In two short weeks, the Miami Hurricanes have played their way from national championship contention to having a marginal shot at a BCS bowl game.
Clemson’s Reggie Merriweather ran for a career-high 114 yards and scored three second-half touchdowns as the Tigers (5-4, 4-3) upset the No. 10 Hurricanes (6-2, 3-2) 24-17 in overtime Saturday at the Orange Bowl.
Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst went 21-for-37 for 258 yards as the Tigers came back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to shock the ‘Canes.
Running back Frank Gore led Miami with 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but he was held to only 22 yards on the ground in the second half and overtime. Brock Berlin completed 22 of 46 passes for 245 yards for the Hurricanes.
Miami Head Coach Larry Coker said that there weren’t any specific reasons why Clemson scored 21 unanswered points in the second half and overtime.
“As I told our team, in the second half they made plays and we didn’t make plays,” Coker said. “I think it’s about as simple as that. They did what they had to do to win the game. It was a team loss on offense, defense and special teams.”
The Hurricanes looked like a national championship-caliber team in the first quarter, as Gore scored a 23-yard touchdown on the fifth play of their first offensive possession to take an early 7-0 lead. After a Clemson three-and-out, Miami mounted a 13 play, 49-yard drive resulting in a 35-yard Jon Peattie field goal to make the score 10-0.
Hoping to not let the game get out of hand early on, Clemson marched down the field on its next possession, as Whitehurst completed an 11-yard pass to Curtis Baham and a 22-yard strike to ACC-leading receiver Airese Currie. Jad Dean finished off the drive with a 48-yard field goal to put the Tigers within a touchdown.
Both offenses stalled until late in the second quarter, when the Hurricanes got the ball with 1:47 left. Berlin executed a crisp two-minute offense, connecting with Gore for 13 yards and Akieem Jolla for 14 yards. Gore got into the end zone for the second time with 0:19 left to give Miami a 17-3 halftime lead.
Clemson came out in the second half with reckless abandon, as Merriweather scored a 27-yard touchdown on the Tigers’ second possession of the half to cut their deficit to seven points. Miami was driving on its next possession but couldn’t move the ball past Clemson’s 39-yard line and was forced to punt.
After both teams traded punts, Clemson got the ball at midfield and took advantage of its field position, as Whitehurst hit Merriweather for 15 yards and Currie for 14 yards to get the Tigers in field goal range. It appeared that Clemson would have to settle for three points, but Head Coach Tommy Bowden rolled the dice and went for a fake field goal, and Dean scampered to the one-yard line to set up a first-and-goal for the Tigers. Merriweather dove into the end zone on the next play to tie the score.
Clemson had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Dean’s 44-yard field goal attempt missed wide left. Miami also had the ball in Tiger territory but wasn’t able to capitalize, sending the game into overtime.
The Tigers got the ball first in overtime, and a Kelly Jennings pass interference gave them a first down at Miami’s 11-yard line. Three plays later, Merriweather scored his third touchdown from two yards out to give Clemson a 24-17 lead.
Berlin completed a 20-yard pass to Roscoe Parrish to set up a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. After a five-yard run from Tyrone Moss, Berlin threw two incomplete passes and the Hurricanes were left with one play to tie the score. Berlin’s fourth-down pass to Lance Leggett fell incomplete, and the Tigers pulled off the dramatic victory.
The loss leaves the Hurricanes in an unfamiliar position. Coker said that the team will have to start from scratch after two tough losses.
“This will really test us because we haven’t lost a lot and now we’ve lost back-to-back games,” Coker said. “This will really put a test to our football team’s character and I think we’ll respond.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.