The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Fresh off a truly impressive victory, the 16th-ranked Miami Hurricanes invade Death Valley for an ACC matchup with the Clemson Tigers.
Miami lost to national powerhouse Ohio State in week two to fall to 1-1, and after an open date, the team got back to action against Big East Conference favorite Pittsburgh on the road last week. Many expected the 'Canes to have their hands full in the Thursday night showcase, but what ensued was a dominant effort by the road team. Miami won by a 31-3 final, showcasing tremendous defense and efficient offense to move to 2-1 overall.
"We're not that far away at all," head coach Randy Shannon said when asked how close his team was to reaching the level of a title contender.
Clemson has had two weeks to prepare for this showdown with Miami, as the program has been idle since a September 18th loss to Auburn in overtime by a 27-24 final. Prior to that loss, the Tigers beat up on North Texas and Presbyterian College as expected.
Although Miami owns a 5-3 series advantage over Clemson, the Tigers recorded a thrilling 40-37 victory over the Hurricanes last season.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris wasn't perfect against Pittsburgh, evidenced by his two interceptions. Harris was, however, the best quarterback on the field by a wide margin and made more than enough plays to lead his squad to victory. Harris completed 21-of-32 passes for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Travis Benjamin paced the receivers with six grabs for 96 yards and a touchdown, while Damien Berry ran for 87 yards and a touchdown on 21 rushing attempts.
Miami is generating 33.3 ppg this season, and the majority of the damage has been done through the air. Harris has completed 64 percent of his passes for 690 yards and six touchdowns, but he has also been intercepted six times. Leonard Hankerson has made 16 catches for 241 yards and three touchdowns, and he is one of the nation's most talented receivers. As for Berry, he has rushed for 226 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Miami was able to limit Pitt to 232 total yards while forcing three turnovers. The 'Canes permitted a mere 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and 8.0 yards per pass completion.
"Defensively, I thought we did a tremendous job of tackling," Shannon said. "Going against two great running backs...that was really huge for us to go out there and tackle."
The 'Canes have only surrendered 39 points through three games, including six total points in the first and fourth quarters combined. Opponents are generating a mere 252.0 ypg, including 120.3 ypg on the ground at a clip of 2.9 ypc. Sean Spence has recorded 24 total tackles, including 6.5 TFLs, and Olivier Vernon has contributed 3.5 sacks.
Clemson is generating 39.0 ppg and 414.3 total ypg, so it is obvious that this offense is formidable. Kyle Parker, who is listed as probable for this weekend's game despite a sore back, has completed 35-of-60 passes for 503 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. His top receiver has been Dwayne Allen, who has made eight grabs for 156 yards. As for the tailbacks, Andre Ellington has proven to be the best of the bunch, posting 273 yards and four touchdowns on his 37 carries.
In the heart-breaking loss to Auburn last time out, Clemson posted 414 yards and scored three touchdowns, including two through the air. Parker completed 21-of-35 passes for 227 yards and was not intercepted, while Ellington rushed for 140 yards and a score on 22 carries.
"We missed some plays," said coach Dabo Swinney. "We had the team on the mat and weren't quite able to finish it when we had the chance."
Opponents are scoring a modest 19.3 ppg against Clemson, which is yielding 388.3 total ypg. Clearly, this has been a bend-but-don't-break defense through the early part of this season, but there is room for improvement. The Tigers are yielding 13.3 yards per pass completion, and that average is simply too high. Also, the club has been pushed around at the line of scrimmage at times.
The Clemson defense certainly put forth solid effort against Auburn, but 424 total yards were allowed in that game, as well as three touchdowns. Sure, two interceptions were registered, but the club didn't play well enough to win.
"We certainly didn't play a perfect football game, made some mistakes...but we fought hard and showed toughness," said coach Swinney after the contest.