Coming into the season, there were high expectations surrounding this Clemson football team.
A new offense, led by a new offensive coordinator, along with a new quarterback, had many believing this was the season the Tigers would make a triumphant return to the College Football Playoff.
However, those hopes were all but dashed after an underwhelming performance on the road at Duke to start the season and then they were completely put to bed after an overtime loss at home to Florida State.
Heading into the bye week, this Clemson football team is sitting a 4-2, with some of its loftier preseason goals already off the table. While there is still a mathematical chance to make it to the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers will need a ton of help. The chances are not very good.
That isn’t to say there is nothing left to play for. Clemson can still keep its consecutive seasons streak of getting to 10 wins alive, and then there is always the pride factor. Although getting to 10 wins won’t be easy, as the schedule presents some challenges. That means this team is going to have to play better football than what we’ve seen in the first six games, particularly on offense.
Quarterback: Cade Klubnik has had his moments, make no mistake, but he still needs to take his game to another level. He needs to be more consistent. The sophomore has had stretches where he’s played extremely well. The Florida State and Syracuse games come to mind first and foremost. Then, after seeing growth over consecutive weeks, there was the clunker the last time out against Wake Forest.
Klubnik is hitting on 65% of his throws and has thrown 11 TDs to just two interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 150 attempts, the second longest active streak in the country. At the same time, he has been fortunate that his number of interceptions isn’t double what it is, and that’s being generous. He still throws into coverage too often and tends to stare down receivers.
Running Back: Before the season started, Dabo Swinney boasted of potentially having two 1,000 yard rushers this season, with the new offense being referred to as the “dirt raid.” Halfway through the season and Will Shipley (462 yards) and Phil Mafah (355 yards) have a long way to go to make that come to fruition.
While the ground game has been solid at times, at others it has faltered. There just hasn’t been enough consistency. While some of that blame absolutely falls on the guys doing the blocking, some also falls on the backs. Both have struggled with field vision at times and both also need to be better at picking up yards after contact.
Wide Receiver: Has the receiving corps been great? Absolutely not. Have they been as bad as some have made them out to be? Probably not. Beaux Collins (24 catches, 339 yards) has been solid, but outside of that, none of the starters in the season opener have had major impacts. Antonio Williams has been hurt, as is Cole Turner, and Adam Randall has just been a non-factor.
Freshman Tyler Brown (24 catches, 338 yards) has provided some spark to a group and the return of Troy Stellato (16 catches, 151 yards) has been a much-needed shot in the arm. Getting Williams back after the bye will be huge.
However, there has been an obvious lack of explosive plays in the passing game. There just hasn’t been a lot of effort made to push the ball down the field at times. Not because guys are never open, though. Receivers are creating enough separation to give Klubnik windows to throw into. It’s just far too often that he doesn’t see them. He is locking onto one guy, and if it isn’t there, he is hitting the checkdown without scanning the field.
One area that absolutely still needs some improvement is the blocking out on the perimeter, although to be fair, even that has gotten a little better since the start of the season.
Tight Ends: This position has to be one of the biggest disappointments on the offense through the first six games. While Jake Briningstool does have 18 catches, he is only averaging 6.9 yards per catch. That just isn’t what was expected coming into the season. At 6-foot-6, Briningstool was supposed to be a guy that could stretch the field and create mismatches down the middle of the field. It just hasn’t happened. Instead, most of his targets have been around the line of scrimmage. Somehow, some way, the Tigers have to figure out a way to get more out of this group. Even if that means giving Sage Ennis more opportunities.
Offensive Line: If ever a group reflected that term “consistently inconsistent.” Through the first four games, this offensive line looked to be progressing. Over the past two, though, not so much.
Undoubtedly, losing Walker Parks was a huge blow. But this is a group that was supposed to be as deep as they’ve had in years. While the pass blocking has mostly been serviceable, the run blocking has been another story altogether. Especially against Syracuse and Wake Forest.
Maybe the bye is coming at just the right time for this group. In that second half against Wake, it looked like we saw a transition to freshman Harris Sewell at RG and maybe even one to redshirt freshman Colin Sadler at LT, who has been splitting time there with redshirt sophomore Tristan Leigh. Halfway in and there are still some things to figure out here.
Defense: Wes Goodwin looks to have his unit rounding into form at just the right time, as this defense seems to get better with each passing week. As expected, the front four has been disruptive. with true freshmen Peter Woods and T.J. Parker playing pivotal roles, along with veterans like Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro.
The linebackers still need to be more consistent with tackling and shore up some issues in coverage, particularly on wheel routes, but overall Barrett Carter, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Wade Woodaz have been solid.
The improvement on the backend is one of the bigger stories of the season. Nate Wiggins was starting to look like a potential first round pick before his injury. The Tigers allowed 231 passing yards per game last season. So far this season they are allowing 175.5, and that is a marked improvement.
Special Teams: The only reason this group doesn’t get a failing grade here is due to the punting of Aidan Swanson and the kickoffs of Robert Gunn. Swanson has been extremely consistent, averaging 45 yards per punt and having nine downed inside the 20-yard line.
Everything else, it’s just been bad. Jonathon Weitz and Gunn have combined to go 4-for-10 on field goals. Even fielding punts has been a challenge for this team at times.
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