No. 1 Clemson (4-0, 3-0 ACC) affirmed its spot not only as the class of the conference and all of college football at this early stage of the season with a 42-17 win against No. 7 Miami on Saturday night in Death Valley. In what was only the 17th meeting between top-10 teams in ACC history, the Tigers clearly defined the line in the sand between themselves and the latest contenders for the crown. The Hurricanes didn't play particularly well on a soggy night under the lights, but whether it was the stage or the opponent doesn't matter because Clemson was able to overcome its own errors on the way to a wire-to-wire victory.
There were penalties, turnovers by both teams, special teams miscues and questionable coaching decisions, but the flaws of the game fall to the cutting room floor of the conversation, which entirely surrounds Clemson and its pursuit of a sixth-straight ACC title. The Tigers defense played its best game of the season so far, keeping Canes quarterback D'Eriq King contained and holding his offense out of the end zone for three quarters before a late touchdown snapped a touchdown-less streak for Miami that dated back to the 2010 meeting between these two teams. King was limited to just 121 yards on 12-of-28 passing with zero touchdowns and two interceptions with 84 rushing yards and a score on 14 attempts. There was a net of 28 yards on 13 attempts (five sacks included) and 56 yards on the other, which was without a doubt one of the highlight plays for Miami on the night.
Unfortunately, that long run ended in a field goal instead of a touchdown, making Clemson's touchdown-saving tackle and the ensuing defensive stand the kind of stuff that showcases the Tigers' championship form. When a team plays in so many games of this magnitude, whether in the regular season as a top-five team or in the College Football Playoff, it inherently understands the pivot points of the contest.
While Clemson's defense seemed to shut the door with a four-point swing on the defensive stand after King's run, coach Dabo Swinney left it open when he sent out BT Potter to attempt a 61-yard field goal on the last play of the second half. Miami blocked the field goal and returned it for a touchdown, cutting Clemson's halftime lead from 18 to 11 points.
Swinney took blame for the decision in an interview with ESPN heading into the locker room, but that was one of three field goal blocks on the night for Miami. Those blocks, combined with a Trevor Lawrence fumble, helped keep the Canes from seeing this game get out hand as the Tigers were otherwise able to execute their gameplan on both sides of the ball effectively.
Lawrence finished 29 of 42 for 292 yards passing with three touchdowns (his 17th such game for the Tigers) along with 34 yards rushing and another score. Star running back Travis Etienne was phenomenal all night, serving as Clemson's leading rusher and receiver, totalling 25 touches for 222 total yards and two TDs.
While Clemson gets to maintain its No. 1 ranking in the polls and top spot in the 15-team, one-division ACC standings, Miami now faces a tough road to a rematch with the defending champions in Charlotte. The Canes will be battling with Notre Dame and North Carolina to finish in one of the top two spots in the conference standings and need head-to-head wins against those teams to be able to overcome this early season loss.
1. Brevin Jordan's status will be of much interest to Miami: Jordan is King's most reliable target through the passing game and a future NFL talent at tight end. He left the game in the second half and was taken to the locker room with a shoulder injury. The program initially ruled him as unlikely to return, but after the game, coach Manny Diaz said that initial exams pointed to the injury being "not too bad" and Jordan himself said he expects to play in the Canes' next game against Pitt in Week 7. But that was in the heat of the moment after the game, so stay tuned to Miami's availability after Jordan gets a night's rest and tries to see how things feel during the week.
2. Miami has to improve its passing attack to have a chance in a potential rematch: Clemson's game plan against Miami's up-tempo offense was fantastic. The defense kept King contained and the secondary consistently tight with Miami's receivers, stepping up with big-time plays on the interceptions right when Miami finally some momentum in the game. But as much as you want to give credit to Clemson's game plan and its cornerbacks for holding their own, there also needs to be concern about the Hurricanes' receivers and the effectiveness of the passing attack. Not every team has the coaching and talent of Clemson, but certainly every opponent that Miami faces will try to do what the Tigers did and make King beat them down the field from inside the pocket.
3. Clemson's two-quarterback set is just mean: The Tigers have an offensive set that features DJ Uiagalelei, the five-star freshman backup quarterback, in the shotgun with Lawrence, the future first round NFL Draft pick, lined up out at wide receiver. It's a Wildcat-type set, only instead of a running back with limited passing ability getting the snap it's the future of the Clemson passing attack. Uiagalelei ran it as a keeper for a 14-yard gain here on this play, but don't think this wasn't put on tape to drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy thinking about the potential wrinkles that might involve both quarterbacks.