How Clemson Went From National Title Contender to Where They Are Now So Quickly

Talk about how much difference a year can make.

Clemson fans know that feeling all too well. Fans knew that Clemson would lose Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne to the NFL, but with so much talent on the roster, how did they fall so far so fast?

Well there are several different contributing factors. There’s an old football saying that goes something like this “the farther away you are from the ball, the less important you are”. It’s talking about pre-snap, and Clemson certainly has a long list of issues there.

The first guy to touch the ball is the center. Problem there is, Matt Bockhorst really isn’t a true center. He’s an offensive guard who’s trying to play center because Clemson doesn’t have a true center ready to play. They are a work in progress, to put it nicely. To be a little more blunt, they stay on their backside more than they do on their feet, and still have issues snapping the ball.

But center isn’t the only issue on the offensive line. The next problem is experience. There’s a huge transition from playing offensive line in high school compared to college. In high school, they usually just depend on their size as the bigger kids just impose their will on the smaller, weaker kids. In Power 5 football, even in a weak ACC, the defensive linemen are big, strong, and fast. Technique is required now. Experience helps develop that.

That’s something Clemson is sorely lacking. 2018 was a stellar recruiting class which produced Trevor Lawrence among other high level athletes who would go on to do great things at Clemson. The one position in which it didn’t produce much of is offensive line. The staff only snagged two recruits, one of which is already gone, Jackson Carmen.

2019 wasn’t much better, producing only three offensive linemen, one of which would transfer out, without likely sniffing the field except during blowouts. In fact, he didn’t even receive a scholarship offer until the twelfth hour of recruiting. And that was only because Clemson whiffed on their primary recruit. They seemingly went “all in” on one guy, but that guy didn’t choose Clemson. So we reached out to a guy who lacked the talent to ever see any real playing time. .

So that’s a total of five offensive line recruits in two years. At a position in which five are on the field at one time. Two of those guys aren’t even with the program anymore.

Those would your would be juniors and seniors on this year’s team. 2020 and 2021 were more fruitful, but these guys lack experience. A big reason why is that the same 5 guys got almost all the playing time last year. Another year in which Clemson got little production from the offensive line. So now the Tigers have very few upperclassmen, and very little to no experience for the younger guys.

Moving on to quarterback, it’s fairly easy to see why DJ Uiagalelei is struggling. He locks onto the primary receiver, with no other receivers on the field even getting a look from the quarterback. They could be wide open but Uiagalelei doesn’t see them because he locks onto the first target. And tries to wait until they get open.

The following video shows an excellent throw from him, and the talent he has. But it also shows how long he stares down a single receiver, and waits for the play to develop instead of looking elsewhere.

When you have a quarterback holding onto the ball too long and a non existent running game because the offensive line looks dazed and confused, bad things are bound to happen. Not to mention the steady diet of three and outs on offense causes the defense to stay on the field most of the game, tire out, and be more likely to get injuries. The Clemson defense played nearly 42 minutes of regulation with the offense on the field only 18 minutes against NC State.

So, in a nutshell, roster management is taking a toll on Clemson. It likely doesn’t help that Clemson doesn’t generally take players from the transfer portal. The team’s “small net theory” regarding recruiting has fared very well over the years, but it has proven to be a double edged sword this year. Offensive line and quarterback play are things that can be resolved, they just usually take some time. The Tigers at the end of the year will likely be much better than the Tigers that began the year, at least among the offense. But expect a bumpy ride along the way.

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