Clemson’s Slow Start Temporary Setback, Not Necessarily Sign of Things to Come

No one saw it coming.

Every talking head across the country had Clemson pegged to win a seventh straight ACC Championship and to make the playoff for a seventh straight season.

After the Tigers 3-2 start, the playoff is out. Clemson doesn’t even control its own destiny in the ACC, and is no longer the favorite to win the conference. Right now, that would be Pitt.

How Clemson got here has been well documented. DJ Uiagalelei hasn’t played up to expectations, the offensive line has taken a step back instead of the expected step forward and the wide receivers have looked downright pedestrian.

The question becomes is what we’ve seen through the first five games just a temporary setback or a sign of things to come for the program heading forward. My money is on it being a minor roadblock.

The state of the offensive line can be traced back to some questionable decisions with roster management. In the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes, Clemson signed a total of five offensive linemen. Yes, just five.

Over the past three classes, the staff has signed 14 offensive linemen, easily making up for those numbers. Over the past two classes, the talent level of the offensive linemen has increased dramatically.

However, instead of a room littered with upperclassmen, which is what the Tigers have had throughout most of this run, it’s now full of underclassmen not quite ready. If some of those guys still aren’t ready next season, then you know you have a much bigger issue.

As for quarterback play, it’s far to early to throw in the towel on Uiagalelei. No, he isn’t Trevor Lawrence or Deshaun Watson, but we have all seen it, this kid can play. It’s in there somewhere.

For now though, he IS the best option. Taisun Phommachanh is still only six months removed from a ruptured Achilles. If you are frustrated with the lack of running from Uiagalelei, imagine what you would see from Phommachanh. And this offense needs its quarterback to be an effective runner.

The receivers might be the biggest disappointment for this years team. Justyn Ross looks like a guy that hasn’t played in a year, and most just assumed he would step back on the field and never miss a beat. Joseph Ngata has struggled with consistency and Frank Ladson is once again injured.

One of the biggest issues with this group, though, is the lack of a slot receiver. There is no Amari Rodgers or Hunter Renfrow type guy on the field and it is showing. Next season the Tigers will have Troy Stellato and Will Taylor, which should help tremendously. Brannon Spector should also be back.

At the end of the day, there are some issues the program is dealing with right now. There is no quick fix to right the ship for this season, but it’s also not the end of the road.

In fact, this season might just be exactly what was needed. The offense has gotten far to bland in recent seasons and has become fairly predictable. Tony Elliott admitted after the loss to LSU in the 2019 national title game that he needed to address some tendencies that had been figured out, and now it’s time to address the offense as a whole.

The Tigers have been relying on sheer talent for far to long now on the offensive side of the ball. It’s time to address the scheme. What happened to all the pre-snap motion? The tempo? All the misdirection plays? It is something that needs to be addressed.

The good news is we have seen in the past that Dabo Swinney is absolutely capable of making the tough decisions when needed, and it is time to make some of those regarding this offense. No, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start firing coaches, these guys have earned the right to make the necessary adjustments.

However, it is time to update some things. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and whenever Swinney has been tasked with ensuring this program keeps moving forward, he’s come through. There is no reason to think he won’t do so again.

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