Returning to Sun Life Stadium taps into mixed emotions for Dabo Swinney, but the Clemson coach is more focused on his team’s mindset heading into a matchup with Miami.
For an ambitious team on a roll, nothing can be taken for granted, and Swinney believes his team has been wired to handle the pressure inherent of an undefeated team ranked sixth in the latest polls.
“Winning breeds confidence,” Swinney said Tuesday. “Guys have bought into the mentality of our program. These guys are not surprised they’re 6-0. This is what they expect. They know they’re going to get everybody’s best game.”
Swinney’s investment in the leadership seems to be paying dividends for a relatively young roster.
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“You’re talking about a group going for their fifth 10-plus (win) season. They haven’t lost a lot of ballgames,” he said. “The veterans get it. That’s what we’re depending on to keep the focus as we move through the year.”
Indicative of Clemson’s success has been the ability to adapt to a variety of schemes and personnel. Miami brings an offensive look that seems to play to Clemson’s defensive strengths. Sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, the ACC leader in passing efficiency, “is the best quarterback we’ve seen this season.”
“They want to put the ball in his hand and he can beat you,” Swinney said. “This team wants to throw the football, and I don’t blame them.”
But Kaaya has not been blessed with the mobility to easily manage Clemson’s range of pressure and blitzes. Miami’s record (4-2) has been built on wins over Nebraska and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes let Florida State off the ropes in Tallahassee.
“Kaaya is the guy. He just knows where to go with the ball,” Swinney said. “They’re going to find the matchups, especially if you’re playing man coverage.”
Miami doesn’t give away the ball. With one lost fumble and one interception, Miami leads the nation in turnover margin, but the Hurricanes are one of the most penalized teams in the nation.
After a pass-heavy game with Boston College, the run becomes a more viable option. Wayne Gallman was on a streak of three 100-yard games until BC, but Zac Brooks delivered a spark.
Miami allows 4.9 yards per carry (102nd nationally) and 167 per game. FSU gashed the Canes for 248, 222 by Dalvin Cook including touchdowns of 72 and 23 yards.
“Yeah, we want to run the ball, and hopefully we can establish some of that and the play action that comes off of that,” Swinney said, pointing out that Miami has 11 interceptions, tied for seventh nationally. “They’ve done a good job as far as staying on top of things in the passing game.
“They did a great job against Florida State, except for about three plays,” he said. “They have really improved.”
Crowds for Miami home games aren’t typically as loud and animated as some other stadiums, certainly not at all similar to Death Valley. In 2009, it grew raucous as Clemson punched and counter-punched with Miami before winning in overtime on a dart from quarterback Kyle Parker to Jacoby Ford.
Returning to the same stadium two years later for the Orange Bowl with West Virginia, the game was virtually over by halftime in a miserable rout that forced Swinney to alter the program’s defensive approach.
Swinney said he was looking forward to a second road game and he dismissed the notion of the apathetic crowd having an impact.
“We play to a standard,” he said. “We don’t play to a crowd.”
Tigers vs. Hurricanes
Who: Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) vs. Miami (4-2, 1-1)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Line: 6 1/2