Saturday night was a little hard to watch. It’s been almost two days since the season opening loss to Georgia, and it’s still hard to wrap my head around what we saw.
For the first time since 2014, we saw a Clemson offense struggle, and struggle mightily. Unfortunately, the Tigers just weren’t ready for primetime. Well, on one side of the ball anyways.
Brent Venables defense played lights out. They were awesome. For those, including myself, that were worried about safety play, Andrew Mukuba and Jalyn Phillips were mighty impressive. And Nolan Turner didn’t even dress.
The defensive front was as advertised and we already knew what the Tigers had at linebacker. The defense held the Dawgs offense in check all night long, limiting them to just 256 yards of offense.
The problem was, the Clemson offense never even hit the 200 yard mark. The running game was non-existent, something that wasn’t all that surprising, considering the opponent.
What was surprising was the coaching staff never even attempted to establish the run. The running backs had nine carries total, and the one time the offense moved the ball inside the Georgia 10-yard line, we saw three straight passes. Each one incomplete.
The offensive line struggled, something else that wasn’t all that surprising considering a true freshman was starting at LG and Matt Bockhorst was making his first career start at center. But you still have to make the effort to make Georgia respect some semblance of a running game. Clemson never did that.
The biggest surprise of all, though, was how much quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei struggled. While fans were expecting a seamless transition from Trevor Lawrence, they got anything but. He looked like a guy making his first start in front of a full stadium of close to 80K screaming fans.
Uiagalelei looked confused at times. He was indecisive, held onto the ball to long, and was hesitant to take off when a play was breaking down. The Bulldog defense rattled him early and he never seemed to fully recover.
At the same time, the play calling did him no favors. With all the pressure the Dawgs were getting, you would think the Tigers would have tried some rollouts in an effort to slow that rush down. Move the pocket, do something to help the struggling young quarterback.
On a positive note, after the game, Uiagalelei was saying all the right things. Everything you want your starting quarterback to say after that kind of loss.
“It’s on me,” Uiagalelei said. “I didn’t play well at all. I played well as it went on, but I didn’t start off playing well. I have to play well from the beginning. It’s as clear as that.”
At the end of the day, it’s still one game in a long season. All is not lost. Everything is still on the table for this team. Like Dabo Swinney said after, the only thing they can’t do is go undefeated.
However, this team has some work to do over the next two weeks. With SC State up next, the Tigers can try and work out some of the kinks this weekend. Get Uiagalelei his confidence back.
Get those young inexperienced running backs some work, because it’s obvious the staff doesn’t have a ton of trust in them after not giving them much of an opportunity in Charlotte. Most importantly, get those young, inexperienced offensive linemen some work. Make sure the five best are on the field.
The journey begins now. There is no more margin for error.
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