“Sometimes a man’ll tell his bartender things he’ll never tell his doctor.” Star Trek
Saturday was not the day most Clemson fans were hoping to see. Nearly two-hour rain delays are known for ruining the fan’s experience. The game was not what fans hoped for either. The Clemson offense struggled mightily against a Georgia Tech defense that had experience but wasn’t considered to be a very talented crew.
Clemson fans are having a hard time processing this situation. Even for old-school fans, it has been a long time since we had this situation on offense. I am right there with you. I experienced all kinds of frustrations Saturday night, but as usual, I was able to reflect on Sunday and find some balance. I know that isn’t as easy for everyone, so if you have those frustrations and can’t get rid of them, come on down to the Expectations Bar & Grill, pull up a stool and tell me how you’re feeling. We will talk through this together.
“DJU can’t get the job done! We need a quarterback change!”
This was the first thing I saw on social media after Saturday. No one can make the argument that DJU has played well through three games. Even against SC State when he led multiple touchdown drives, he was making mistakes. A lot of true sophomore quarterbacks with minimal playing time make mistakes like that. DJU’s high school rating & his performance last year in relief of Trevor Lawrence when he had COVID have skewed expectations. The reality is that there are a lot of young quarterbacks who need time to grow as a leader and a player. This may not all be on DJU. It is possible the staff misjudged where he was in his development too. On top of that, we outsiders don’t know what is happening off the football field that could be impacting DJU right now. There are rumors that will not be repeated here because they are exactly that – rumors – but there may be things distracting DJU right now that would be difficult for any young person to handle. We don’t know the whole story, and that’s important to stress, but I think we need to offer some benefit of the doubt to DJU. I would encourage you to be patient and encouraging, instead of angry and harsh. After all, if Clemson did decide to start someone else, who would that be?
“Taisun Phommachanh looked better against SC State than DJU did, we need to give him a chance!”
Hold up, wait, wait. Taisun came in late against FCS SC State and mostly made quick throws to the flats that required no read whatsoever. He didn’t look bad, but he wasn’t asked to do much at all. At all points before this, the consensus on Taisun was that he wasn’t a very good quarterback. He was put on blast multiple times in 2020 because once the starters on offense left the game, the backups couldn’t manage to score. I’m not saying that Taisun shouldn’t get a chance if DJU has a horrible game but thinking Taisun is obviously better than DJU is an emotional response, and those are usually bad responses.
“Hunter Helms looks better than both of them! He led multiple scoring drives against Georgia Tech last year with backups!”
I remember, and my first thought was how impressed I was that this staff manages to find the diamonds in the rough and can convince a young man like Helms who could have gotten a scholarship to another school to come to Clemson as a walk on instead. I am glad he finally got the scholarship he deserves. Just like Taisun, I am not opposed to Hunter getting a shot if all else fails, but just because he was a heck of a pull as a walk-on QB doesn’t mean he is likely to be a savior that will fulfill the pre-season expectations for this team.
I am not saying that there won’t be a point in the coming weeks when the coaching staff makes the decision to give Taisun or Hunter a chance, and to sit DJU, even if it is to calm him down and let him see the offense from the sideline, but it isn’t wise to name a new starter yet. We need to exercise patience with DJU right now.
Taylor is an exciting football prospect, and I must admit I am eager to see what he can do on the baseball field too. He has taken a few snaps at QB and has run the ball every time. He is essentially a wildcat specialist right now. It is fun to think that the staff is holding Taylor back and they will unleash something soon, but nothing we have seen indicates that Taylor can be a starting quarterback yet.
“Clemson didn’t have a single pass play over 20 yards against Tech! Why can’t we complete a pass downfield?”
That’s a great question. Clemson has three big-man receivers who have jump ball capability, which was a mainstay of the offense when Lawrence was QB1. I have a hard time believing that the staff has just forgotten to call downfield plays. Either they are calling them and DJU isn’t willing to pull the trigger, or they know the offense can’t execute them and they have quit calling those plays. Whichever is the case, it starts with DJU, but doesn’t end there. We are back to that great mystery of why we aren’t seeing the things we saw against Notre Dame last year: DJU had no problem going down the field to Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers, and the staff had no problem calling those plays. As much as we focus on DJU, and as much as we love & respect Justyn Ross for his resiliency and heart, something is clearly wrong in the wide receiver room. The important thing to remember is that the wide receiver room includes players & coaches. This may be more on the coaches than the players.
“Will Shipley is clearly the best running back, why are we still using the other guys?”
I agree: Shipley looks like both our best running back now and the guy that has the highest ceiling. I think he should be RB1 right away, and I think the staff sees that too. I think it is another thing entirely to think that Shipley is ready to be that guy for the Tigers that Christian McCaffrey is for the Panthers, touching the ball thirty times a game. It’s important to keep players like Pace as involved as possible. Sometimes standing on the sidelines getting some coaching & seeing the offense from a better perspective can be a big positive for a young man like Shipley. Let’s not ruin him by getting carried away.
“Our offensive line stinks! We need to fire the coach now! This is what brought down Florida State!”
You are right on that last part: FSU’s problems started because they were getting dreadful play from their offensive line when most of the rest of the team was championship contender quality. Six years later, it hasn’t improved that much. That stresses two things: Clemson really needs to find a remedy for the offensive line woes, but it also means changing coaches isn’t a magic wand that will wipe the problems out. FSU has had four different offensive line coaches since 2017. If Coach Swinney decides the time has come to make a change, this may be the time to look outside the family and find an experienced coach and be prepared to give him time to operate.
“We have the best defense in the country! We can’t squander it! We must do something!”
You are correct: Clemson does have the best defense in the nation, and they probably aren’t getting as much love as they should. If they can avoid major injury and targeting calls that cause starters to miss time, they will give Clemson a chance to win against any opponent. Clemson fans should be excited about this defense and what they can accomplish this season.
It’s the ‘We must do something!’ part that really gets to the heart of the matter. Clemson isn’t entitled to anything, and neither are Clemson fans. If you are desperate for a solution, the problem isn’t with the Clemson Tigers, it’s you. It’s the fan in the mirror. Maybe you associate your identity too closely with your fandom for this team. Maybe you are butthurt because they aren’t backing up all the trash you have talked. Maybe the success of the past six years has caused you to lose perspective about how hard it is to win the ACC and make the playoffs, much less reach the national championship pinnacle. Just because Clemson has done it twice in the last five years doesn’t mean it’s a given that they should always play at that level. Maybe you are one of those bandwagon fans that bounce from team to team.
Sorry. That may have been direct, but sometimes your bartender needs to give you some tough love. Trust me, you aren’t the only ones. We have some at the other end of the bar who are on the other side of this.
“There is no way this team can win the ACC, much less make the playoffs!”
This just isn’t true. Just because winning the ACC and making the playoffs isn’t a given anymore, it doesn’t mean they can’t pull it off. DJU can improve. It may take small steps over the course of nine games instead of suddenly exploding one day, but he can improve, as can every other player on the offense. The offensive line can improve. The running backs and the wide receivers can improve. That doesn’t mean they will improve, it just means that the future isn’t written, and we shouldn’t bury this team too early.
We are all in a state of shock that Clemson’s offense has been this bad, but we don’t see the coaches panicking. Swinney, Elliott, Venables – they all have a cool head about them. We don’t see DJU or Shipley or other offensive players moping around and down on themselves. Bockhorst is fired up and ready to go, but he is up, not down. Its time for all of us to get it together too. Fans are a part of the team. These coaches & players deserve your support. We need to get our heads up, do our jobs and cheer for our Tigers, even if we aren’t rewarded with a division championship, ACC championship, a CFP berth or a Natty. That is the true definition of a “real” fan.
Friends, we should expect highs & lows this season, so Expectations Bar & Grill will remain open to all of you, and your bartender will be here to listen and offer perspective. Enjoy!the