Sunday, December 3, 2017

No. 1 Clemson 38, No. 7 MiamI (FL) 3: Tigers beat up Canes' title hopes

                                            Photo Credit: Bob Donnan- USA TODAY Sports

By: Jeff Hauser
Twitter: @radiohauser

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— The hype of the ACC Championship started off at fever pitch and died off shortly after kickoff. Nobody could’ve predicted the top team in nation would have rolled a one-loss, top ten Miami team in a shutout, but Clemson did in a dominating 38-3 win over the Hurricanes.

The No. 1 Tigers (12-1) entered Saturday’s conference championship controlling the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings and there’s no debate they’ll stay atop come tomorrow’s final poll. Clemson’s run for a back-to-back title defense started out smoother than many expected with a 21-point lead in the first quarter, setting an ACC Championship record for the biggest lead to open a game. 

Clemson’s Kelly Bryant looked near perfect distributing the ball in his first conference championship game, completing his first 15 passes and finished going 23-of-29 with 252 yards. He had two total touchdowns— an 11-yard touchdown run at 3:02 in the first quarter along with a 27-yard strike to Deon Cain with a minute left in the third quarter. Bryant exited the game following the score that put the Tigers up 38-0. 

The four rushing touchdowns all by different Clemson players (Travis Etienne, Bryant, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster) set an ACC record for the most in a title game. The Tigers battered the Hurricanes with 321 yards of total offense and 231 of those came in the first half alone. 

Miami struggled to find consistency on both sides of the ball, being held to the least amount of points since Oct. 24, 2015— a 58-0 shutout vs. then-No. 6 Clemson. In the past three contests dating back to 2010, Clemson has outscored Miami by a combined 117-33. The Canes, once defeated at 10-0, came into the contest averaged 31.9 points per game this season and have now dropped two-in-a-row to end the season with an 11-2 record. 

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in the postgame celebration it was a long time since going to a Sugar Bowl or even visiting New Orleans, but shouted to Tigers fans, “Get ready Sugar Bowl. Here we come.” This marks Clemson’s third straight ACC Championship win and a total of four since Swinney took over in 2009— A huge cause for celebration. The consecutive titles ties Florida State’s ACC record mark set from 2012-14. 

When asked in postgame about being in the Playoff and feeling like defending champs, Swinney responded by saying, “No, we’re the attacking champs.” 

“We’re attacking for another one. That’s been our mindset all year. We’re not defending anything. I mean, like I said earlier in the year, if we had the same team back, but we’ve got a different team. We’re attacking to try to go win another one.” 

The championship returns to Charlotte following a one-year hiatus to Orlando, due to North Carolina’s controversial HB-2 law that limited protections for LGTBQ people. The law was repealed under newly-elected governor Roy Cooper, paving the way for the Atlantic Coast Conference to bring the game back to Charlotte. A positive response with Bank of America Stadium hosting a sellout crowd of 74,372 people, the second highest in ACC title game history.

Clemson moves on with the final College Football Playoff rankings coming Sunday (Noon ET), and will be joined by Big 12 Champion Oklahoma (12-1), SEC Champion Georgia (12-1) and the fourth Playoff spot up to a committee decision with Big Ten Champion Ohio State (10-2) or Alabama (11-1).