No. 1 Clemson dominates No. 7 Miami in ACC title game
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last time Dabo Swinney was in New Orleans was 25 years ago as a member of Alabama’s 1992 team that defeated Miami for the national championship.
Now he’s hoping for a repeat, but this time with a different team.
Swinney’s top-ranked Clemson Tigers rolled past No. 7 Miami 38-3 on Saturday night in the ACC Championship game, earning what is expected to be a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
“Get ready Sugar Bowl,” Swinney said. “Here we come.”
The defending national champions all but made that a certainty with a dominating performance on both sides of the ball in front of a sold-out Bank of America Stadium crowd of 74,372, the second-largest crowd in ACC Championship game history.
“I’ve enjoyed this team and this journey as much as any I’ve ever had,” Swinney said. “This group came to work with an edge. They refused to buy the narrative. And we played our best game on the biggest stage tonight.”
It was the third consecutive ACC title for Clemson (12-1), which is bidding for its third straight appearance in the national championship game.
“We’re four quarters away from playing for a national title,” Swinney said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team’s will to win, their focus and their maturity.”
Clemson junior quarterback Kelly Bryant completed 23 of 29 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a second score and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Bryant completed his first 15 passes, breaking the ACC Championship game record held by his former teammate, Deshaun Watson.
He completed passes to 11 receivers and the Tigers got rushing touchdowns from four players.
Clemson was held to a season-low 77 yards rushing, but that seemed insignificant, particularly with a defense that didn’t allow the Hurricanes (10-2) to score until a field goal with 3:29 left.
“You’re very surprised when you come out and get beat in all phases of the game,” Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “They jumped us from the beginning. We had a chance to do something more, but came up short.”
Miami’s famed “turnover chain” didn’t have an impact on the game. Clemson won the turnover margin 3-1 and scored 14 points off turnovers.
It was a rough ending for a Miami team that started the season 10-0 and was ranked as high as No. 2 before dropping its regular-season finale at Pittsburgh two weeks ago. But the Hurricanes are likely headed to the Orange Bowl.
“Before the year started if you said we were going to play in the (ACC) championship and have an opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl, I’d have been excited,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “If that’s where we’re fortunate enough to land, we’ll be excited about it.”
Clemson dominated the first half and jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The Tigers opened the game with a 10-play 68-yard drive, with freshman running back Travis Etienne capping the drive with a 4-yard line for Clemson’s eighth touchdown on an opening drive in 13 games this season.
Clemson drove 71 yards in seven plays for its second touchdown, with Bryant racing around left end for an 11-yard score.
The Tigers’ lead swelled to 21-0 on their next possession as Clemson capitalized on a short punt, taking over at the Miami 36 and scoring nine plays later on a 1-yard run by running back Adam Choice with 12:49 left in the second quarter.
Clemson outgained Miami 231-64 in the first half and held the Hurricanes to three first downs and 2-for-8 on third down.
The Tigers continued their onslaught in the second half, putting the game away with a 17-point third quarter. Alex Spence had a career-long 46-yard field goal, running back Tavien Feaster had an 11-yard scoring run and wide receiver Deon Cain hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Bryant.
Miami’s lone score came on a 22-yard Michael Badgley in the final minutes of the game. The Hurricanes finished with 214 total yards and were 3 of 16 on third down.
Clemson’s senior class improved its record to 50-6, becoming the first team in school and ACC history to accumulate 50 wins in a four-year period.
NOTES: Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell, who leads the team with 17 tackles for loss, was named one of five finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award on Saturday. ...WR Hunter Renfrow has 14 career touchdowns with six coming in six postseason games. ... WR Tee Higgins, a freshman, has nine receptions for 262 yards over the last two games. ... Miami QB Malik Rosier is responsible for 30 touchdowns this season, matching the school record set by Vinny Testaverde in 1986. ... DB Jaquan Johnson has a team-best 81 tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. ... WR Braxton Berrios has team-high totals in receptions (52), yards (634) and receiving touchdowns (nine).