For the most part, this has definitely been a forgettable year for Tiger fans.
Entering the season, Clemson was ranked in the top three and expected to compete for another College Football Playoff appearance. As it turned out, Clemson regressed at pretty much every offensive position and was out of the playoff picture in the month of September. It ended up being a season of struggle, for many reasons which have already been discussed in detail.
Clemson has a loyal fan base, and many have supported the team through the good years and the bad. In all honesty though, the fan’s expectations for the season were extremely high, following the success that Dabo Swinney and the Tigers have enjoyed the last decade. This season will be remembered as the season of struggles. One in which Clemson had to learn to improve the weaker areas of the offense, which were overlooked due to having a generational quarterback and running back the last several years.
The good news is that we are finally seeing some light at the end of this season-long tunnel. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei completed 60 percent of his passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. He might have had another touchdown pass, but it was erased by a questionable call in the end zone. Regardless, he led the Tigers to score 30 points for the first time in regulation, without the defense having to score.
This performance was particularly impressive because it was done on the road, a place in which Clemson hasn’t faired well at all this season. Beyond the numbers, Uiagalelei just looked more comfortable. He was making multiple reads, stretching the field, and confident. He still missed a couple of easy throws, but for the most part this is the version of him that the team was missing all year.
It’s no secret that the offensive line has looked bad all year, and at times even embarrassing. Well they didn’t exactly look like All Americans on Saturday night either, but they did string together plays and drives which afforded Uiagalelei time in the pocket, and opened up some holes for the running backs. Honestly, there still needs to be substantial improvement at this position group as they are still the weak link on offense, but they are improving, ever so slightly each game.
Clemson may have actually found a slot receiver in Beaux Collins. The true freshman had six receptions for over 100 yards and a touchdown against Louisville. He seemed to get much better separation than both Justyn Ross and Joseph Ngata and may be exactly what the Tigers were missing at receiver. Davis Allen has emerged as the go to guy at tight end after a rocky start to the season.
From a play calling standpoint, you would still like to see more of the window dressing and outside runs, but that will come in time. The coaching staff has to see that the players can be trusted to consistently make the easier, routine plays before they call more complex plays. Last night’s game against Louisville was more of what Tiger fans can expect to see going forward.
You have to crawl before you can walk. Clemson’s offense had to learn to play with cohesion first. Then they had to score more than 17. They broke through and scored more than 20. They scored 30 last night. 40 should be the next target this season. Sure, it’s not what the fans wanted, but it’s what the players needed to grow and develop. So there is definitely some light at the end of this tunnel, and the players and coaches will be all the better for it the rest of this season, next year, and beyond.
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