What We Learned From Clemson's Top-10 Win Over Miami
Ho-hum, another huge, easy win for No. 1 Clemson. Or was it?
The Tigers rolled then-No. 7 Miami 42-17 on Saturday night in what could only be classified as a one-sided contest, yet Dabo Swinney's squad still didn't play their best football.
The defensive game plan and execution was masterful. Sure, Miami hit a couple of big plays, but Clemson coaches knew that was going to happen. Holding that high-scoring attack to 10 points while using a ton of young players who hadn't been asked to perform on that kind of stage yet was more than impressive.
The Clemson offense was once again about its stars: Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence. The backfield duo combined for six touchdowns. Etienne went off for 222 total yards, and Lawrence nearly reached 300 passing yards.
Special teams, well, weren't very special. More on that in a moment. So Clemson isn't perfect. It's still undefeated and has the best win of the season among the top national-title contenders in college football.
Here's what else was learned from the top-10 victory over the Hurricanes:
Miami isn't overrated; Clemson is good
The game wasn't even over yet and the same old narrative came out: ACC sucks. Another overrated team bows to Clemson. The Tigers don't play anybody.
Is all of that true? To a certain extent, one could make valid arguments for those points, but if you truly watch football and paid attention to this Clemson-Miami game, you should understand that the Hurricanes aren't a bad team.
Clemson is just that good. The numbers speak for themselves. The Tigers have won 13 consecutive games against ranked ACC teams. Have all of them been overrated? Probably not. This is just what Clemson football does.
And in this particular game, Miami, like every team out there, had flaws that were exposed. They couldn't pass protect well so defensive coordinator Brent Venables sent blitz after blitz to rattle and neutralize dynamic QB D'Eriq King. The middle of the field was an issue defensively, and after an injury and an ejection, the Hurricanes had no depth to stop Etienne. That's called good coaching and execution by Clemson. Its stars were just better. It doesn't mean Miami doesn't have any. Give Clemson credit.
Venables trusts his corners
Speaking of all those blitzes, this is one strategy that some people didn't see coming (raises hand). Honestly, who would've thought the Tigers would send the house nearly every play in the first half? It sounded like death by the big play. If King gets rid of the ball and connects down the field, hello Miami points.
But that didn't happen because of one major lesson learned: Venables believes in his cornerbacks. And it's not that he shouldn't, but in big-time college football, many games are decided by outside receivers making deep-ball catches. Miami's longest pass play (42 yards) came on a trick play that started King out at receiver.
As for the rest of the game, Miami tried to hit big plays in one-on-one matchups, especially after they realized how much pressure the Tigers were bringing, but Derion Kendrick, Andrew Booth, Mario Goodrich and Sheridan Jones simply weren't having it. They weren't getting beat. They were the ones making plays on the ball, combining for two of Clemson's three interceptions and three of the six pass breakups.
Etienne looks like the best player in America
There aren't enough words anymore to describe Etienne's greatness. Simply put: He looks like the best player in all of college football. Miami's defense isn't garbage. It probably isn't great either, but he made them look like a Pee Wee league team (no offense to Pee Wee teams out there). His 72-yard TD run was a thing of beauty.
He refuses to be tackled on the first hit. He's as versatile as any back out there. His ability turn third-and-12s into 16 yards gains catching out of the backfield is almost an unfair advantage. Etienne can pass block. He could probably be one of the top returners in the country if given the opportunity enough.
Saturday night, he was the best player on the field, and that's with Lawrence, the presumed No. 1 pick, scoring four total touchdowns. Yes, both help makes the other better and open up big-play opportunities for each other, but don't take a single Etienne touch for granted. There just aren't many players built like him nationally or maybe ever.
Real special teams issue
Clemson has some serious work to do in field-goal protection. You just can't rationalize having not one, not two but three field goals blocked in the same game. If this were the NFL, the special teams coach would be fired Monday. College football is a little different and Danny Pearman shouldn't be let go. That's not the point.
But there should be some serious heart-to-heart conversations about what went wrong. Good teams like Ohio State and Alabama are going to pick the film apart, just like Clemson's coaches will, to find ways to make that happen in potential meetings down the road. It's explicable. Swinney can take all the blame he wants, and rightfully so, for attempting a 61-yarder at the end of the half where of the three things that can occur, two are bad. But the reality is this is a major issue that could cost the Tigers a shot at the national championship if it isn't fixed. This time, they got away with it, but it has to be a major wake-up call.
Galloway is a problem
Tiger Nation has been waiting for years to see three touchdown passes to tight ends. It happened against Miami because offensive coordinator Tony Elliott finally deployed what everyone was waiting on.
Clemson got creative with Braden Galloway, using the tight-end slip screen like they used against Miami in 2015 to score his first touchdown. Then they went NFL style with motioning Galloway from one side of the line to the other only to bring him back across the field on a shallow route that left him wide open for an easy touchdown after the catch on his second score.
Good luck, opposing defensive coordinators. Now that you've got film on that, what do you take away?