Quarterback Advantage: Even
Jacory Harris had his ups and downs in the Thursday night game against Pittsburgh. He threw two interceptions on two deep corner routes where he didn’t lead Travis Benjamin enough to keep the ball away from the defender, albeit Benjamin could’ve made a better effort to keep the ball away from the defender on both plays. He was successful on a couple of passes that went over the top of the defense: one to Benjamin in the early going and one to Leonard Hankerson in the end zone, but he certainly seemed to be a lot more effective when he was throwing short and intermediate routes to his receivers where he connected with Laron Byrd quite often. Harris still has the glaring weakness of locking onto receivers instead of looking them off to draw the coverage away. It appeared as if after he hit Benjamin on the early deep ball, he fell in love with trying to find him for big plays and the Pitt defense was able to adjust. Harris must make better reads and be less predictable with his throws when the Clemson faithful gets rowdy for third downs as Clemson ball-hawking safety DeAndre McDaniel, who picked Harris off twice in last year’s meeting, will be salivating at the mouth to collect some more interceptions.
Clemson’s response for Harris at quarterback is sophomore and baseball star Kyle Parker. Parker played well the last time he was out on the field in that overtime loss to Auburn going without an interception while completing 20 of 34 passes for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s important that Miami gets a solid pass rush on him as he’s already a little nicked up with bruised ribs after taking a bunch of hits in that game against Auburn. Parker has proven he can run this explosive offense effectively despite losing last year’s two primary offensive weapons in C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, whom he threw the overtime touchdown to in the 40-37 overtime Clemson win in Miami Gardens last year. This year his favorite target is his tight end Dwayne Allen. Parker doesn’t match Harris’ big passing numbers because the Tigers run the ball much more than the Canes do, but he’s much more efficient throwing the same number of touchdowns (6) while only throwing one interception. With Parker playing hurt and the Clemson offensive line shuffling some parts for this meeting, however, it’ll be interesting to see how effective he’ll be and how much the play calling changes. We probably won’t see an abundance of long-developing pass plays since one big hit from Allen Bailey can finish Parker for the game.
Running Backs Advantage: Clemson
Miami is just as talented, if not more talented, at the running back position than Clemson is, but the Canes simply do not utilize them and run the football nearly as much. I personally would love to see offensive coordinator Mark Whipple get both Damien Berry and Lamar Miller about 12-15 carries a game with the senior Berry always getting a few more touches between the two. They complement each other extremely well as Berry is a physical running back that makes the opposing defense work to get him down and wears them down throughout the course of a game. If the speedy Miller could work himself into games more as a change of pace back to him, it would be a combination that would cause a lot of headaches for defensive coordinators in the ACC. As it stands now, Berry gets about twice as many carries. It is unknown if Graig Cooper will begin working his way back in this week. Head coach Randy Shannon says he’s making progress but does not commit to saying he’ll get playing time. A good guess would be that he comes back for the next home game against Florida State, a hated rival who he devoured last season for their meeting in Tallahassee.
Clemson football can no longer rely on last year’s Heisman finalist C.J. Spiller in their backfield who now plays for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The Canes are relieved at the fact they won’t see Spiller on Saturday, but it’ll be a short-lived notion when they see the two running backs Clemson features in this year’s offense. Andre Ellington leads the charge for the Tigers garnering 273 yards on only 37 carries this season—that’s an average of 7.4 per carry. He’s also scored four touchdowns on the year. Ellington weighs in at only 180 lbs. but can alter the course of a game in one play with his blazing speed. Junior Jamie Harper is the back they like to use in conjunction with Ellington. Harper, and his average of exactly 5 yards a carry, is more of a bruising running back who likes to play between the tackles. He outweighs Ellington by 50 lbs and has also caught three touchdowns out of the backfield. This is a tandem that is difficult to contain over the course of 60 minutes of football.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends Advantage: Miami (FL)
Miami’s wide-outs continue to impress. Both Leonard Hankerson and Travis Benjamin caught touchdowns against Pittsburgh while Laron Byrd chipped in catching six passes for 69 yards. The Cane receivers get open at will in the short and intermediate passing game. This offense sort of built an identity beginning last year as a team that wants to throw the ball deep and defenses have been adjusting to it. Now these receivers can get whatever they want underneath and need to establish those types of passes first, in addition to the running game, before they can set up the deep balls and big plays down the field. Everyone knew coming into the season that tight end would be a weak position for this team. While Richard Gordon is an excellent blocking tight end, he lacks any kind of receiving threat. Last week, Jacory Harris tried to get the ball to him a couple times early and he ended up dropping a couple of passes. Chase Ford has the potential to become a solid receiving option with his 6’6” frame, but he hasn’t done much to prove it yet with only two catches and at least as many drops.
Kyle Parker can no longer throw to the man that killed the Hurricanes hopes of an ACC Championship a year ago with his overtime touchdown in Jacoby Ford who was a senior last season. Clemson doesn’t have many receiving threats on the outside. Parker’s favorite target is Dwayne Allen—the 6’4” sophomore tight end who has 8 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown on the season. The next two targets Parker has connected with most often are his two explosive running backs in Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. Aside from that, he has found a bit of a comfort level with freshman wide receiver Bryce McNeal. The Clemson passing attack is predicated on short passes to a variety of receivers as they like to spread the ball around, especially down by the goal line where four different receivers have caught touchdowns.
Offensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
The left side of the Miami offensive line has done nothing but impress thus far. Senior Orlando Franklin has made a seamless transition from guard to tackle and Brandon Washington has been very dependable at left guard. A far less seamless transition from guard to tackle has been made by Joel Figueroa. Figueroa has proven he lacks the foot speed and technique to protect against speedy pass rushers on the outside. This week Figueroa has been moved back to guard in practice where it appears he’ll work in with Harland Gunn. Star freshman Seantrel Henderson has been getting first team reps in practice this week. It appears he’ll be working along with Jermaine Johnson at that right tackle position to replace Figueroa, who gave up the sack against Pittsburgh that temporarily knocked Jacory Harris out of the game. Henderson will continue to get the primary reps in short yardage situations as his big body creates gaping holes for the UM running backs. This seems to be a move for the better and I expect to see a dominant offensive line on Saturday who will face the task of stopping Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.
Clemson has a decent offensive line of their own. It’s an experienced and big group with all five starters being upperclassmen and 300-pounders with the exception of sophomore center Dalton Freeman (who is neither). Their run blocking abilities are evident in the success Ellington and Harper have had on the ground and they have only allowed two sacks on Kyle Parker. Despite only giving up one sack two weeks ago against Auburn, they still let their quarterback get hit a lot in that game—enough that Parker has been banged up throughout their bye week and this past week of practice. It’s arguable that this offensive line is not such a great pass blocking group, but their sack numbers are so low only because they like to get the ball out of Parker’s hands quickly with the short passes. The Tigers line will also be shuffling a bit this week trying to replace starting left guard David Smith who is reportedly out for Saturday’s game.
Defensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
The Canes’ defensive line continues to impress. Last time we saw them they stuffed all the running lanes against preseason Heisman hopeful Dion Lewis and got plenty of pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri. Speedy pass rusher Andrew Smith recorded a couple of sacks replacing the injured Marcus Robinson and really highlighted the Miami pass rush and displayed the depth the Canes have at this position. The team recorded 5 sacks and 9 tackles for losses. The Miami defense leads the nation in tackles for losses and is the guys up front are the primary reason why they’re the top defense in the ACC at the moment. Kyle Parker will have a huge target on him in the pocket as the game plan for this defense, once they get the Tigers in passing situations will be to pin their ears back and hit Parker. It’s a well-known fact that he’s coming into the game nicked up, but the Canes aren’t looking to hurt him or take him out of the game, says Olivier Vernon, they just want to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, get sacks, and force turnovers.
Clemson possesses an impressive defensive line of their own. They’re headed by junior Da’Quan Bowers who was ranked by ESPN as the top recruiting prospect in the 2008 draft class. Bowers is a game changer and can wreak havoc if he’s not constantly double teamed. Expect to see Richard Gordon lined up in front of him on several plays to help out with the blocking of Bowers. He’s complemented on the weak side of this defensive line by a player who flew much lower under the radar coming out of high school in 2007 in redshirt junior Andre Branch. Both Branch and Bowers have collected three sacks thus far this season.
Secondary Advantage: Clemson
Sean Spence has become a leader for this defense on this linebacking corps. He’s been having monster games every week flirting with double-digit tackles from the weakside outside linebacker spot every time he steps out onto the field. He also leads the team in tackles for losses and has simply been around the ball on virtually every play. Although the defense is usually swarming to the ball and gang-tackling, the team is much improved in its open-field tackling due mostly to the efforts of Spence and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. The DB’s did an excellent job of locking down the Pitt passing attack, although they never really had to cover for an extended period of time as the Miami pass rush was in the Pitt backfield almost immediately on every passing play. Ryan Hill got the start opposite of Brandon Harris at cornerback and was matched up against the tall and talented Jon Baldwin of Pitt. The bigger and more physical cornerback, Hill, did an excellent job on Baldwin holding him to only 3 catches for 26 yards. Seniors Hill and Demarcus Van Dyke both intercepted Pittsburgh passes in the 4th quarter of the Thursday nighter. Hill will likely get rewarded with another start on Saturday. The Miami secondary knows Kyle Parker will be trying to get rid of the ball in a hurry so expect them to try and jump the first move of these Clemson receivers on Parker’s three-step drops in order to get their hands on some passes. The linebackers will have to step their game up defending Parker’s favorite target Dwayne Allen as the U has had difficulties stopping tight ends in recent memory.
Jacory Harris and the Miami offense will face a Clemson secondary that picked him off three times last time they met. This secondary is led of course by ball-hawking safety DeAndre McDaniel who contributed two of those three interceptions including one that he returned for a touchdown. McDaniel gave the Canes some bulletin board material this week saying that in watching film on them throughout the bye week he doesn’t think their offense has changed much since last year when Clemson beat Miami. In other words, McDaniel doesn’t feel the Canes have improved much since then. The Tigers sport two seniors at cornerback in Byron Maxwell and Marcus Gilchrist. This is a dangerous Clemson secondary and Jacory Harris better be cautious when trying to lob the ball into coverage as he so often does.
Special Teams Advantage: Miami (FL)
Kicking and punting duties, as well as tackling duties on long returns, will of course be handled by the do-it-all man with the golden foot, senior Matt Bosher. The Canes also have an electric return game with two of the fastest men in college football, Travis Benjamin and Lamar Miller, return kicks and punts respectively. Miami’s kick and punt coverage has been excellent so far giving opponents poor starting field position. Redshirt freshman Chandler Cantanzaro handles the kicking duties and junior Dawson Zimmerman does the punting for Clemson. Senior corner Marcus Gilchrist, who runs a 4.4 in the 40, returns both kicks and punts for the Tigers.
Coaching Advantage: Clemson
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney got the better of Randy Shannon in last year’s meeting as he and his staff were celebrating on the turf at Sun Life Stadium (then known as LandShark Stadium) when the Tigers defeated then #9 Miami in an overtime thriller. Swinney, like Shannon, is a premier recruiter in the college football ranks. A side story going into this contest is how this is a matchup between what many ranked as the top two recruiting classes in 2008—all of which are currently juniors and redshirt sophomores. The Hurricanes didn’t appear very prepared to play Clemson in last year’s meeting, and Shannon and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple got in a bit of heated discussion over some of the play calling and clock management. On defense, Shannon and defensive coordinator John Lovett found their players mismatched against C.J. Spiller constantly. They better do a better job in preparation for how Coach Swinney will look to exploit mismatches come Saturday.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com.