Clemson finally gave Dabo Swinney a signature victory. And after four long years, C.J. Spiller finally delivered an epic performance befitting his talents.
The Tigers' 40-37 overtime road upset of No. 8 Miami on Saturday has multiple ramifications. It moves Clemson (4-3, 3-2 ACC) into a tie with Boston College (whom the Tigers previously beat) for first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division. And the combination of the Hurricanes' second conference loss with Georgia Tech's 34-9 win over Virginia suddenly puts the Yellow Jackets (7-1, 5-1 ACC) in control of the league's previously jumbled Coastal Division.
And maybe, just maybe it will get Spiller -- whose school flooded media members with life-size posters of the running back over the summer -- back into a Heisman conversation to which he's made sporadic contributions over the past four years.
Spiller was sensational Saturday, racking up a school-record 310 all-purpose yards (104 receiving, 81 rushing, 125 on kick returns). His 90-yard kick-return touchdown gave Clemson a 14-10 halftime lead. His 56-yard third-quarter touchdown catch allowed the Tigers to reclaim the lead, 21-17. He added a weaving 48-yard run in the fourth quarter, then caught a key third-down slant pass on the Tigers' last-minute game-tying drive.
Spiller was far from Clemson's lone standout, however. Despite what the score might indicate, the game featured numerous big defensive plays, highlighted by DeAndre McDaniel's two interceptions (one of them a pick-six) of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. And quarterback Kyle Parker weathered two turnovers (including a fumble the 'Canes returned for a touchdown) to throw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, most notably his last. Facing third-and-11 at the Miami 26 in overtime and needing a field goal to keep the game alive, Parker ended the suspense by throwing a strike over the middle to receiver Jacoby Ford, who shook loose a tackler and dashed to the end zone.
Swinney, whose team overcame his own questionable clock-management at the end of regulation (Clemson wasted at least 15 seconds before settling for a tying field goal), jumped around the field like a jubilant kid afterward, and understandably so. The Tigers' familiarly up-and-down season to date had many wondering whether anything's really changed at Clemson since the Tommy Bowden era.
Looking back, it's amazing to think just how close the Tigers are right now to having a much better record. Their three losses have come by a combined 10 points. They rallied from a 24-7 deficit at Georgia Tech only to lose on a last-minute field goal. They missed two late field goals of their own in a 24-21 loss to woeful Maryland. And they failed to score on two fourth quarter red-zone tries in a 14-10 loss to a top 10 TCU team.
Finally, on Saturday, a close one went the Tigers' way. Now with three conference games remaining (Florida State, at NC State and Virginia), they've put themselves in position to capture the division title that perennially eluded Bowden. If Swinney can pull that off in his first full season, they might throw a parade for him at Clemson.