Clemson football has found themselves in some very unfamiliar territory.
The team has been dominant for the better part of a decade. So much in fact that they have six straight ACC championships, six straight College Football Playoff appearances and two national championship trophies over the last 6 years.
So how did this team get to a point in which it can barely beat or even lose to unranked teams? The answer isn’t so simple as there are several contributing factors.
First let’s state the obvious. Offensive line production has been nonexistent. There are five offensive linemen on the field at one time; a center, two guards and two tackles. Right now teams are attacking them with only a 3-man front. Five should win against three right? In theory, yes. The easiest way to attack a 3-man front is to assert your will in the running game. Problem is, Clemson can’t block well enough to run the ball, even against a 3-man front.
Since they can’t run, they turn to the pass. Now the opposing team can drop eight in coverage to defend, since they only need three up front. Now there’s a numbers problem.
Clemson will have up to five eligible receivers. So the opposing team has eight guys to cover those five. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that those numbers are not going to work in the Tigers’ favor. With no fear of a run game, opposing teams will continue this trend until Clemson can defeat it. And that may not be this season.
The offensive line has more blue chip players on the roster currently than any other time under the Dabo Swinney era. So recruiting is better, but production is worse? It’s a head scratcher, that’s for sure. It doesn’t help that the offensive line room is always thin because Clemson keeps less scholarship players on the team than most other teams do. So basically, either the guys that were recruited just aren’t as good as advertised, the scheme just doesn’t work, or they aren’t developing them like they should. Or a combination.
Quarterback run is another way to defeat the 3-man front. The problem here is that DJ Uiagalelei just isn’t a true dual threat QB. Sure, he can run some, but he just simply isn’t built that way. He is more of a power runner, better for short yardage situations. Lacking elite speed, teams aren’t afraid of the QB run. So you can see how these things severely limit offensive production.
Another area of concern that can be addressed is play calling. In the past, Clemson has used a lot of window dressing, moving guys around pre-snap and hurry up offense in the past. This year, and in recent years, they have done very little to none of this, mainly relying on up the middle runs and wide receiver screens. This makes it easy for defenses to predict and get the Tigers off the field with three and outs.
Clemson lacks the true slot receiver. The Tigers just don’t have a shifty, quick guy to line up at the slot. Justyn Ross is more of an boundary receiver that just lines up in the slot. It doesn’t help that the tight ends haven’t been much help in the passing or blocking game. They have mostly been non-factors over the last several years.
All these issues combined spells trouble for Clemson. It’s unlikely that they get it fixed this season. If they don’t figure it out soon though, it will start to affect recruiting. Recruits come to Clemson to play for Clemson. No one comes to play in the ACC. Clemson can’t use conference affiliation to aid in recruiting like SEC or BIG10 schools.
Hopefully they will get it figured out sooner rather than later. For now, just prepare for a season much different than those in years past. One in which this team will have to fight tooth and nail for every inch of offensive production against all remaining opponents.
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