CLEMSON — If fans of the No. 1 Clemson Tigers were expecting a huge drop-off in offensive production this season, they are pleasantly surprised.
Behind first-year starting quarterback Kelly Bryant, the Tigers have not just rebuilt their offensive machine, they have reloaded it.
Entering this weekend’s ACC Championship Game (8 p.m., ABC) against the Miami Hurricanes, the Tigers rank second (ACC) in total offense (457.9 yards per game), fifth in passing offense (258.2 yard per game), fourth in rushing offense (214.7 yards per game), first in third-down offense (46.4-percent) and first in red zone touchdown percentage (72.7-percent).
But this week, with an ACC championship on the line and a coveted spot in the playoff up for grabs, the Tigers may face their most difficult challenge of the season in the upstart Hurricanes.
"I have a lot of respect for Manny Diaz, their defensive coordinator,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “He does an excellent job and does not have a lot of tendencies and does a really good job of mixing it up and keeping offenses off balance. He really kind of has a game plan specific for the team they're playing that week.
"So it will be a big challenge for us offensively. It should be a great game. I know our guys are excited, looking forward to the challenge and we're ready to go play on Saturday night."
The Hurricanes have seen a resurgence this season, winning 11 games for the first time since 2003, in part due to a chain — or the “Turnover Chain” to be more precise.
The 36-inch, 2.5-kilogram, 10-karat gold Cuban link chain is awarded, in-game, to the defensive player responsible for a turnover. But it is only the foolish person that thinks that a chain, or a trash can in the University of Tennessee’s case, has any sort of mystical powers — instead it is a reward for a team that is really good at creating turnovers.
"I went and watched all of their turnovers and the majority of them they caused,” Scott said. “There's maybe one or two where the quarterback dropped the snap or something like that, but 90 percent of them Miami did a great job of causing the turnover. They do a great job of tackling the ball, as they are tackling the ball carrier. Being very specific with their hands trying to knock the ball out.”
The chain has made an appearance 29 times this season, the most of any Power 5 school.
While the Tigers are aware the “Turnover Chain” will be present Saturday night, the goal is to make sure that it stays housed in Diaz’s traveling humidor on the Miami sidelines.
“For us, we really talk about turnovers every week and the importance of that. We talked about that going into the game against South Carolina this week that was something that I talked to the offense about,” Scott said. “Going into the South Carolina game that was going to be our fourth road game against a top 25 opponents, and in our previous three games on the road against top 25 opponents, we only had one turnover. Which is really impressive and why we've had the success that we've had on the road.
“Our guys know, we have a philosophy that if we protect the ball, we win. That's just a mindset that our guys have. Regardless of anything else in the game, if we don't turn the ball over we win. That's kind of been one of the things that we live by and our process of winning.”
17 players All-ACC
Six Clemson interior linemen, three on offense and three on defense, were named first-team All-ACC. The first-team selections on offense were tackle Mitch Hyatt, center Justin Falcinelli and guard Tyrone Crowder. The first-team selections on defense were defensive end Clelin Ferrell and tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
It marked the first time Clemson had six linemen earn first-team all-conference honors. The previous high was just four set eight previous seasons, including 2016.
Overall, 13 Clemson players were named first, second or third team All-ACC, seven on offense and six on defense.
Elliott finalist for Broyles Award
Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott is one of five finalist for the Frank Broyles Award. The honor is presented each year to the top assistant coach in the nation.