MIAMI GARDENS, Fla - Describing Jacoby’s Ford’s winning 26-yard touchdown catch in Clemson’s 40-37 victory over Miami on Saturday as a sandlot play doesn’t do the play or the player justice.
Offensive coordinator Billy Napier credited Ford for noticing Miami safety Randy Phillip’s leverage on a route run earlier in the game.
“(Ford) said, ‘Let’s go alert with that guy.’ He was reading his leverage, the guy got outside and he stuck his foot into the ground and changed the route,” Napier said. “That just goes to show you these guys are taking ownership.
“That’s attributed to him being a football player, a good, smart kid coming up with an idea that ended up winning the game for us.”
With Ford’s recommendation considered, the game-winning play was drawn up just before Clemson took the field in overtime.
The touchdown put the Tigers ahead of the eighth ranked Hurricanes at Land Shark Stadium. The win moves Clemson’s record to 4-3 (3-2) and drops Miami to 5-2 (2-2).
Driving into the student section in overtime, Miami picked up a first down on the first play when Graig Cooper rushed 19 yards to the Clemson six. Kevin Steele’s defense bowed up for three plays and forced Miami kicker Matt Bosher to kick a 22-yard field goal.
“There probably a whole bunch of people who just left that stadium, when they come out and run that first play of overtime and run the ball to the four yard line and it’s first and goal at the (six), I’m sure everybody said, ‘Oh, no. Can Clemson score a touchdown and match it?’ That’s probably the first thought that happened,” Steele said.
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney turns 40 next month. After games like Saturday’s, he thinks he’ll turn 50, instead of 40.
“We have a special group of kids that have something in them that just keeps them going,” he said. “No group deserved to be able to break through like they did more than this group.”
The win broke Clemson’s eight-game losing streak in games decided by five points or less and ended a four-game overtime losing streak.
On the trip down from Clemson, Swinney told the team the game wasn’t a David v. Goliath-type match up.
“We expected to win,” he said.
Though the defense has carried Clemson through much of the first half of the season, it was the offense that carried the Tigers to Saturday’s win.
Clemson gained 84 yards rushing. The Tigers also racked up a season-high 326 yards and three touchdowns through the air, courtesy of Kyle Parker. None were bigger than Parker’s wining toss to Ford.
“That’s definitely the biggest play of my career,” Ford said. “I’ll never forget that play, probably for the rest of my life. We just wanted to come together and get a good team win.”
There were nine lead changes and two ties in the game that saw Jacory Harris intercepted and sacked three times.
He called it the toughest loss of his career.
“We let Clemson outwork us and we turned the ball over too much. It was just the little things that made us get to this point,” he said.
Harris threw three interceptions, including one for a touchdown by DeAndre McDaniel. The fourth quarter pick six was the seventh interception by McDaniel this year. He now leads the nation with seven interceptions. Richard Jackson’s extra-point gave Clemson a 31-27 lead.
On the following play from scrimmage, Harris hooked up with Travis Benjamin for a 69-yard touchdown pass, one of several big scoring plays.
C.J. Spiller scored a 90-yard kickoff return with less than a minute to play in the first half and hauled in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Parker in the third quarter.
He broke Justin Miller’s school record of 282 all-purpose yards in one game by finishing with 310 (81 rushing, 104 receiving, 125 return).
“Records are meant to be broken, but I couldn’t have done it without all of my teammates,” Spiller said. “It’s a great record to have, but like I said, I couldn’t have done it without all of my teammates. I share it with all of those guys.”
After a scoreless opening quarter, Clemson scored its first touchdown when Parker hit Michael Palmer for a 15-yard score, giving the Tigers a 7-3 lead. Palmer, who was concussed in the fourth quarter, finished with five receptions for 74 yards. His 21 catches this year are the most by a Clemson tight end in 25 years. K.D. Dunn had 22 in 1984.
Palmer’s roommate, Richard Jackson, was good on field goals from 43 and 30. He missed from 41 on the opening drive of the game.
After losing to Texas Christian earlier this year, Spiller called Clemson an elite team. After Saturday’s win, he believes the voters will start to take notice.
“We’re not really worried about that,” Spiller said. “We’re just having fun, playing ball. For our seniors, this is our last go-around. This is the most fun I’ve had.”
Swinney summed up the win by putting it in the perspective of a few seniors who put the NFL off for one year.
“This is why you come back for your senior year,” Swinney said, “for games like this.”