CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The No. 1 Clemson Tigers (12-1, 8-1 ACC) cemented their place in the College Football Playoff for a third straight year with a dominant, 38-3, victory over the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (10-2, 7-2 ACC) in the ACC Championship Game Saturday night.
Led by quarterback Kelly Bryant (23-29 for 252 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdowns) and a stifling defense, the Tigers played their best game of the season, as they outgained the Hurricanes 331-214.
Clemson opened the scoring on their opening drive, as they needed 10 plays to cover 68 yards and a 4-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne that gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead on the Hurricanes. The touchdown drive marked the eighth time in 13 games that the Tigers scored on their opening possession of the game.
The Tigers forced a three-and-out on Miami’s opening possession, however the Tigers gave the ball immediately back to the Hurricanes after Ray-Ray McCloud muffed the 34-yard punt. Miami took over at the Clemson 37-yard line, but were forced to attempt a 46-yard field goal after Clemson’s defense held them to 8 yards of offense. The attempt by Michael Badgley was wide-left and the Tigers took over at their own 29-yard line.
The Tigers took advantage of the missed field goal, as they once again found the end zone. Kelly Bryant, who started the game a perfect 7-for-7 for 139 yards, capped off the 7-play, 71-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run that gave Clemson a 14-0 lead.
The Tigers continued their domination of Miami, after a 16-yard punt by Miami gave the Tigers the ball at their own 41-yard line. Clemson needed only nine plays to extend their lead to 21-0 over the Hurricanes, where Adam Choice finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
After Clemson forced a punt on Miami’s opening possession of the second half, kicker Alex Spence converted his longest career field goal—46 yards—that put the Tigers up 24-0. The Tigers’ 24-0 lead set a new ACC Championship record for the largest lead in a championship game, breaking the old mark of 21 points—set by the Tigers’ in 2015 and in 2011, both against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Clemson once again found the end zone after a Miami punt, as Tavien Feaster put the proverbial nail in the coffin with an 11-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers up 31-0. After Clemson forced their third turnover of the game, an interception by Kendall Joseph, the Tigers added to their lead after Bryant found Deon Cain for a 27-yard touchdown.
The Hurricanes ended a more than seven quarter, dating back to the 2015 game, shutout with 3:29 to play in the game—as Badgley converted a 22-yard field goal that cut the lead to 38-3. Clemson ended the game with a 96-3 scoring advantage over the Hurricanes dating back to the 2015 game, which the Tigers won 58-0.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE TIGERS: Jumped out early
The Clemson offense started out fast and did not take their foot off the gas the entire night. The Tigers’ jumped out to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter-- the largest first quarter lead in the history of the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE TIGERS: Loose with the ball
While the “Turnover Chain” only made one appearance in the game (first quarter), the Tigers had two more fumbles on the night that were not recovered by the Hurricanes.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Ray-Ray McCloud
The Tigers junior receiver finished the game with a team-high six receptions for 100 yards with a long of 25 and an average of 16.7 yards per reception.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: Christian Wilkins
The junior defensive tackle had his best game of the season, as he amassed seven tackles, three solo tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups.
STAT OF THE GAME: 15-for15
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant connected on his first 15 passes to set a new Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game record. Former Tigers All-American Deshaun Watson set the previous mark for consecutive completions in the second and third quarters of Clemson’s win over North Carolina in the 2015 game at Bank of America Stadium.
The Tigers will learn their destination in the College Football Playoff Sunday (noon, ESPN). However, most believe the Tigers will remain No. 1 and with that will play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl January 1, 2018 (8:45 p.m.)