Clemson is in a very curious place right now, following their upset loss at North Carolina State this past weekend. It has been a long time since Clemson had two regular season losses and was practically eliminated from playoff contention so early. How will Clemson respond?
The diagnosis of the offense’s problems has been very public and excruciating, but I still think the bulk of the problems start with the offensive line, and we aren’t likely to see much improvement overall until we see some progress from the line. The word that has been thrown around a lot is ‘communication’. If that is the main problem, as opposed to understanding responsibilities and executing proper blocking techniques, then I do believe that the line can improve in a reasonable time frame. My concern is that the problems run deeper than communication.
With Will Shipley’s temporary absence due to injury, and Lyn-J Dixon’s decision to enter the transfer portal, Kobe Pace is now the starter at running back for the Tigers. Perhaps more intriguing is the backup position. Will Clemson go to Darien Rencher or Mikey Dukes, or do they truly ‘unleash’ freshman Phil Mafah? Coach Swinney has stated several times that they want to redshirt Mafah, and they can still play him in four games without burning the redshirt. It will be fascinating to see if they still try to get through the game without using him, or if they cut him off after four games when Shipley returns.
There has been a good amount of speculation if we will finally see Justyn Ross move to an outside wide receiver position. Ross in the slot hasn’t worked thus far, but if they do move him to the boundary, who steps in at slot? There are a lot of voices saying they want Will Taylor there, but at best he’s seen minimal training at receiver, so I don’t think this is likely. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Ross moves to the outside, we see Frank Ladson move to the slot. I don’t expect him to be a huge contributor there, but with his speed, we might see him get open for a few here and there. Williams is also a possibility in the slot if his injury isn’t holding him back.
I am still pulling for DJU. I want him to be successful, and I do think if the problems with the line and the receiver groups are improved, it gives him a good chance to perform better as well. If that doesn’t happen, and the offense struggles with consecutive three and outs, I would like to see Taisun get a chance. I am not unrealistic about his chances. I have been a Taisun critic most of his time at Clemson, but sometimes different styles work better in certain situations. I think it is time to try something different at quarterback if the offense can’t get first downs and increase Clemson’s time of possession. If we are going to rely on the defense, then we need to limit opportunities for the opponent’s offense.
As for the defense, we are now without both defensive tackles that started the season. With Tyler Davis & Brian Bresee, this line was expected to be among the best in football. Will they still be as effective with their backups in the game? I think it is at least possible that we don’t see a huge drop-off. Clemson still has a wealth of talent at the defensive end position. Opponents may scheme to stop the rush from the ends now, which might just open opportunities to apply pressure up the middle…if the 2nd string DTs are up to the task.
Boston College was a favorite of mine in the pre-season. I have a very favorable opinion of starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec, but when he was injured for the season, I jumped off the Eagles bandwagon. Nonetheless, BC is still undefeated. The oddsmakers have Clemson -15.5 as of this writing, and that is surprising. For one, BC continues to operate on offense reasonably well, while Clemson has yet to eclipse 14 points on offense against an FBS opponent all season long. Is BC’s defense that bad? They did give up a lot of points to Missouri last week, so maybe the oddsmakers know something. Maybe they also think Clemson’s offense just needed a wake-up call.
Happy Homecoming Clemson Nation! I wish I could take my girls to see all the floats on Bowman Field!