Advanced Outlook: Clemson-Miami projections, players to watch


by - Staff Writer -
Trevor Lawrence and D'Eriq King may both show of what they can do in the run game. (ACC pic)
Trevor Lawrence and D'Eriq King may both show of what they can do in the run game. (ACC pic)

Some early-season questions should be answered Saturday night in Memorial Stadium.

Two teams vying to stay undefeated meet with the No. 1 Clemson Tigers (3-0) and No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (3-0) in the 7:30 p.m. broadcast start (ABC).

So far, Clemson is showing to be as complete a team as any in the nation according to advanced metrics, with top-10 rankings on offense, defense and special teams according to two ESPN rankings.

Miami is a little harder to get a grasp on per the same ratings, with some major disagreement on offense (No. 30 in SP+/No. 6 in ESPN FPI) and special teams (No. 1 in SP+/No. 40 on FPI):

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU SP+ ranks (No. 3 overall): 3 | 4 | 7

MIA SP+ ranks (No. 9): 30 | 6 | 1

CU ESPN ranks (No. 3): 3 | 10 | 9

MIA ESPN ranks (No. 21): 6 | 12 | 40

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. ESPN’s own measure follows a similar formula to measure team efficiency and is tied to the ESPN Football Power Index.)

Here’s some of the players to watch for from ‘The U'...

Three players to watch: Miami

QB D’Eriq King

If you clicked on this preview, you’ve probably seen his name a few times, as King is grading among the best in ACC after his transfer from a high-powered Houston attack (90.2). He leads the Hurricanes’ grading both as a passer (88.6) and a runner (73.2; tied with Cam’Ron Harris). His QB rating is second only to Trevor Lawrence in the league (153.85). And despite sacks being taken out of rushing totals at the college level, King still ranks in the top-15 in the league in yards per carry (5.6).

The rub on King early is his passing distribution, where he is incredibly accurate within 20 yards (79.4 completion rate/8.3 yards per attempt/4 TDs) but only 4-of-17 beyond 20 yards (8.2 yards per attempt/2 TDs). For comparison, another league-leading ACC grader in Lawrence is 7-of-13 on those throws with a 19.2 yards per attempt rate. Under pressure, King has been average-to-below-average with a 30.8 completion rate for 73 yards and a TD, while pretty good when facing a blitz with a 62.5 completion rate for 358 yards and three TDs to no picks and 20 first downs in 48 dropbacks (passing or scrambling).

Another caveat on some of the more impressive numbers so far? The defenses faced to this point, which average a 51st-best rating on SP+ -- led by the opener versus UAB (21st) and as low as Louisville’s 88th ranking. Clemson will be by far the biggest test for a new offense installation under Rhett Lashlee and a QB in his fourth game with it.

S Bubba Bolden

The redshirt junior is making a big impact for the Miami defense in his first season with major playing time. Bolden picked up ACC player of the week honors in their win over Louisville with a career-best 11 tackles and a forced fumble. He leads the Miami defense from a grade standpoint (77.5), showing solid efforts in run defense (77.5), coverage (74.7) and pass rush (72.9). He has two forced fumbles and seven stops (defined as tackles resulting in failures for offensive plays) in 14 total tackles.

RB Cam’Ron Harris

Harris (5-10 210) ranks third in the ACC currently in rushing yards per game (103.67), finding the end zone five times. He’s tallied 191 of his 311 rushing yards after contact, with a yards after contact per attempt figure (5.03) that’s higher than Travis Etienne currently (4.18). He’s also grading well protecting King with a 79.2 pass blocking mark (fourth-highest on the team).

(Grades and advanced stats per Pro Football Focus)

Extra point

Miami would like to get into a rhythm that will run Clemson’s developing defense ragged. Teams haven’t had the greatest of success doing that versus Brent Venables’ defense lately.

A year after the program ranked 91st in plays per game, Lashlee’s new tempo attack is off to a solid start, running 85 plays against FSU and 79 in the opener win over a solid UAB defense.

Clemson played four of the top-15 tempo teams in college football last year, with Wake Forest (82.9 v. FBS opponents), Syracuse (80.5), UNC (78.3) and BC (75.8) and held them to 18 plays per game under their season average. The Deacs this season were contained to 72 plays in the opener versus Clemson ahead of running 85 the next week at NC State.

In keeping the chains moving, the Hurricanes rank 15th nationally on third down (52.2) up against a top-15 Clemson defense (28.6). Where Venables’ group has to tighten up is on the next down, where they’ve allowed five conversions in eight fourth-down tries (four rushing; one passing) against a multi-faceted Miami group that is 5-of-6 on fourth down. On first down, Miami has been dead-even on passes and runs but have hit explosive passes at a 21.2 rate on throws.

(Plays per game stat via TeamRankings.com; situational stats per CFBStats.com)

The Projections

Despite being a top-7 matchup and College GameDay-featured event, Clemson is universally picked by double-digits here. History certainly isn’t in the Hurricanes’ favor after getting run 96-3 in the last two meetings with the Tigers.

Miami is 3-0 this year against the spread, while Clemson is 0-3 (per TeamRankings.com). The last time Miami reached these heights, ranked as high as No. 2 in 2017, they preceded to get upset at Pitt (24-14) and then smacked around in the ACC title game by Clemson, 38-3.

Per The Spread, 71 percent of the betting public is liking Miami plus the (relatively) big number, which is currently 14 points. On the heels of Virginia giving Clemson more of a test than expected last week, picking a score in this one may rest just as much on how you view that Cavaliers team than Clemson or Miami’s early three-game start. The Tigers, both coaches and players, certainly feel like they were a quality opponent.

There really isn’t a consensus on the game by the numbers. ESPN’s SP+ is 2-1 picking Clemson games with the spread and like the Hurricanes to cover (Clemson by 11). ESPN’s Football Power Index is right at the number with Clemson a two-TD favorite. The FEI metric is a big fan of Tigers with an 18.5-point margin projected.

Does Clemson kick things into gear Saturday night? Is Miami for real? This is an intriguing matchup that has a few more questions than answers until kickoff under the Death Valley lights.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 75% Clemson (Tigers by 11.4)

ESPN FPI: 86% Clemson (Tigers by 14)*

FEI: 90.1% Clemson (Tigers by 18.5)

* Point spread from the FPI rankings, which project a margin based on a neutral field.

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