Head Coach Dabo Swinney said after the ACC Championship game that his team wanted to win that Triple Crown. He was referring his Tigers winning a third straight conference title, and they did just that. Clemson beat the Miami Hurricanes in dominant fashion, 38-3, to win the ACC Championship. Now the Tigers are set for their third straight trip to the College Football Playoff. The will get a rubber match with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Semifinal game at the Sugar Bowl.
Many analysts believed that Clemson would take a step back this season. That didn’t happen. This program just continues to evolve and improve. Losing multiple players as early entrants in to the NFL draft didn’t have the effect most thought it would. The loss of some high profile juniors from last year meant the Tigers have only a six-man senior class. That class will leave with the most wins in ACC history. They currently have 50 wins in their four years. The defense has held the same high standard that led them to the first two ACC Championships, and the offense has seen its young players grow into their new roles more and more each game.
After losing the best player in school history in Deshaun Watson, no one knew what to expect from the Tiger offense. Kelly Bryant had the unenviable task of replacing a legend. He rose to the challenge and has led his team to a third straight ACC Championship and another playoff berth. His numbers are not eye-popping, but 2,678 yards on 67% completion is pretty darn good for a first-year starter. Bryant has also shown off his legs to be a major weapon. He accounted for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
The junior from Calhoun Falls, SC has gotten better each time out and was at his best in the win over Miami. He completed his first 15 passes of the game, and looked in complete control all night. Two of his three highest passing totals have come in the past two weeks. His calm and cool demeanor has led this team all year. Bryant has never let the pressure of replacing a legend get to him, or the pressure of chasing a title get to his team.
The Tigers defense is downright scary right now. Their first team unit has allowed ZERO points in their last six quarters of play. Miami and South Carolina only managed to score a few garbage points on the Clemson backups. Neither the Hurricanes nor the Gamecocks are offensive juggernauts, but pitching back-to-back shutouts is impressive by any standard. Christian Wilkins has been dominant of late. He completely controlled the game against the Hurricanes, with tackles for loss, disrupting run plays, and batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. He is one of the top five defensive players in college football. His combination of versatility, speed, and size make him almost impossible to block.
The Tigers have the best defensive line in the nation. They have stud pass rushers Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell joining the inside tandem of Dexter Lawrence and Wilkins. Ferrell and Bryant have combined for 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks on the season. Lawrence is a mountain of a man, and while his numbers won’t jump out at you, his impact is felt each game. Their ability to dominate in the trenches often makes teams one dimensional. Once they get a lead, defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ guys play an attacking aggressive style that is hard to overcome.
Another ACC Championship
Miami coach Mark Richt said, “It just shows they’re the class of our league and they’re the measuring stick.”
Clemson has proven themselves to be the class of the ACC. The Tigers have won three straight ACC Championships for the first time in 29 years. They are 25-2 against their conferences foes in that time frame. The win over the Hurricanes proved just how far ahead of everyone else in the conference the Tigers are. While Miami and Virginia Tech are improving under their second-year head coaches, the usually powerful Florida State Seminoles took a step back. They are also now looking for a new coach. Clemson’s reign over the rest of the ACC doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Now they move back to the College Football playoff, looking to extend their national reign. If the rubber match with Alabama is anywhere near as good as the first two, we are in for an entertaining semifinal in the Sugar Bowl.
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