Clemson Football: 5 Keys to defeating the Miami Hurricanes

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The Miami Hurricanes haven’t beaten Clemson football since 2010. Dabo Swinney’s team owned Miami in their previous two matchups. In 2015, the Tigers shutout Miami in a 58-0 rout. Two years later, the programs met in the ACC Championship game with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. Clemson won 38-3 and went on to face Alabama in the semifinals.

However, the Hurricanes have some new life in quarterback D’Eriq King, running back Cam’Ron Harris, defensive end Quincy Roche and head coach Manny Diaz. None of them remember Clemson’s previous victories, which gives Miami hope against the nation’s No. 1 team. While the Tigers have owned the ACC in recent years, Swinney’s team can’t take Miami lightly. This is a battle for Clemson’s championship hopes.

If the Tigers want to stay one step ahead of Miami, they must follow these five keys. Whether it’s disrupting Miami’s offense or pounding away at the U’s talented defense, Clemson can control the pace of this game and break Miami’s spirit.

Stay turnover free

The Tigers are keeping it clean in 2020. The offense is averaging fewer than one turnover per game, and one of those mistakes was an interception by third-string quarterback Taisun Phommachanh against Wake Forest. While Clemson hasn’t faced many talented teams this year, the lack of turnovers bodes well heading into the Miami matchup.

Last season, Trevor Lawrence worried some scouts by throwing eight interceptions. He also had three multi-interception games and tossed a pick in each of Clemson’s first three games. Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception this season, which hopefully means he’ll take better care of the football for all of 2020. The Tigers can’t afford any silly turnovers against Miami.

After losing two fumbles in 2019, Travis Etienne also hasn’t turned the ball over this year. Clemson won’t give the Hurricanes any extra possessions this coming Saturday.

Get in D’Eriq King’s face

Clemson football hasn’t faced a quarterback with King’s versatility since Lamar Jackson. While he isn’t running as much as we’re used to, King is flashing an improved set of passing skills. He isn’t a future first-round pick like Lawrence, but the quarterback is perfect for the college level. He’s thriving in Miami’s rebuilt offense.

Speaking about King, Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth said, “He’s very good, you’ve seen him. We need to make sure we always have a guy on him in coverage. But we’re going to go to the drawing board and scheme against him, try to do what we do.”

The best way to deal with the dual-threat quarterback is to put him under constant pressure. King is a far better passer now than he was at Houston. His arm strength, small-window placement, and deep passes are all at a new level. That’s a scary thought considering King scored 50 total touchdowns during the 2018 season.

However, if Clemson can force King to throw on the run, the Tigers could cause a few turnovers. Questions about King’s accuracy aren’t completely erased, and he hasn’t faced a team with Clemson’s talent since joining the Hurricanes. At 5-foot-11, King might also struggle to get the ball past Clemson’s giant defensive linemen.

Protect Trevor Lawrence

Clemson’s offensive line is learning on the job. The line only combined for 17 games of starting experience entering 2020. While the Tigers have a lot of potential with left tackle Jackson Carman and right tackle Jordan McFadden, the line hasn’t come together as expected, and it got overwhelmed by Virginia at times.

Lawrence took three sacks against Wake Forest and two against Virginia. While he sometimes holds the ball too long, Lawrence’s pockets haven’t been nearly as clean as they were last season. Etienne isn’t known for his skills in pass protection either, which only makes Lawrence’s situation worse.

The Hurricanes already have 10 sacks this season, including two from Roche and Zach McCloud. Miami also tallied 29 tackles for loss during the season’s first three games. While Diaz’s team features several talented defensive backs, the defensive front could give Clemson more trouble.

Clemson’s offensive line needs to toughen up and stonewall the Hurricanes this coming weekend.

Hit big pass plays

The Tigers thrived when Lawrence heaved up deep strikes to Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. With Higgins in the NFL and Ross missing the season because of surgery, Clemson lost its two best deep threats. Luckily, Frank Ladson Jr. and Amari Rodgers have stepped up. However, Clemson’s offense still feels slower than in previous seasons.

After watching the Tigers threaten to score from anywhere on the field over the past two years, the offense feels weakened. Fans would love to see Clemson come out firing with a few deep shots during the first quarter, but that relies on the skills of Lawrence’s receivers.

While Clemson football is still the No. 1 team in the country, this offense isn’t as dominant as the past two years. It’s missing that unstoppable feeling.

Stop the run

In their first three matchups, the Hurricanes averaged 232 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns per game. While King’s passing is improving, Miami’s offense relies on the ground game to set up other aspects of the attack. Clemson possesses arguably the best defensive line in the nation. The battle between Miami’s rushing attack and Clemson’s defensive front could define Saturday’s outcome.

If the Tigers force Miami into a one-dimensional game plan, the Tigers can relentlessly pursue King and force him into mistakes. Breaking the backbone of Miami’s offense is the clearest path to victory for Clemson football, but it won’t be easy