Swinney, Tigers excited about returning to Miami

CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney still remembers Clemson's 2009 trip to Miami like it was yesterday.

In his first full season as the Tigers' head coach, his squad won a 40-37 overtime contest in what Swinney called one of the most exciting games of his career.

There were nine lead changes, the most in Clemson history, and a host of big plays, including a 90-yard C.J. Spiller kick return for a touchdown and a 56-yard TD pass from Kyle Parker to Spiller on a wheel route.

The Tigers upset the top-10 ranked Hurricanes on a 26-yard, walk-off TD pass from Parker to Jacoby Ford.

"Just an awesome night," Swinney said. "Go back and look at that game, there were a lot of NFL players on both sides, but especially those guys down there. It was an electric night. I'll never forget that kick return by Spiller, that wheel route by Spiller. Two huge plays for touchdowns. The overtime play by Jacoby. It was a great moment for our guys, especially that team, because we got off to a slow start and there was a freshman quarterback trying to figure things out. We went on to win six in a row and came back and beat Florida State and it was just a fun year, kind of getting started."

The No. 5 Tigers (6-0, 3-0 ACC) return to Miami (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday for a noon contest televised on ABC, but Swinney's also made memories in South Florida as an assistant in 2004 (another overtime Clemson win) and a pair of Orange Bowl appearances.

While there were several current Tigers who played in that 2013 win over Ohio State down there, nobody on this roster has actually played the school known famously as "The U."

Despite being in the same conference, Clemson hasn't even faced Miami since 2010, but Swinney doesn't think seeing a conference team every five years makes it any more challenging.

"We know who they are," Swinney said. "We watch them all the time on tape. Even though you may not play them, you see them all the time. And these guys are aware of everybody in the conference."

Clemson has 11 active players from the Sunshine State, so many of these guys have already played against current members of the Hurricanes.

"It's going to be a fun game playing people from back home," Clemson freshman WR Ray-Ray McCloud, a Tampa native, said. "I've always grown up a Florida State kind of guy. Miami, I've always dreamed of playing against them. Now that it's here, it's not overwhelming, but it's very exciting."

McCloud is friends with Miami freshman OL Tyree St. Louis, and talked to him two weeks ago about this game. The Hurricanes went after McCloud hard early in his recruiting process, but he never made a visit there, so this is his first trip to Sun Life Stadium, which is less than four hours from his hometown.

Clemson junior tight end Jordan Leggett, who's from the Florida Panhandle, was a Miami fan as a kid because of the mascot and colors.

Travis Blanks, a Clemson junior linebacker who also hails from the other side of the state in Tallahassee, was born in Fort Myers, which is about two hours west of Miami and also home to safety Jayron Kearse. Blanks said Saturday will be a "family reunion."

Many players on this team, though, know more about Miami from the ESPN "30 for 30" documentaries on the Hurricanes' program than what it's done on the field over the last few years. Al Golden's team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since 2013 and has finished with a losing conference record two of the last four years. However, because of all the scandals, five national titles and tons of NFL talent produced, "The U" still carries college football prestige and excitement for these guys.

"I think it is a little bit cool. Lot of players have come out of there, lot of great players," Blanks said. "Obviously they have the '30 for 30' thing going on, so I think it'll be a cool challenge and experience to go down there and play against Miami."