What’s Different? Kyle Richardson Details Clemson’s New Offense

Kyle Richardson Trent Pearman Jason Priester All Clemson

Clemson’s offense in 2023 will not resemble the system of 2022 and earlier. 

The Tigers brought in offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to not use what Dabo Swinney has been running since the Chad Morris era with new ideas built upon them. 

Instead, this is a total revamping from the former TCU playcaller. 

So what exactly does that mean?

After all, new is supposed to be better, but you first have to understand what you won’t be seeing anymore. That might excite fans who grew tired of an ineffective passing game. 

Kyle Richardson, the tight ends coach and passing game coordinator, recently broke down significant changes to Clemson’s offense. 

“We’ve done some things schematically that I think we’ll take advantage of our personnel, take advantage of our skill set at the receiver position, at the tight end position at the running back position,” Richardson said. “It’s only going to benefit the quarterbacks that we’re bringing in here and currently with Cade (Klubnik) and (Chris Vizzina) and Hunter Helms has done a great job learning the system and being able to execute it.”

Here’s a look at some of the other alterations: 

No more option routes

It was a curious decision to ask an inexperienced receiving corps that was sometimes injury-riddled and didn’t always have great chemistry with the quarterbacks to run a system designed for them to determine during the play which direction to run. 

To be frank, it didn’t work, and it’s one of the reasons Riley was brought in to rework the framework of the passing concepts. 

“You’re running this route and you need to run this route, but if things happen while you’re running this route then you can change some things up,” Richardson said. “Last year it was you can go right or left based off some things, but we’re not living in that world now. It’s, ‘I’m going right, I may go right high or I may go right low, but I’m going right.'” 

Simplifying vs. simplification

Richardson was clear about the difference between making the offense simple compared to simplifying an already existing offense. The Tigers are doing the former this spring. Last year, they got caught up in trying to make an offense that had multiple layers to it created by Morris, Tony Elliott, Jeff Scott and Brandon Streeter. Going through and finding the simple or best of the “Clemson offense” wasn’t exactly freeing. 

“This (Riley) offensive scheme is just simple and it’s easy,” Richardson said. “Last year we did simplify. We took out some stuff that we didn’t run a lot or we were just practicing and repping because that’s the way we had done it years before. Now it’s different. It’s a totally different scheme. 

“When you hear the buzzword ‘simple,’ it’s because the scheme is simple. It’s already simplified. Now we need to go rep it. We need to go learn it.”

Lighter playbook

Part of that simplification is not burdening the players with a deep playbook. Last year, Richardson said the Tigers installed plays that they never used in a game. That won’t be the case this season.

The installation happened in a few days, not weeks, this spring, and there’s just a “handful of stuff” for the players to learn.

“It’s not a lot of plays,” Richardson said. “You take those plays and you mix and match them into different formations and motions and you give them options to make them look different. But to the quarterback, they’re still those 10 plays or so.”

Freedom to play

Richardson one of the biggest differences to the new scheme is it’s allowing the players to “just go play.” He said last year there were some routes where it had to be an exact amount of steps or the receiver had to stay in a certain spot. That’s not the case anymore. 

“This is, ‘Hey, this is where we want you to go and on the way there if some things happen, then let’s play football,’” Richardson said. “So here’s how we got to install it and here’s what we’re installing it against, but when you get out there and the coaches aren’t out there, you still got to go play football and you still have to find a way to make this play work.”

Richardson said it’s not only the QB who has freedom. Running backs, tight ends and receivers do as well “as long as we’re on the same page.” 

Controlling tempo 

The Tigers aren’t trying to go at a break-neck speed, but they want to be able to dictate the pace – go slow when they want and fast when they feel like it. Getting the play in and getting lined up helps that. 

Watching Clemson get lined up in previous years could be described as chaotic. Receivers were running from one side of the field to another depending on what hash mark the ball was on, looking at characters and symbols on huge white boards trying to decipher the play and players were at times running in circles and chasing their tails like a dog. 

That won’t be the case any longer. Clemson will no longer have receivers designated to the boundary or field. Instead, you line up on the left or the right of the QB and that’s where you play. 

That will help the Tigers think less, which leads to better control of the tempo. 

“One of the reasons you can play faster is because you’re thinking faster,” Richardson said. “The mental side of it is not slowed down. 

“The play-calls get in quicker. Garrett is going to signal the plays. You don’t have boards and all that other stuff of the past. In order for us to get a play going, there was a lot of stuff that had to happen. There was a ton of communication that had to happen. You don’t see that in this offense.”

Field usage

Richardson said the average fan wants to see players making plays, and he feels Riley’s scheme will put players in a better position to do that than in past seasons. 

But if there’s one gripe from the Tiger faithful that’s been pretty consistent, it’s been the lack of passes deep in recent years and to the middle of the field, where it seems like so many other teams in college football go to move the chains. 

Richardson presents good news on those fronts.

“I know we’re going to throw the ball downfield more than in the past,” Richardson said. “There’s a lot of crossing routes and intermediate, in between the hashes that are part of the concepts. You’ll see more balls probably in that 10 to 15-yard area in the middle of the field. You’ll see some things like that that stand out, but at the end of the day, it’s about putting our best players in position to make plays and it’s just easier to do that when you’re not locked in a box.”

Running backs getting the ball

Too many times last season the coaches had to utter the words “we should’ve run the ball more” after games. Despite this being an Air Raid offense that Riley’s installing, that doesn’t mean the Tigers will be throwing the ball all over the field and abandoning what looks like a strength with 1,000-yard rusher Will Shipley and talented No. 2 Phil Mafah in the back field.

“Don’t get it twisted that just because we’re throwing a lot of balls at practice right now that we’re putting Mafah and Shipley on the shelf,” Richardson said. “This benefits them just as much as it benefits anybody else. The threat of being you being able to throw the ball at a high level is going to loosen that box up.”

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