By PETE IACOBELLI
CLEMSON – Mario Cristobal wants to take Miami to the top of the ACC, where Clemson is currently. He will get his first chance as Hurricanes coach this weekend to see the ninth-placed Tigers up close – and how far they have to travel to get there.
Clemson (9-1, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts Miami (5-5, 3-3) on Saturday, looking to wrap up a fourth perfect regular season in league play since 2015. The Tigers return to the ACC title game next month for the seventh time in eight seasons, a streak of dominance that dates back to Cristobal’s days as a player with “The U” when he was part of national championship teams in 1989 and 1991.
Cristobal was an assistant at Nick Saban’s Alabama when the Crimson Tide separated two national championship games, with the Tigers winning Alabama after the 2015 season and Clemson winning the rematch a year later.
“I saw her up close when she was an assistant coach at the University of Alabama,” Cristobal said. “And when these two teams played, it’s almost like mirror images of each other. So the culture definitely shows and not just in the caliber of the game but in the play, the way you play the game and they play the game right. “
Miami wasn’t too far behind Clemson in the rankings early in the season, moving up to 13th after a 2-0 start. Three straight losses have left the Hurricanes needing a win to reach a bowl game in the past two weeks.
Clemson defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro said the Tigers don’t take Miami lightly because of their so-so season. The 31-16 win over Louisville last week was a satisfying setback after Clemson’s only loss, 35-14, at Notre Dame on Nov. 5.
Nothing, Orhorhoro says, is guaranteed without putting in the work in the field and having the right attitude throughout the week.
“It’s college football,” he said. “Anyone can beat anyone on any day.”
WHAT A RUN
Clemson is chasing his 40th straight home win, extending his ACC record set earlier this year. The Tigers have not lost in Death Valley since Nov. 12, 2016, when Pittsburgh defeated No. 3 Clemson 43-42 with a last-second field goal. A win over Miami would put the Tigers on par with Notre Dame’s 40 home wins from 1907-1918.
Everything indicates that Jacurri Brown, who started as quarterback in Miami’s win over Georgia Tech last weekend, will start again on Saturday. Starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is trying to get back on the field this season, but a shoulder injury has knocked him out of the lineup twice already and his status remains a mystery.
Clemson had his own quarterback troubles this season. However, starter DJ Uiagalelei put in a solid performance (throwing for a point and running for a second) in last week’s win over Louisville. Coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter have spoken about finding playtime for backup Cade Klubnik, who played a series with Clemson 24-10 in the fourth quarter.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Miami has the pieces to get back into big college football. The Hurricanes’ only ACC Coastal title came in 2017 when they lost the championship game to Clemson, 38-3.
In Cristobal’s freshman year, Swinney’s sees top-line recruitment and an athletic director who knows what it takes to succeed in Dan Radakovich (Clemson’s AD from 2012-2021).
“They’re seeing the progress of what they’re trying to build,” Swinney said of Miami.
TWO TO GO
Clemson is 34-14 all-time against ACC Coastal opponents. After Miami, the Tigers have another Coastal team left in division champion North Carolina in next month’s league title game. The ACC will be dropping divisions for the 2023 season. Miami is 19-23 against ACC Atlantic teams with only Clemson standing.