Do you remember CB radios? My family had them in our cars when I was a kid. My dad’s handle was Bluegill, and my mom was Duchess. My sister was Cricket, and I was Grasshopper. I was named after the character from Kung Fu. One of the most remembered lines from that show was when the Master would address the main character by saying “Patience, Young Grasshopper”. I seem to be saying that to myself quite a bit while watching the Tigers play this season.
I did see good things from Clemson this past Saturday in their win over Boston College. I saw a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season from Kobe Pace, who had a big touchdown run. I saw the first flashes from Phil Mafah. There is a lot to be excited about in the Tiger backfield. With the injury to Will Putnam, Clemson put Hunter Rayburn at center and moved Matt Bockhorst back to guard, and I dare say the overall performance of the line improved. I saw some good throws and good decisions from DJU. The offense had more drives and fewer three and outs. The defense overall played well, forcing some big turnovers. BT Potter was 4 for 4 and was the MVP in my opinion.
I also saw much of the same from Clemson too, which explains why the Tigers were once again in a position where the opponent could have taken the lead late in the game. For every good decision and pass DJU made, there was a head scratcher. His accuracy is very inconsistent. Some of those good passes by DJU were dropped by the receivers. The offensive line still had too many failures. The Tigers seem allergic to the goal line, with terrible red zone play. Lastly, there were more injuries.
Small incremental improvements are what we can expect to see from the Tigers this season. A small improvement on the line will lead to an opportunity for the other units to play better. Better play from the running backs makes the defense adjust, opening things up a little bit in the passing game. Better pass protection from the running backs gives DJU more time and allows him to be calmer in the pocket.
Will these little improvements be enough? I’m not sure. Syracuse may not be a great team, but they haven’t been completely hapless, and Clemson must play in the Carrier Dome on a Friday night. I think we all remember the last time the Tigers did that. The results weren’t good. Pittsburgh and Wake are both playing well right now. That big revenge game against Florida State? The giant butt kicking we wanted isn’t likely to happen. Saturday’s 19 points is a new high for the Clemson offense against FBS opponents.
We will see progress from this team, and I am looking forward to that, but it will take time. We must be patient. Patience can be difficult sometimes, especially for fans who wear their heart on their sleeve. It has been a longtime since Clemson has had to rebuild on the offensive side of the ball. Even 2017, which was the season following Deshaun Watson’s departure, the offense was still capable of playing well. We must go all the way back to 2014, which is the season Cole Stoudt started at quarterback before Watson took over as a true freshman, to find a Clemson offense that had as much trouble scoring as this 2021 version. When Watson played, the 2014 offense was good, but when he was injured and Stoudt was in the game, there were a lot of games with less than 20 points by both sides, with single digit victories. The 2014 squad still finished with ten wins overall with a bowl victory against Oklahoma. This 2021 team is starting to feel a lot like that 2014 team. The difference is obviously the expectations. Most Clemson fans were braced for a rough 2014 because they knew things might be rough until Watson was ready to take control, but he was ready just a few games into the season. Trevor Lawrence similarly needed only a few games before he was ready in 2018. In 2021, we just assumed DJU was ready, based both on DW’s and T-Law’s readiness and on DJU’s performance in 2020. We assumed with four offensive linemen that had a year under their belt that it wasn’t conceivable that they would be worse than in 2020. We assumed with Justyn Ross returning and other receivers getting healthy that DJU would have all the weapons he would need.
When you know a situation will require patience, it’s easier to accept and roll with it. It’s harder when you expect things to be ready for primetime and find out the hard way that they aren’t. I think most Clemson fans have been experiencing that frustration through most of this season so far. I am shifting my expectations to be the patient grasshopper from this point forward.