Miami 36, Clemson 30
Seemingly nothing has come easy for the University of Miami football team since it joined the ACC before last season. The Hurricanes' first trip to Clemson's Death Valley on Saturday proved to be much more difficult than expected, too, as No. 13 Miami barely escaped with a 36-30 triple-overtime victory over the No. 20 Tigers in front of a sellout crowd of 79,000 in Memorial Stadium.
After Miami went ahead on junior Tyrone Moss's third touchdown run, the game ended when Hurricanes safety Kenny Phillips intercepted Charlie Whitehurst's pass on the Tigers' second offensive play of the third overtime.
The Hurricanes (1-1, 1-1), who lost at Florida State, 10-7, in their Sept. 5 opener, avoided their first 0-2 start since 1978. Miami won for only the third time in its last seven ACC games; it lost three of its last five conference games last season to finish tied for third in the ACC in its first season in the league.
Saturday's 4-hour 10-minute marathon was further evidence the Hurricanes clearly aren't as dominant as they were in the Big East Conference, where they won or shared the league championship in nine of 13 seasons from 1991 to 2003. With Miami having lost 33 players to the NFL draft since 2002, including 16 first-round selections, perhaps the Hurricanes shouldn't be expected to be as dominant as they once were. But they're still supposed to beat teams such as Clemson and North Carolina, which upset them during the 2004 season.
"There are some tough places to play in this league, and there are some good teams," Miami tackle Eric Winston said. "You can count on one thing at Miami: They're going to give you their best games. We've got to be ready for that in this league."
If Whitehurst hadn't overthrown junior Chansi Stuckey in the back of the end zone with 19 seconds left in regulation, Clemson (2-1, 1-1) would have beaten Miami for the second season in a row. Whitehurst lofted a pass over Stuckey's head after Hurricanes cornerback Kelly Jennings fell. The Tigers had to settle for Jad Dean's 27-yard field goal that tied the score at 20 and sent the game into overtime.
"I've just got to make one play," said Whitehurst, who completed 31 of 55 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. "It was hard fought and they made one more play than us. That's one I'll remember for a long time. Those are the ones that haunt you."
Miami was nearly haunted by an 0-2 start after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, and then allowing Whitehurst to throw a five-yard touchdown to Curtis Baham on fourth and two in the first overtime to tie the game at 27. With defensive linemen Bryan Pata and Thomas Carroll bearing down, Whitehurst stepped up in the pocket, leapt and tossed a pass into the end zone for Baham, who jumped and made a fingertip catch over linebacker Jon Beason and safety Brandon Meriweather.
Both teams settled for field goals in the second extra period. Dean kicked a 39-yarder, and then Miami's Jon Peattie made a 19-yarder to force the third overtime.
Miami seemed to be in control after it took a 20-10 lead on Moss's one-yard touchdown run with 14:20 remaining. But then Whitehurst brought the Tigers back for the second week in a row (Clemson rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win at Maryland, 28-24, on Sept. 10) and his one-yard sneak for a touchdown cut the Hurricanes' lead to 20-17 with 2:58 left.
For the second game in a row, Miami's offense was mediocre at best, as the Hurricanes fell behind the Tigers, 10-3, during the first half. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright played better than he did against the Seminoles, completing 16 of 26 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. But Wright was sacked five times and he was unable to get the football to tight end Greg Olsen, who had only two catches, or speedy senior wideout Sinorice Moss, who had three.
Tyrone Moss ran 31 times for 139 yards, including 86 in the second half and overtime.
"This was a tough place to play," Miami Coach Larry Coker said. "This is a huge, huge win for us."