CLEMSON - The right arm Miami quarterback Jacory Harris can terrorize defenses, seemingly able to produce GPS-guided downfield throws.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Harris’s arcing downfield throws allow Miami ’s king-sized receivers an excellent "plane" with which to make plays on the ball. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is impressed with Harris’ ability to rifle 20-yard, deep-outs accurately from the far hash. Combine Harris’s arm with No. 16 Miami’s surplus of receivers and the passing game can be prolific.
But Harris is an immobile weapon, requiring the protection of a pocket.
Clemson’s defensive objective is relatively simple versus No. 16 Miami at 12 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium, surround Harris and collapse the pocket.
"He wants to sit in there," Steele said. "Disrupting that comfort zone is a key for us."
If the Tigers can pressure Harris there is opportunity to create turnovers.
Harris has thrown 16 interceptions in his last 13 games. Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel intercepted Harris twice at Miami last fall.
Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers could be a key for the Tigers off the edge. Bowers looks like he is on his way to a breakout season, registering six tackles for loss and three sacks in his first three games. Moreover, Miami has had protection issues on the edge and will likely start a mountain of a true freshman across from Bowers, 6-foot-8, 350-pound Seantrel Henderson.
Steele said Clemson must be careful not to be too fast with its speed rush, allowing Harris to step up into a pocket avoiding the outside rush. Ohio State produced inside pressure against Miami and Steele believes Clemson defensive tackles Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson can provide a similar pocket push.
"You want a vertical pushing back in his lap," Steele said. "Those inside guys have to be able to counter move and get themselves free or push that blocker back so he doesn’t have the ability to step up.
"Affecting the quarterback, getting him out of rhythm in the pocket that doesn’t necessarily mean sacks."
When Harris does have time he can beat teams deep.
While he was intercepted twice against Clemson last season, Harris also completed 17 of 27 throws for 256 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard scoring strike to Travis Benjamin.
When Harris does have a pocket, it will be up for the Clemson defensive backs to perform better than they did against Auburn last week. Miami will no doubt test a Clemson secondary that was susceptible against deep routes at Auburn. In the third quarter at Auburn, run-first quarterback Cam Newton hit Clemson with three big passing gains.
"(Harris) is going to sit in the pocket more and be patient with it, let plays develop and go through his progressions," Clemson corner Xavier Brewer said. "We have to try to make more plays than we did last week."
Ford to be honored today
Former Clemson coach Danny Ford will be awarded with the Palmetto Patriot honor prior to kickoff against Miami. Ford led Clemson to five ACC titles and the 1981 national title. Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).