Miami good but not great

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Miami Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon called it the play of the game. Clemson Tigers coach Dabo Swinney called it a “stone cold knockout.”

On fourth-and-1 from Miami’s 20-yard line in the fourth quarter, Miami cornerback Brandon Harris changed the game when he stopped Clemson's shifty running back, Andre Ellington, short of the first down.

“It was a huge play,” Harris said. “As a player here at Miami, those are the situations you want to be in -- come up and make a big stop for your team.”

It was one example of Miami’s potential to be a great team. There’s only one thing standing in the way: Miami. As long as the Hurricanes continue to make mistakes -- namely turnovers and penalties -- the Canes will have to settle for being a good team.

Miami took a major step forward in the conference race with its 30-21 road win over Clemson in the first ACC game for both programs. There were plenty of positives for Miami to take into Saturday’s game against rival Florida State, but if the Hurricanes are going to be a championship team, they have to eliminate a trend of eight interceptions in the past three games and 12 penalties for 105 yards against Clemson.

“We have to minimize some of those mistakes on offense, try to minimize the turnovers, and on defense, not give up that big 70-yard run they had,” Harris said. “You have to eliminate those types of plays if you want to be a great team.”

If Miami fans are frustrated watching this year’s offense, they are not alone.

“It does, it really does,” Shannon said when asked if the mistakes frustrate him. “And it frustrates the players because they know we work hard and keep improving every week. They know that if we eliminate the little mistakes it will help us out.”

Mistakes like back-to-back 15-yard penalties on punt returns for kick catch interference -- both on Tommy Streeter who has never been in that situation before. Miami’s defense forced six turnovers, something they’ve been stressing and improved upon since last year, but the Canes couldn’t get anything going on offense in the second half.

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris finished with four touchdown passes and two interceptions and completed just 13 of 33 passes. Fortunately for Harris, Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker fared worse, he completed 14 of 33 passes for no touchdowns, threw three interceptions and had three sacks. It was a game in which Shannon said both teams made “bone-headed missed tackles and turnovers.”

This time, Clemson just happened to make more.

“You just can’t win without good ball security, especially with six turnovers,” Swinney said. “It was a disappointing loss. We dug ourselves into a hole in the first quarter with our defensive mistakes. This was a tough game because in the past, we’ve been taking care of the football very well and then today we didn’t do that.”

Clemson had just two turnovers in the three previous games combined. Miami, though, had gotten used to it.

“We don’t want the turnovers,” Shannon said. “But he made some great plays today. The one thing we can’t do is go shell-shocked. We won’t do that at Miami. We feel like we’ve got a great quarterback who’s going to give us a chance to win a lot of games here and we’re going to continue to stress make sure you take what they give you and understand the game.”

Despite Harris’ turnover tendency, there is a contagious confidence about him. No matter what he does on the previous play, he gets into the huddle and says, “J12 checking in.” The other players following, rattling off their numbers and “checking in.” Harris threw an interception in the second quarter, but the defense got him the ball back and Harris threw a touchdown pass for the 20-14 lead on the following possession.

“He bounces back,” said receiver Leonard Hankerson.

In turn, so does Miami.