Clemson Run Game is in Good Hands with Garrett Riley

While Garrett Riley comes from Mike Leach’s Air Raid tree, the new Clemson offensive coordinator isn’t about to abandon the run. 

In fact, one of the very reasons he was likely brought in by Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney is because Riley believes so much in using the ground game to balance out a high-powered offense.

“You just have to (run the ball),” Riley, the former OC at TCU, said last spring during an interview with Frogs Today. “You look at the history, the recent history, of people that have won championships in their conference and national championships, you’ve got to be really, really good running the football. That’s got to be a big threat of what you do.”

While he hasn’t publically addressed his full intentions with the Clemson offense yet, Riley has gone on the record of being a playcaller who wants the identity of his unit to be physicality. He said receivers, tight ends and running backs have to buy into blocking for the run game to work. 

“We feel like we’re going to have to run the ball to be successful when it really matters at the end of the season,” Riley said. 

In three seasons as an OC, each of Riley’s offenses has ranked inside the top 50 in yards per rush, including TCU at 23rd this past season. 

So how does a former college quarterback who played in an offense that routinely averaged over 300 and sometimes 400 yards per game? Well, look to Riley’s resume and upbringing in the coaching profession. 

He got his first collegiate job at D-III Augustana College, where he worked with running backs and an offense built to run. 

Then he had a stint at East Carolina with his brother Lincoln, who is the head coach at USC and a fellow proponent in pairing the Air Raid system with a power-run attack that he used at Oklahoma. 

At Kansas, Riley started out as an offensive analyst but eventually worked with quarterbacks, tight ends and fullbacks.

Then he spent 2019 as the running backs coach at App State under then-head coach Eliah Drinkwitz. The Mountaineers ranked 16th nationally in rushing offense that season and gave Riley the vantage point he needed to add to his repertoire. 

“Probably the biggest impact on me from (a run-game) standpoint was my stint there at Appalachian State,” Riley said. “Those guys there, they know how to run the football. For me in my career at that time, I was going with a coach that was really completely opposite of what I knew from the schematics. That was great for me. It really opened my eyes to a lot of different things.”

He increased his knowledge as OC at SMU under Sonny Dykes, who took Riley with him to TCU in 2022, when the Horned Frogs went all the way to the national championship game. 

All of those experiences have helped Riley become a well-rounded coach who understands how to put together a complementary offense. At Clemson, he’s got some pretty good clay to work with in Will Shipley and Phil Mafah. 

Shipley rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. Mafah averaged 5.2 yards per carry. The offensive line returns four starters up front, and QB Cade Klubnik brings a dynamic running style that will benefit Riley’s system. 

The hope for Clemson is that it doesn’t get into the trap it fell into last season, where the coaches were saying they wished they had run the ball more. And under Riley’s system, if the ground game takes off, it opens up big plays through the air. 

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