As we continue to look back at the 2020 season, today we take a look at the offensive line. This group came into the season with only one returning starter and it showed at times.
The pandemic hurt due to not having as many practices along with not being able to participate in strength and conditioning programs as usual. If there is any position group that needs that kind of continuity, it is the offensive line and the didn’t get it.
Many times it looked as though Clemson’s offensive line was lost and not sure who was to be blocked. The lone returning starter was left tackle Jackson Carman. He was a third-team All-ACC player in 2019, and was hands down the Tigers most experienced lineman. Despite that, even he didn’t have quite the season many had envisioned.
Then there was Jordan McFadden who was the backup left tackle in 2019 and moved to starting right tackle this season. Many felt coming in that McFadden was the most athletic offensive lineman on the team.
Then Clemson had Matt Bockhorst at left guard who was the Tigers most played backup offensive lineman in 2019 along with Will Putnam at right guard. Putnam, a sophomore, came in with praise from the coaching staff for his impressive fall camp after getting some experience as a backup in 2019.
The center position belonged to Cade Stewart. A fifth-year senior, it was known that Stewart was limited physically, but he was experienced and knew how to make the calls along the offensive line. Stewart had played a mix of guard and center over his time as a Tiger but had settled in as the starting center for his last season at Clemson.
Coming in it was known this was one of the thinner spots on the roster and that the offensive line could be a weak spot for the Tigers. It proved to be just that, especially when it came to depth and the run blocking in general. The interior of the line in particular. Far to often there just was nowhere for the backs to run.
Travis Etienne was hit behind the line of scrimmage more times this season than he was during any other season throughout his Clemson career. He went from averaging 7.8 yards a carry in 2019 to 5.4 this season. Overall the Tigers went from 240.4 total rushing yards per game and an average of 6.4 per carry in 2019, to 153.8 total rushing yards a game and 4.5 per carry this season.
This group was better with its pass blocking but even that was an issue at times. Clemson ranked No. 32 in sacks allowed this season, giving up an average of 1.67 sacks per game.
This line was good enough to get the Tigers another ACC Championship and back to the playoff, but the ACC was once again a little down and winning the ACC is just one of the goals these days inside the program. This group looked overwhelmed in the Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.
Overall, it was not hard to understand why some were overly critical. Robbie Caldwell has got to get the line playing better going forward. Travis Etienne is will be gone in 2021. As great as he is, even he could not find running room this season.
The team is about to start benefitting from an influx of talent along the line and guys like McFadden and Putnam will be better now that they have a year of experience as starters under their belts.
2020 Position Grades