Miami’s undefeated run came to an end Nov. 25 when it lost to Pittsburgh 24-14, giving the Hurricanes its first loss of the season and snapping a 15-game winning streak dating back to 2016.
But UM didn’t have much time to mourn the loss. Its focus immediately shifted from staying undefeated to beating the No. 1-ranked Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship Game scheduled for an 8 p.m. start Dec. 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the Bank of America Stadium.
“They understand the magnitude of the game,” head coach Mark Richt said. “You don’t have to do a lot of motivating in a game like this. You just got to teach and make sure everyone knows what to do.”
The Hurricanes received tough news earlier in the week. Key offensive players Christopher Herndon IV and Ahmmon Richards both sustained season ending injuries.
This leaves the Hurricanes having to make up a lot of ground as they get set to play the reigning champs.
“They are really an amazing team,” Richt. “They won 42 of their last 45 games. That’s really special.”
After winning the national title last year, Clemson lost stars Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams to the NFL. Coming into this season, many were skeptical of the Tigers offense as it went through an adjustment period.
Clemson silenced the doubters with dominant performances from quarterback Kelly Bryant and receiver Deon Cain.
Bryant is No. 9 in the ACC in passing yards with 2,426 yards and has thrown 12 touchdown passes. His biggest strength, however, is his legs. As one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference, Bryant has rushed for 639 yards, which is good enough for No. 13 in the ACC among all runners, including running backs.
Cain has filled Williams’ spot nicely, becoming the No. 1 receiver for the Tigers and ranking No. 16 in the conference in receiving yards.
While Clemson has been strong offensively, its defense has been elite. Led by Dexter Lawrence, Dorian O’Daniel, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, Clemson’s front seven has wrecked havoc at the line of scrimmage.
NFL scouts have compared Lawrence to Ndamukong Suh and have said that he is a future No. 1 pick in the draft.
Ferrell and Bryant are both ranked in the top five in sacks in the conference, while O’Daniel is still in the top 15.
Clemson looks to put pressure on quarterback Malik Rosier. Miami’s offensive line will need to give him time to make plays.
“They are a very fast, violent, athletic defense,” Rosier said. “The big thing is don’t get too greedy. That’s what they live off of.”
UM’s 2017 season mirrored much of what Clemson’s season looked like in 2016
Last year, the Tigers had several close games against unranked opponents, including a 19-13 win against Auburn and a 30-24 win against Troy, but at the same time, they also steamrolled a No. 3-ranked opponent, Ohio State, 31-0. To make things even weirder, Clemson’s only loss was to Pittsburgh, just like Miami.
“We’re down here at the end of the peninsula, and we have a bit of that ‘Us against the world’ mentality,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “I think the players have always heard that. I think now the players can live what they have heard about, and I think they’ve been able to understand why the U has the type of place in college football that they do.”
The media has often discredited Miami’s wins this season, which has created an underdog mentality for the Hurricanes, one the players feel actually drives them in games.
“I feel like this team plays better when we’re angry,” senior offensive lineman Kc McDermott said. “We’ve played well in the two times people counted us down and out, and we showed them what we can do. Same thing is happening again, and we will come together as a team and we will do what we do.”