scoring opportunities as possible – or create points defensively.

+ Play Physical – If Miami has success in this game, it will be because of its defense. A part of that is UM’s ability to play fast and aggressive and set an early tone against Clemson’s offense. The Hurricanes need to make Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant think twice about leaving the pocket and make sure they punish him when he does.

+ Create Tempo – Miami has struggled to run the ball well over the past couple of weeks, so head coach Mark Richt could elect to use the short passing game as a run-game substitute. In doing that, the Canes can use some no-huddle and quick tempo to perhaps tire out Clemson’s aggressive defensive front or create mismatches when the Tigers try to sub in new players.

They Said It

Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator Thomas Brown on Miami’s ability to bounce back after the disappointing loss to Pittsburgh…

“It’s kind of like the wounded animal mentality. You have to fight to survive and live another day. You scratch and fight and claw and come out swinging. When we have success, we lick our wounds and [we are] just kind of happy to be there. It starts with us as coaches being able to change that mentality and change the mindset of our guys and find ways to get better.”

Clemson’s South Florida Connections

Treyvon Mullen (1) – Sophomore cornerback played for Coconut Creek High School.

Richard Yeargin (49) – Redshirt junior defensive end played for Davie University School.

Score Projections

Clemson (-9.5) over Miami

J.T. Wilcox = Clemson 31, Miami 21

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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