The No. 7 Miami Hurricanes have seen a resurgence to national prominence under second-year head coach Mark Richt.
Since taking over for Al Golden before the start of last season, Richt has amassed a 19-5 record at his alma mater and has the Hurricanes playing for an ACC title for the first time in school history. Let that sink in.
Miami finished the regular season this year with a 10-1 record — their first 10-win season since 2003 — and a school-high seven wins in the ACC (7-1 ACC).
If the Hurricanes want to not only win their first conference championship since joining the ACC, they will first have to go through the defending national champion Clemson Tigers.
“Well, we’ll find out (if we are ready) Saturday, that’s for sure,” Richt said this week. “Clemson, being the great championship-caliber team that they are and have been for a couple years, pretty much dominating our league and obviously winning the national championship a year ago; it'll be a great measuring stick to see where we're at, quite frankly.”
Miami on offense:
The Miami Hurricanes have suffered two massive blows to their offense in the last five days.
First, they lost senior tight end Christopher Heardon — a Mackey Award finalist — for the season during last Friday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers. Heardon was the Hurricanes second-leading receiver with 40 receptions for 470 yards, including four touchdowns.
As if that was not bad enough, during Wednesday’s practice, the Hurricanes' third-leading receiver, Ahmmon Richards suffered a season-ending meniscus injury. Richards was the team’s leading receiver in terms of yards per game (54.9).
The losses of two key pieces of their offense will only make what was going to be a difficult task Saturday night — facing Clemson’s defense — that much more difficult.
“Well, their defensive front has been -- you watch the film, and you're like, oh, boy, we've got our work cut out for us for sure,” Richt said. “I think because their defensive front is so strong, they've been able to kind of rely on them to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback without a lot of blitzing schemes, and Coach Venables is great at scheming people up and bringing great pressures, great blitzes, but I think he's also enjoyed the fact that those guys are so strong up front that first and second down is hard to win.
“It's hard to get those yards rushing the ball, so you end up in a lot of third-and-medium, third-and-long, and then coach can either drop a bunch of guys into coverage or bring the pressure. But either way, the D-line has been very, very outstanding, and our offensive line knows it's going to be a great challenge to move them a little bit in the run game and protect our quarterback.”
Miami on defense:
The Hurricanes have been known all season for their turnover chain and their 29 takeaways on the season, but outside that number and the chain, the Hurricanes have been pedestrian at best this season defensively.
In fact, Clemson ranks first or second in the ACC in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense — while the Hurricanes ranks in the bottom half of the league in all of those categories.
But do not let the stats fool you, because when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney turns on the tape of the Miami defense he sees a scary group.
"Defensively they are really, really, really good; They look like Clemson,” Swinney said this week. “It looks like our practice tape. They've got some cats up front, a bunch of pros. They are really athletic, big, heavy-handed, well-coached. Their linebackers can fly. They've got their usual speed on the back end. They are a complete defense.
"They lead the nation in turnover margin and sacks. They're second in tackles for loss. These are two great defenses."