Grading the Keys to Victory

Charlie Whitehurst

Clemson stunned Miami 24-17 in the Orange Bowl Saturday night to get their fifth win of the season and push the winning streak to a remarkable four games. <BR>

Here is how I graded the Tigers on my 5 keys to victory:

1. First Down Success
For the second straight week the Clemson offensive coaches developed an outstanding game plan that allowed the offense an excellent chance to succeed. There were many runs mixed with some quick crossing patterns with a touch of the deep ball.

The Tigers avoided long down and distance situations for most of the night and the addition of the running game (see below) created situations where the Tigers would have their best offensive night of the year. If you include the three missed field goals, the Tiger offense moved the ball into position for 6 scoring opportunities in regulation, which is by far the best offensive output since the Georgia Tech game.

Again, keeping manageable down and distance situations on first down seems to be a key ingredient for the success or failure of the Clemson offense. And it most certainly was a success on Saturday night.

Rhymer's Grade…B+

2. Rolle Call
Miami's impressive cornerback Antrel Rolle had a key match up Saturday night with the ACC's leading receiver, Airese Currie. It was a mismatch.

Currie snagged seven passes for 128 yards to lead the Tigers to victory. Currie's catches seemed to come at the most important times in the game, continuing to show that Currie is Charlie Whitehurst's favorite target in clutch situations.

The impressive thing about Currie's game was that he did it with short catches where he muscled up on the Miami secondary and with deep passes where he beat the Miami secondary.

Expect the prime time performance by Currie on national television to solidify his 1st team All-ACC status while improving his chances in earning some All American consideration.

Rhymer's Grade…A

3. The Fall of Berlin?
Brock Berlin had been outstanding in his last four games, moving the senior quarterback to the top of the ACC in passing efficiency heading into the Clemson game. But Berlin ran into a brick wall called the Clemson defense, and the results of the performance by the Tigers all but decided the game.

Berlin was 22-46 for 245 yards, certainly not bad when looked at on the surface. However, most of the passing yardage Berlin accumulated was in the 1st quarter of the game as he led the Hurricanes to a 17-3 halftime lead.

The second half was a defensive gem for the Tigers, forcing Berlin and the Miami offense to go three and out on four consecutive drives. As the game wore on, Berlin obviously lost his comfort level behind center, and Miami would never seriously threaten to score until overtime.

And in that overtime, Berlin had second and goal from the 5 yard line to try and tie the game. But Berlin threw three consecutive incomplete passes to secure the Tiger win.

Rhymer's Grade…B

4. The Miller and Hester Show
Another battle that was won by the Tigers on Saturday night was in the one on one match up between Justin Miller and Devon Hester. While neither team scored points in the special teams department, Miller most certainly got the upper hand in the return game.

Clemson out-gained Miami 165-34 Saturday evening, an astonishing accomplishment considering the talent of Hester. Tommy Bowden held to his word and decided not to kick off to Hester, instead issuing the pooch kick that was fair caught by Miami most of the evening.

Oddly enough, Larry Coker did not even have Hester returning punts in the 4th quarter, instead using Roscoe Parrish during the key punts late in the game. Maybe it was a case of overusing Hester. But, with his offense struggling in the 2nd half you would think Coker would have take an chance on one of those late punts by having Hester back there.

Regardless, once again Clemson was better than their opponent in special teams.

Rhymer's Grade…A

5. Run to Throw
Finally! Yes, Clemson does have a running game and they used it to perfection Saturday night to set up the pass. Reggie Merriweather ran for 114 yards on 20 carries to lead Clemson in its best rushing day since the Georgia Tech game.

The key here was that Reggie got 20 carries, something that the Clemson coaches have not allowed him to do this year. Running backs are like quarterbacks in that they need to be in the game and get enough carries to get into a groove.

And Merriweather's groove resulted in Clemson giving the defense some rest while keeping Miami honest. It is no coincidence that Charlie's best day throwing the football this year was the same game that Clemson had a back rush for over 100 yards.

Let's hope this Merriweather thing is not a fad but a trend similar to what Chad Jasmin did down the stretch last year. If so, there is no reason to expect that Clemson can't win the remaining two games and a bowl game. Stay tuned.

Rhymer's Grade…A

I have no idea how many Clemson fans were in Miami, but the pure joy that exuded inside that stadium after the Tigers won was truly memorable. It has been a wild year for road trips with jaunts to Texas, Florida, and Virginia. But the win last night more than made up for all the frustrations suffered on the road earlier in the year.

If you are superstitious like me, you have to think that some of the ghosts of Clemson past were looking down on the Tigers last night inside that Orange Bowl. To win in that stadium, 23 years after Clemson's greatest win in its football history, continues to keep the lore of that rickety old stadium close to the hearts of Clemson fans everywhere.

And I was glad and proud to be there to witness it.

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