After a week of nursing their wounds and resting their tired limbs, the Clemson Tigers will be at it again in an early yet anticipated noon game as they host the Miami Hurricanes in Death Valley.
Miami has the best momentum, coming off big wins, while Clemson hopes to make up ground for the crushing overtime defeat on the road against Auburn.
The last three meetings between these teams have all been decided in OT; however, there are several key factors that can give Clemson a much-needed win and allow them room in the Atlantic Division.
1. QB Shootout: Kyle Parker vs. Jacory Harris
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker proved his toughness two weeks ago against Auburn, playing with bruised ribs and gaining respect from everyone not in a Clemson jersey.
Parker has managed to pick up where he left off last season and has become one of the leaders of the Clemson offense. He possesses NFL arm strength and is a threat to take off and run. Don't let his size (6'0") fool you; his size does no justice to his playmaking ability. He's a tough cookie that can beat you throwing and isn't a bad runner either.
Parker is slated to play on Saturday against Miami, and you can bet Miami is looking to light the quarterback up yet again. The key is for Parker not to put too much pressure on himself or his receivers. This is not likely to be too big a problem when you have a running back duo like Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, who are surely looking to get a W after Auburn eluded their grasp.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris is a different kind of quarterback. He is a tall quarterback at 6'4". Harris may not possess the threat of a running quarterback, but he possesses the arm strength to extend and beat any secondary in his way. He is an ideal NFL pro-style quarterback, as he possesses ideal height and the necessary arm strength.
What Harris has struggled with throughout his time as the full-fledged starter has been his habit of needlessly throwing unnecessary interceptions. Harris threw four interceptions in Miami's loss to Ohio State and even threw two interceptions in their Thursday night win over Pittsburgh. Harris cannot afford to throw needlessly with a secondary like Clemson's, and Miami will look to establish the run early, followed up with the play-action pass.
2. Pressure Defenses
Clemson has been touted as having among the best and most developed defensive lines in the ACC and in the entire nation. Defensive ends DaQuan Bowers and Andre Branch, along with key rotations by Malliciah Goodman and Kourtnei Brown, will be sure to give Miami's offensive line plenty to worry about on the edge rush.
The interior is just as strong, with the dynamic duo of Brandon Thompson and Jarvis Jenkins to disrupt the inside and crush Miami's running game. Bowers and the defensive line look to make a strong stand here in Death Valley. Pressure from the Clemson defense will be a perfect ingredient for a Harris interception by the deep and talented Clemson secondary.
Miami has had a defensive resurgence the last couple of games, with one of the main culprits being linebacker Sean Spence. Miami also boasts a talented front four and is sure to throw an array of looks at Parker and offense.
Look for Miami to challenge guard Mason Cloy, who will start in place of the injured David Smith, as well as tackle Landon Walker, as Clemson does not chip block off the edge very often, nor does it always hold double teams on the edge.
3. Running Game
The world of football today has become more and more interested in the passing game. The spread offense is an example of just that. However, the game is, and always will be, largely influenced by the battle in the trenches. Dabo Swinney has preached for more physicality from his Clemson football game, and he got physicality from them in the Auburn game. Now, they must bring it home to Death Valley at high noon.
The running game has gotten off to a good start, with the "New Storm" of Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, who was the biggest surprise of last season, next to Kyle Parker. Ellington now leads the team rushing with four touchdowns and an average of 7.4 yards per carry to go along with 273 yards. Harper follows close behind with 154 yards, one touchdown, and an average of 5.0 yards per carry.
Establishing the run against the Hurricane defense will take pressure off Parker and the receivers and allow the pass to open up soon. Ellington and Harper running behind Chad Diehl will be tough to stop; Miami is up to the challenge, as it held Pittsburgh's star back to under 50 yards.
Miami has had a struggling ground game the first three games, ranking 85th in running the ball. Miami will look to establish the run early and often against a physical defense that has had its recent struggles against the run. The main carriers look to be Damien Berry and Lamar Miller. The linebackers must make their stand and prove they are able to provide better run support in the front seven.
Whatever the results or X-factors may be, we can be sure of this: There shall be no overtime to decide the victor of this high noon battle in Death Valley.