College football games, Week 6: With ACC in spotlight, will Miami be more than a blip on Clemson’s radar?

It’s been almost a year since Trevor Lawrence has thrown an interception. Short of an actual upset of No. 1 Clemson on Saturday night, that might be what’s most at stake for No. 7 Miami.

On the way to their five straight College Football Playoff appearances, you may have heard the Tigers have skated through the ACC as well. Clemson is 40-2 in the league over the last five seasons. Conference foes seldom come close, leading to a different definition of “big game” at Clemson than in the rest of the conference.

“Statement games are only statement games until there is another statement game,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said this week. “That goalpost and whatever statement you’re trying to make always moves. We’re trying to get ourselves in a position where playing these types of games for Miami aren’t extraordinary.”

Miami has joined the legions of ACC teams that have been rolled by Clemson on its current run. In 2015, the Hurricanes suffered their worst-ever loss (58-0 to Clemson). The last time Miami was any good, it got slammed by Clemson 38-3 in the 2017 ACC Championship Game.

Since then, the Canes are 16-14. The Tigers are 32-2, trying to win their 25th consecutive ACC game on Saturday. Clemson is favored by two touchdowns, according to William Hill Sportsbook, the closest spread Lawrence has faced as a regular-season starter.

Cause for concern?

“This is not a big game for Clemson,” Diaz said. “This is what they do.”

The truth is in there somewhere at the intersection of coachspeak and reality.

“I just know, historically, Miami has always been a powerhouse,” Lawrence said. “They’ve just always had a certain swag about them that — when you play them — you know what you’re going to get.”

No one is comparing this team to the vintage Canes. And the next fan who asks, “Is Miami back?” should have their remote taken away. For now, quarterback D’Eriq King gives his team a chance. The Canes have been winning by 24 points per game. There is more team speed. Clemson and Miami are 1-2 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss since 2016.

But imagine the Turnover Chain celebration if the Canes were able to break Lawrence’s streak that now stands at 314 passes without a pick?

“In the moment, a turnover is large,” Miami safety Amari Carter said, “… but at the end of the day, we’re looking to win [not] celebrate or get too happy we’ve got an interception off a quarterback who doesn’t have an interception.”

Not bad for a guy who came out of last September leading the ACC in interceptions. Lawrence last threw a pick Oct. 19, 2019, against Louisville (two, in fact). He has a ways to go before approaching the all-time record. Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron went 444 throws without an INT in 2011-12.

Lawrence’s current streak is the third-longest in ACC history. He needs 26 more throws without an interception to pass NC State’s Ryan Finley (339) for second on the list. 

All of it shows Lawrence’s progression as a fully-rounded quarterback. Dabo Swinney seems to unleash Lawrence’s running ability in only the biggest games. The quarterback ran for almost 600 yards last season, including an incredible ground performance against Ohio State in the CFP.

“The really aggravating part is, when you are really doing a good job of pass coverage, he’s got the ability to break away from the pass rush … or just tuck it and get a first down,” Diaz said. “He’s one of those guys who eats up your angle because he gets to the sidelines. You can never really get a hit on him because he’s got these long strides.”

Miami isn’t “back” by its own standards. That question isn’t answered until it wins its next national championship. But the Canes can’t start on that journey until they start winning top-10 games like Saturday’s at Clemson.

“They’re No. 1 for a reason, but we also feel we have a right to be here,” Carter said.

What else to watch in Week 6

The Joy of 6: Week 6 has evolved into the biggest of the season with four games between ranked teams, including one top-10 game (see above). That list doesn’t include a Red River recession, Lane Kiffin’s first game against Nick Saban and Notre Dame’s return to the field for the first time since Sept. 19.

Dawg bites Vol: The best rushing tandem in the SEC (at least so far) gets a workout at No. 3 Georgia. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler of No. 14 Tennessee have combined for 321 rushing yards through two games. They’ll need every bit of that between the hedges. Putting the game on Jarrett Guarantano against this Georgia defense seems unfair. But that’s exactly what the Dawgs will try to do.

Happy birthday to Jimbo Fisher, who turned 55 on Friday. Blow out the candles on this: No. 21 Texas A&M plays its second-consecutive top-five opponent in No. 4 Florida. Dan Mullen, who arrived in December 2017 (same as Fisher), is 21-8 in his first three seasons at Florida. Fisher is 18-10 in that span at Texas A&M. The Aggies have won 10 straight games against the SEC East.

ACC Love: For the first time ever, the ACC has four teams in the top 10. Some of that is a function of No. 5 Notre Dame being counted as part of the league this year. Some of that is a function of Miami starting 3-0. Some of that is the Big Ten and Pac-12 having not joined the fight yet. Some of that is because Clemson is No. 1. Let’s give No. 8 North Carolina (vs. No. 19 Virginia Tech) credit, too. The Tar Heels are looking to start 3-0 for the first since 2011. In his second year at UNC, Sam Howell has as many touchdown passes (41) as Mitch Trubisky had in his career. Don’t know if that says more about Howell or Trubisky.

Mismatch of the Week: So did I miss out on Mac Jones in this week’s Heisman Watch? Yeah, maybe. But for No. 2 Alabama to get in the Heisman conversation, Alabama’s QB going to have to climb over the guys he’s throwing, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie III. Kiffin called Saban “elderly” this week. Not good with Kiffin trying to become the first former Saban assistant to beat the master (Saban is 20-0 in his career). Take that to the betting window when wondering whether Bama will score at least 35 points for the 16th straight game. That would be an all-time record. It would also come against the nation’s worst defense. Ole Miss is allowing 600 yards per game.

(Second-biggest) Mismatch of the Week: Any resemblance between Florida State-Notre Dame games of the past is strictly coincidental. The Seminoles haven’t been this bad since pre-Bobby Bowden in the 1970s. The No. 5 Fighting Irish haven’t played in so long, some of their players have run out of eligibility. Just kidding. Take the Irish and the 20.5 points. No kidding.

Air Raided: Did it take the SEC all of one week to figure out the Air Raid? Film study shows Arkansas rushed three and dropped eight last week against Mike Leach, K.J. Costello (only 313 passing yards) and the Bulldogs. We’ll see if this becomes the blueprint as Mississippi State travels to Kentucky.

Quick kicks: Virginia Tech graduate transfer Khalil Herbert is the ultimate free-agent pickup for the Hokies. Herbert currently leads the nation in rushing after four years spent at Kansas gaining 1,735 yards. During Herbert’s time, the Jayhawks went 9-39 …  Only seven teams have more penalties than No. 22 Texas (28). Only six have averaged more penalty yards … Is it time to take No. 15 BYU seriously? The Cougars (vs. UTSA) lead the nation in both total offense and total defense … Stat of the week: Travis Etienne’s next rushing or receiving touchdown would set the all-time record for career games with at least one of those type of scores. Etienne, Florida’s Tim Tebow and Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon are all tied at 38 games.

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