The Clemson Tigers are 2-2, the first time since 2014 that the Tigers have gathered two regular-season losses. A decade of double-digit wins, two titles and seven bowl wins, the weight of expectations seems to be finally breaking Clemson.
The stagnate offense was immobile against the Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and NC State Wolfpack. The one time Clemson managed to find points, it was against checks notes South Carolina Gamecocks.
The one thing keeping Clemson in games is a top 30 defense, loaded with talent. It is the thing keeping the Tigers from being buried. A sound defense and weak ACC conference will allow the Tigers to contend for the ACC belt. But severe problems on offense have pushed them out of the College Football Playoff. Because of those issues, The Tigers will not put away games or beat up on the bad teams. It will keep them from gaining any ground on the whole a two-loss start creates.
So What Happened To The Clemson Offense?
The Tigers lack a truly dominant receiver, like Mike Williams or Tee Higgins, someone big, who can stretch a secondary, push around corners, and impose the will of the aerial attack.
Another thing missing from the offense is a workhorse back. For years, tailbacks like Wayne Gallman and Travis Etienne Jr. have balanced the offense while offering a valuable outlet in the flat or as dump-off options. Etienne averaged over five yards per carry and topped 35 receptions in his last two seasons. Gallman snagged 20 or more catches each of his three seasons at Clemson and averaged five yards per carry in college.
A running back was not only crucial to the balance and the multi-pronged attack of the Tigers’ offense, but the RB also was the way Clemson signal-callers negate opposing pass rushers. For years, dump-off passes to shifty backs have negated Clemson’s fundamental problem: A subpar offensive line.
Five-star talent at quarterback and the skill positions have made the offense shine. Defensive backs, linebackers and edge rushers have crushed the will of opponents. But the offensive line is a C to C+ unit. Since 2017, the Clemson front has ranked outside the top 60 in sacks allowed. Just one offensive lineman has gone in the top three rounds of the NFL draft in that span.
The five men up front found themselves outmatched against top-level talents, like those at the Ohio State Buckeyes or Alabama Crimson Tide. In such clashes, it takes extraordinary performances from generational players like Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. The inability to develop offensive line talent into elite production is an Achilles heel waiting to haunt the Tigers, lurking under the surface like a crocodile in the Nile River.
But now, there is no Lawrence or Watson. No big, imposing receiver on the outside. No failsafe running back to pound the rock or turn a one-yard pass into a first down.
Now Clemson is a good defense, with a very average offense and a below-average O-line. Without any bandages, old scars are breaking open. It is a problem that’s not going away this season, which means the offense taking the field will be a roller coaster each game.