Clemson vs. Miami score: Tigers dominate Hurricanes for ACC title, likely playoff spot
The Tigers won the ACC crown for the third consecutive year and fourth time under Dabo Swinney
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the third year in a row, Clemson is headed to the College Football Playoff as the ACC champion.
Clemson's total dominance of Miami in a 38-3 victory likely cemented the Tigers' status as the No. 1 team in the country heading into the playoff, and on Sunday, they'll find out their opponent for the national semifinals on Jan. 1 in either New Orleans or Pasadena.
"I've loved this team as much as any team I've been around because they refused to buy the narrative. They played their best game on the biggest stage tonight," Swinney said after the win. "This is awesome. Our defensive line set the tempo, we made great plays on balls down the field. Everybody talks about Miami and the turnovers, but tonight we were at our best."
The fourth conference title of the Dabo Swinney era came with less fanfare than the other three. In 2011, the crown was a breakthrough moment for the program as its first in two decades. In 2015, the Tigers held a pizza party as undefeated conference champions and the 2016 campaign was a revenge-and-redemption tale after falling short against Alabama the year before.
The celebration was still magnificent, but after winning a couple ACC crowns and a CFP title, this has become a program that no longer views the first weekend in December as the top of the mountain. There are 23 players on Clemson's roster that have played in each of the past three ACC Championship Games, and they know after two 14-1 seasons that there's more work to be done after game No. 13.
A few things to know about Clemson's blowout:
1. A healthy Miami offense would have made this a different game. The Hurricanes were down two of their top three pass catchers (tight end Chris Herndon, wide receiver Ahmmon Richards) and once Clemson gained leverage in the game with an early lead, it was hard to imagine a big comeback from this limited group.
But the way Miami responded did keep the Hurricanes in the game. Clemson started the game hot with 214 yards and three touchdowns on their first four offensive possessions of the game, but Miami's defense bottled up the Tigers after that initial wave. Even as Clemson got to start multiple drives in Miami territory, the Hurricanes came up with stops and put the ball back in Malik Rosier's hands. If Rosier had all of his weapons, you have to imagine this game would have played out differently.
2. The Tigers are built for sustained excellence. This is not only a program that expects to win ACC titles, but one that looks like it will continue to do so for years to come. There are only six senior scholarship players on this team -- the smallest senior class since 1944 -- and while there are certainly a handful of players who will have opportunities to leave early to pursue a professional career in the NFL Draft, this latest victory also showcased the next wave of superstars who will be competing for conference and national championships in 2018 and 2019.
3. Kelly Bryant is the final piece who makes this team capable of capturing the success of the Deshaun Watson era. Dabo Swinney first saw Kelly Bryant in high school when the star quarterback was playing against one of Swinney's sons. One game was all he needed to be sold, and he has made it clear that Kelly Bryant was not recruited to be like Watson. "I recruited him to be Kelly Bryant," Swinney said this week.
"Nobody has had more pressure on them than Kelly Bryant, nobody. I mean, he wasn't even supposed to be the guy. He was supposed to be playing another position. If you listen to everything that's written or said or whatever," Swinney said. "But this kid has put his blinders on and he's stayed focused and he's had an incredible belief in himself."
Bryant actually broke Watson's ACC Championship Game record for consecutive completions when he started the game 15 for 15, and his mastery of this offense is as impressive as Watson's during the past two College Football Playoff runs. Bryant brings different skills to the table and the offense doesn't run the same plays, but his control and confidence with the up-tempo attack has improved so much from the first week of the season that it's hard to remember when anyone wondered if Clemson's offense was going to be a liability.
So a team that was set to ride on its strength in the trenches and an elite defense now has a quarterback who is playing at a level high enough to go win a CFP title. Bryant doesn't have to be Watson, but given his recent play, he has a chance to accomplish everything Watson did a year ago.
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