No. 1 Clemson brushes off latest ACC challenger for the top

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has seen this so many times before: A rising, well-hyped Atlantic Coast Conference challenger eager for the chance to take down the top-rated Tigers.

He’s also familiar with how these matchups typically turn out.

It happened once more Saturday night with No. 1 Clemson (4-0, 3-0 ACC) suffocating then-seventh-ranked Miami, 42-17.

“This was a big, big challenge coming,” Swinney said. “You learn from everything you saw in it for sure, but this will make us better.”

No one’s been more dominant and decisive in such showdowns than the Tigers. They’ve been involved in four of the past five Top-10 meetings between ACC teams since Clemson’s run of five straight league titles began in 2015 — and won all four.

In that same span, an undefeated Clemson has faced an undefeated league opponent four times at Death Valley. Again, the Tigers have come out on top each time.

Clemson is on course for its sixth consecutive ACC championship and sixth appearance in a row in the College Football Playoff.

This latest victory is even sweeter, Swinney believes, in the face of global pandemic. The coach said his team, tested for COVID-19 three times a week, has not had any positives for five straight tests. That’s a testament to their discipline and desire to continue playing at the high level they have.

They showed that early against Miami (3-1, 2-1), which dropped six spots in the rankings to No. 13. The Hurricanes entered leading the ACC in yards per game yet was held without an offensive touchdown until the final quarter. Clemson’s offense scored on its first two possessions with a pair of long touchdown drives and the Hurricanes could not catch up.

There were certainly moments of concern where Miami gave Clemson some worries with three blocked field goals, including one off an ill-advised, Swinney-led decision to go for a 61-yard kick 3 seconds before halftime that turned into runback score by Hurricanes’ DJ Ivey.

Yet, in the end, it was Clemson’s established playmakers in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne that proved too much for Miami’s offense. Lawrence threw for three scores and ran for a fourth. Etienne had 149 yards rushing and two TDs, including a 72-yard romp down the sidelines in the third quarter that largely sealed things.

“The guys are doing everything they can to have the opportunity to play, so to have that experience for them, that environment for them, is a blessing,” Swinney said. “Good teams keep working to get better and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Clemson, which had allowed 417 yards a week earlier in a ho-hum win over Virginia, clamped down the Hurricanes and their dynamic offensive stars in quarterback D’Eriq King and tailback Cam’Ron Harris.

King threw for just 121 yards, was sacked five times and threw his first two interceptions of the season. Harris, who entered as the ACC rushing leader, had three yards on eight carries. The Hurricanes rushed for just 89 yards and finished with 210 yards of offense, way off their average of 499 coming in.

“It’s a tough loss, but one game doesn’t define us,” Miami safety Gilbert Frierson said. “They’re a great team, but it’s in us and on us to do what we need to get better no matter what.”

Clemson lives by that same belief. A pillar of Swinney’s national championship program is preparing the same way whether the opponent is in the Football Championship Subdivision or the College Football Playoff.

It’s something that won’t change going forward as Clemson faces future showdowns at No. 4 Notre Dame in November and the possibility of playing No. 5 North Carolina in the ACC title game.

“We still have a lot of growing together to do,” said Clemson’s longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “And tonight was a small step in doing just that.”