Examining What Led to Clemson Offense Coming Off Rails

There are many upset Clemson fans after watching the team be dominated by Pitt. The game was never really as close as the ending score indicates, and was over in the third quarter for all intents and purposes.

Clemson has the worst offense in college football when you consider roster talent and competition. There is no defending or denying it; they are the worst offensive unit in the sport and most disappointing team in the country. A far cry from where they were the last several years. But how did the Tigers fall so far, so fast?

Let’s start with the offensive line, as it has been the worst position group on the team, at least during the first few games. In fact, this unit has been bad the last two years, even though they have better players. Player development and roster management have been the biggest issues here, as the team wasn’t able to get a true center up to speed prior to the season starting. You can’t have seniors start every year, so you have to get the younger guys ready. Clearly, they haven’t done that. Clemson doesn’t have much experience or depth at the position, but that’s not an excuse for being as bad as they started the year out.

In fact, Clemson has only had three offensive linemen drafted into the NFL over the last ten years. Much of that has to do with the fact that they simply couldn’t recruit blue chip offensive linemen for several years. Now, however, they get blue chip linemen every year, and are somehow worse at the position.

A possible reason for this is that Clemson takes fewer linemen than most other teams. At least four linemen should be taken just about every year to maintain quality depth. Only five linemen were recruited during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, two of which aren’t here anymore. The current 2022 class only holds two recruits at the offensive line.

Moving on to the quarterback position, at this point you have to wonder if DJ Uiagalelei was a recruiting miss. Most considered him a Heisman contender, but so far he has looked more like a backup quarterback than Heisman hopeful. 

You would have to go back more than a decade to find quarterback production this low. Having a shovel pass intercepted for a pick six is something that we’ve likely never seen before at Clemson. His mechanics are reminiscent of Cam Newton. The feet stay planted and never move. He relies on his arm strength alone to fire the ball, and has absolutely no “bounce” in the pocket. To his credit, accuracy has somewhat improved the last two games, but the last thing a struggling quarterback needs is receivers that don’t make the play when he does deliver an accurate strike.

Poor roster management also shows up in the quarterback room. Taisun Phommachanh is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster for Clemson, and he tore his Achilles tendon in spring camp. So it really is a “all your eggs in one basket” type scenario. Quarterback isn’t a position in which you can just “roll with what you’ve got” if you are thin.

In their defense, the team did have another quarterback in the 2020 class in Bubba Chandler. Thing is, he was drafted into Major League Baseball and signed a lucrative deal, thus leading to him exit Clemson football. So they did plan on having another quarterback, but he bolted, and they were unable to secure a replacement.

After that, all they have are walk-ons. Hunter Helms is the most ready of the group, but the fact that you haven’t seen him take a single snap tells us all we need to know. Next year, star quarterback Cade Klubnik comes to Tigertown.

In the event that he wins the starting job, you could see a scenario where Uiagalelei and Phommachanh both hit the transfer portal, leaving Clemson with only one true scholarship signal caller. Honestly, Phommachanh could leave after the season no matter what. He is on pace to graduate and could be actually playing elsewhere.

So this could be a lingering issue, depending on how everything plays out. Quarterback is one position in which you have to tread very carefully in how you manage it. The best case scenario is Uiagalelei breaks out of his slump, which he still has plenty of time to accomplish.

Clemson has been known as WRU for many years now. Well, the current class seemingly has hands of stone and clearly don’t belong in that conversation, at least right now. There have been more dropped passes this year than any in recent memory. And it’s not just one player.

Will Shipley dropped a perfect pass that would have gone for a game changing touchdown. Justyn Ross, Braden Galloway, Joseph Ngata, and Davis Allen have all dropped passes. Just about everyone who has caught a pass has dropped them as well. That’s definitely no way to build confidence for a struggling quarterback, or to win games. It’s so frustrating that if you’ve ever seen the movie “The Replacements” you’ll want to get ahold of some of that wide receiver glue that was used in the film and put it on the players’ hands.

The Tigers haven’t had solid tight end play since Jordan Legette left. That was five years ago. Braden Galloway was thought to be the next tight end passing threat. He isn’t. Davis Allen did have one good game, but lacks consistency. Jake Briningstool, the top tight end prospect in the country last year, did come in and pancake a guy in the end zone, so maybe he gets more playing time with Galloway out. But as a whole, this group has been sorely lacking, in both blocking and pass catching.

Injuries and the transfer portal have certainly taken their toll on Clemson this year. This is the worst year for injuries in many years. Clemson has lost three players this year alone to the transfer portal, with whispers of a fourth possibly entering. We all know Swinney’s stance on the portal, but with depth and experience waning, it would seem as if utilizing the portal this upcoming year could be inevitable.

Finally, play calling has gotten stale. There’s only so many bubble screens and halfback dives you can run before the defense figures it out. And those seemingly comprise 50 percent of the playbook. Lately, they have added quarterback power so that’s a plus, but still a long way from where it needs to be. But in order for it to expand the playbook, players have to execute, and they just aren’t doing that. With all these issues, it’s clear to see this mess isn’t getting fixed this year.

Dabo Swinney has stated that there will be no changes to his staff. Swinney is a man of his word, so there is no reason to believe otherwise. A team like Clemson can take one down year. It happens occasionally to any coach not named Nick Saban. However, if this snowballs into next year, that could very well mark the end of this fantastic run that Clemson has enjoyed the last several years, so this will certainly be an interesting upcoming off-season to say the least.

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