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Miami-Clemson: 5 Key Matchups To Look Out For

Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The No. 7 ranked Miami Hurricanes head to Death Valley this weekend to take on the No. 1 Clemson Tigers. And Miami heads into this matchup looking for revenge after they were dominated in the 2018 ACC Championship.

The Hurricanes’ defense will have their hands as they face off against the best quarterback and running back in college football. Clemson’s offense runs around Lawrence’s smart decision-making and Travis Etienne’s explosive plays. The game plan will get interesting fast for UM as they have to work to contain two threats that you normally do not see on the same offense.

Miami will take the field with arguably their best offensive output since the Ken Dorsey era. They’ve been able to light up the scoreboard on the ground and through the air this season. Showcasing an efficient blend of power run and air raid offense, Rhett Lashlee’s scheme has taken the ACC by storm.

Clemson has a star-studded young defense riddled with five-star prospects on the defensive line. They are young here but it’s an emerging group of young men that have only been getting better in each quarter they play.

Here are a few matchups to look out for throughout the game. One or more of these could dictate the pace and eventual outcome of the game.

Trevor Lawrence Vs. Miami’s defense.

The jury is out on what Miami’s defensive game plan will become. Will they attempt to rattle Lawrence by blitzing? Or will they try and get pressure with four down linemen and hope they have the game of their lives and get enough pressure to make the Tigers give up at least one ball?

It’ll be a tough night regardless of what Miami chooses to do as Lawrence has been statistically great when facing blitzes and makes the correct reads when forced to throw into coverage. Look for the Hurricanes to have Gilbert Frierson spy Lawrence if Baker chooses to use one heavily this game as he’s also a huge threat running the football.

Trevor Lawrence 2019 vs blitz: 70%, 16 TD, 204.7 passer rating (2nd in all FBS) w/0 INT

Travis Etienne Vs. Bubba Bolden.

If Miami is looking to task a guy on defense with getting the best of Etienne, look no further than safety Bubba Bolden. Bolden has shown the ability to trail key guys and make key tackles when needed in space. He’s been one of the most consistent defenders and has solidified himself as the Hurricanes’ swiss army knife on defense.

He’ll have to have a great night tackling & covering if he wants to hold Etienne. The all-purpose back leads the team in rushing and receiving yards this season. Etienne has solidified himself as the best running back in the nation with an exceptional blend of power and finesse. He is everything UM fans thought Lorenzo Lingard would be. Not letting him get to the second and third level on defense will be a trying task Saturday night.

Bubba Bolden has 165 defensive snaps on the year. And he continues to show off his versatility and willingness to play wherever he is needed.

Bolden’s lineups by position:

DLine: 2

Box: 22

Slot: 37

Wide: 2

Free safety: 102

Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory Vs. Clemson’s defense.

The Tigers have had a perennially great front seven over the past decade. They run an aggressive downhill scheme that has not been friendly in coverage for linebackers. The unit has bolstered multiple first-round draft picks with only a few coming from the linebacker position. Most recently and notably Isiah Simmons, who was more of a hybrid safety/linebacker.

The Tigers have had a knack for giving up big games to tight ends in recent years. Their downhill scheme allows for tight ends to win consistently over the top & in space.

In two national title games, they allowed tight end OJ Howard to rack up 314 yards. In 2013, FSU tight end Nick O’Leary hauled in multiple catches for 161 yards. And in last year’s College Football Playoff championship, Thaddeus Moss caught two touchdowns.

Jordan and Mallory should be a focal point for the offense on Saturday night. Jordan has been able to lineup all across the field for Miami and lead the team in receiving yards and receiving TD’s. Mallory has been targeted twice in three games with one of those being a touchdown.

Look for Jordan to get beyond the second level and give Clemson’s linebackers fits all night. He currently leads all power five tight ends with 136 yards after the catch. Miami will come out in 12 personnel a lot with both big men on the field looking to create mismatches.

Jackson Carman Vs. Quincy Roche.

Jackson Carman has been crucial to keeping Lawrence clean this season, only allowing one sack in 84 pass attempts for the Tigers. The junior left tackle will be tasked with keeping Roche in check all night. Clemson will face the deepest set of young defensive line talent that they’ll see all season.

Roche leads the Hurricanes in total pressures through three games with 11. He’s also tied for the team lead in sacks with Zach McCloud and Jared Harrison-Hunte with two. Roche has lived up to the offseason hype as no linemen this year has been able to consistently stop him from getting home to the QB. There have been several plays this year that have been directly affected because of his ability to penetrate the backfield for sacks, tackles-for-loss and pressures.

Miami’s WR’s Vs. themselves.

As Miami’s receivers continue to drop the football in crucial situations, it’s preventing the offense from becoming explosive. Although it has not been as bad as the first two games, no receiver is yet to emerge as the clear WR1.

Through the past two games, Mike Harley has had three total drops. One a for-sure touchdown in the end zone against UL. The other two big first downs that would have kept Miami’s offense going.

Mark Pope continues to flash in space on intermediate routes but has not been able to play mistake-free football in the first few weeks. Pope had a huge drop on that would have resulted in a first down against Louisville as well as a fumble and a muffed punt in just three games.

Beyond those two, Dee Wiggins has been the best at getting separation this year and came up big with a deep touchdown reception against FSU. If he can continue to separate & have reliable hands, look for him to be King’s target when Lashlee takes deep shots.

To take Lashlee’s offense to the next level, the WR unit has to take a big step. Week in and week out, every unit of the Hurricanes’ team wins one on one situations. Roche and Jaelan Phillips beat their tackles game in and game out. Al Blades Jr routinely gets his hands on the ball for pass breakups in one on one situations. And Cam Harris, Don Chaney and Knighton have won against linebackers and safeties for explosive runs in all three games.

The only unit that doesn’t do this enough is the WR unit. I know I have sounded like a broken record all season when it comes to this but they’re dying for a number one guy at wide receiver.

It won’t be just themselves that they are facing. They’ll go up against a pair of young talented corners including rising sophomore Andrew Booth.


The entire game will be a sight to see, surely there are more matchups that will be on display all night. True freshmen Myles Murphey and defensive tackle Brian Bresee continue to their flash big playability. Bresee leads the Tigers with eight pressures in three games and will try and cause havoc in the interior for King all night.

True sophomore defensive end KJ Henry will have a busy game against fellow sophomore Zion Nelson, who comes off a career-performance against FSU, as he allowed no pressures.

Ivey and Blades will face a young explosive wide receiver corps, Luckily for the UM, the defensive line has been able to wreak havoc and take the pressure off of them both. And they have gotten better in the last two weeks because of this.

Expect a night of explosive plays on both sides of the ball. I know the art of tackling has been fading the past few years in football but Miami must be flawless when trying to bring down a slippery Etienne. Containing Lawrence is important but one missed tackle on Etienne could go for an easy Tiger touchdown.

Miami Hurricanes contributor for 305 Sports. Web Developer & Video editor. Worked with several Top 100 recruits since the 2019 cycle. Coached defensive backs on the High school level. I love college football & breaking down the game. Especially on the deep end.

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