Going from worst to first is much harder than collapsing. Sliding down the ladder is much easier than climbing up, and getting back to the top from the bottom step is the hardest to do.
Clemson’s 2021 offensive regression is due to multiple factors working against them. Getting them all ironed out and immediately entering the status of the college football elite in 2022 is something that Clemson Tiger fans are expecting, but may honestly be mostly wishful thinking.
The reason is simple. There are several contributing factors, which we will discuss, that have led to this offensive collapse. Many will point to the 2017 and 2018 years, in which Clemson looked anemic on offense against Alabama but ended up crushing them the following year. It’s apples and oranges; Clemson only had a quarterback issue at that point in time.
The biggest issue this season has been the offensive line. They have regressed the last two years. Player development and roster management have both been bad. Clemson is among the worst in the Power-5 this year at this position. Since this is a group and not an individual, and mostly the same guys will be returning next year, it’s hard to imagine them going from worst to first over the course of one off-season. If past performance is indicative of future behavior, their performance on the field speaks for itself over the last two years.
DJ Uiagalelei has been less than stellar over the course of the season. He has certainly improved somewhat to this point, but is still nowhere near the level of fellow ACC quarterbacks Sam Howell, Sam Hartman, and Kenny Pickett. Having little protection hasn’t done him any favors, but his limited mobility makes him a sitting duck in the pocket. Accuracy and decision making have been questionable at times throughout the season.
The wide receivers simply lack the ability to get separation. Sure, they are all big and athletic, but have been blanketed by coverage for the most part. Beaux Collins stepped up big in the slot last week, but separation remained an issue for the others. Again, the offensive line has done them no favors. Teams are not afraid to attack the Tigers up front. Therefore opposing teams can simply rush only four to get to the quarterback and stuff the run. That leaves eight players to drop into coverage to cover, at most, five Clemson receivers. Eight against five is a good number for the defense.
Play calling has gotten stale. Whether it’s Tony Elliot, Dabo Swinney, or whomever else calling plays, they have looked extremely predictable at times. Opposing teams having the ability to know what’s coming before the ball is snapped doesn’t bode well for the offense. Complacency is likely the root cause here, as Clemson has been able to rely solely on talent to win in the ACC.
Speaking of the ACC, that’s another problem itself. This year it seems that some teams in the ACC have stepped up to challenge Clemson, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in recent years. Players get better at sports when they play tough competition. Playing lesser talent has likely led to Clemson becoming lackadaisical over the last couple years, and relying on sheer talent to crush measly ACC competition. That could be part of the reason that Clemson suffered back to back College Football Playoff beat downs. It’s easy to think that you’re better than you actually are when the ACC offered little to no competition.
All of these issues are fixed starting with the offensive line. There are those that will think that this will all be fixed during the off-season. How? If they haven’t improved over the last couple years, what has happened that would lead us to believe a single off-season will do the trick? Even if the offensive line is better, we still have to improve at all the other aforementioned items.
It would be a reasonable assumption to think that Clemson’s offense should be better at the start of the 2022 season. After all, at least statistically, they can’t start off being much worse. But history suggests that a collapse of this magnitude normally isn’t simply fixed over the course of a single off-season.
Clemson and Florida State have released depth charts ahead of this weekend’s matchup at Death Valley.
Clemson vs Florida Atlantic: Depth Charts
The ninth-ranked Tigers will travel to Duke to face off with the Blue Devils. Kickoff is set for 8 pm and the game will be televised by ESPN.