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Canes Ready for Saturday Night Showdown Against Tigers

Canes Ready for Saturday Night Showdown Against Tigers

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For the Hurricanes, another opportunity awaits.

After two conference losses by a combined 13 points, Miami is set to welcome a traditional ACC power – Clemson – to Hard Rock Stadium for a Saturday night showdown that both teams know could go a long way in helping them stay in the race for a berth in the conference championship.

Still, as crucial as this game may be in the ACC standings, there was little talk of that in Coral Gables this week.

Instead, the Hurricanes remain focused on finding ways to get better after a tough two-week stretch in which they saw some costly mistakes take their toll in games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

“What’s very clear to us is yes, we’ve made a lot of progress as a team offensively and defensively. The improvement statistically is staggering. It’s really, really good,” Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal said. “But we’ve made some really good plays in some critical moments, and we’ve hurt ourselves in some critical moments. And when I say that I mean at all levels.

“You take everything as players and as coaches and that is very tangible. That’s something you can see on film. That’s something you feel obviously when things are good and when there are consequences. I think whenever it’s real, then moving forward is something that is never easy, but the challenge and the approach to it is very real.”

One of the areas the Hurricanes (4-2, 0-2) know they’ve had to focus on improving is ball security. In Miami’s last two games, the Hurricanes have turned the ball over nine times and their opponents have capitalized, scoring 23 points off those turnovers.

That can’t happen against a Clemson defense that is among the best in the nation.

The Tigers (4-2, 2-2) have scored 49 points off their opponents’ 11 turnovers this season. They’re also holding those opponents to an average of just 261.8 yards per game, a number that ranks fifth in the nation among FBS programs.

“They’re a very talented team. Fast, athletic, big up front [and] really skilled on the back end,” said Hurricanes receiver Xavier Restrepo of Clemson’s defense. “They play good football, you know? I think that’s what it comes down to. Not only are they good athletes, but they play really, really good football. So, again, we’re just going to have to lock into ourselves. We trust [offensive coordinator] Shannon Dawson and the offense. We’ll get the job done.”

Restrepo will, more than likely, be one of the players called upon to get that job done Saturday.

The receiver, a fourth-year junior, has emerged as one of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s top targets with a team-high 47 catches for a team-high 574 yards. He’s caught four touchdown passes and is on pace to potentially break Miami’s single-season record for catches set by Charleston Rambo in 2021 when he had 79 receptions.

But Restrepo and the Hurricanes know Clemson will counter with some skilled offensive playmakers of their own, including running back Will Shipley, who has a team-high 450 yards and three touchdowns and receivers Beaux Collins and Tyler Brown, who have totaled 339 and 338 yards, respectively.

The receiving duo has also combined to catch four touchdown passes, while quarterback Cade Klubnik has completed 65 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,370 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“We’ve got to make the plays we know we’ve got to make,” said Hurricanes All-American safety Kam Kinchens, who, despite missing two games because of an injury, is among Miami’s leaders with 26 tackles, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. “We want to continue to make the routine plays over and over and over, the plays we know we can do. And those 50-50 plays, we’ve got to make them as much as possible and come down with them. We can’t let them get the 50-50 plays because then the table becomes uneven. We have to make sure our dudes are better than their dudes in the times where that needs to be done.”

The Hurricanes also expect the Tigers, who are coming off a bye week, will come to Hard Rock Stadium with some offensive wrinkles, including quite possibly, their tempo and pace-of-play.

Last week, North Carolina found success against Miami’s defense when it picked up the pace and Cristobal noted that likely didn’t go unnoticed at Clemson, which has won two national titles and six ACC titles since 2016.

The key for Miami now, he added, is to continue finding ways to adjust and be successful.

“I think the tempo got us. We’ve got to be honest with that,” Cristobal said of North Carolina’s offensive performance a week ago. “We saw that on tape. They were able to run the ball really hard and ran it well. They blocked us well. … We did not play the caliber of defense, especially rush defense, that we’ve been capable of showing that we have done. … We’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to do things to help some of that schematically…certainly things that we have looked at and studied.”

That studying, and all the work they’ve done in practice this week, the Hurricanes hope, will make a difference Saturday against a Clemson team that has been one of the ACC’s powerhouse programs in recent years.

And playing at home, in front of their fans, the Hurricanes say will only help, too.

“The game being played anywhere, you know we were going to be fired up,” Kinchens said. “But to be home, it brings a little more juice to it, and we want to defend our home turf. Of course, with our fans coming out – they’ve been showing out all year – it gives us even more fire.”