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Opponent Breakdown: Clemson Offense

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Clemson lost a lot of skill players, including Deshuan Watson. They’re hoping they can reload with Kelly Bryant.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson won the national championship last year on the strength of a really good defense and an explosive offense. Deshuan Watson played unbelievably well in their last few games when they needed it most and Mike Williams made numerous big catches. Those two, along with Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott have moved onto the NFL and Clemson has shown in the first two games that it’s not always easy to replace top level talent. Clemson has had the ability to reload on defense over the last few years when they’ve had to replace stars. The offense is trying to do the same, but the jury is still out.

Watson is arguably the best player in Clemson history, so Kelly Bryant had plenty of pressure as a first time starting quarterback. Bryant shined in his debut against Kent State throwing the football as well as running it. He made it obvious early on that he is a better runner than Watson and that he would likely run the ball more. Watson always had the ability to get to the open field but never quite had the jets to run past the defense. Bryant has already shown that he can outrun people and he can break a tackle or two. It might be a concern for Clemson that Bryant hasn’t always made the correct read on option plays. He’s kept the ball at times when he should’ve given it.

Bryant has really impressed me throwing the ball. I remembered how uncomfortable he seemed in the little bit of playing time he got last year and expected some nerves in his first game. Instead, he came out and completed 16 of 22 (with a couple of drops in there) and his best throw was on his first drive on a deep ball to Deon Cain. Bryant has been inaccurate at times, but when he has time he has been really on the money. What’s impressed me most is that his deep ball is great and when he throws to his outside receivers he gives them a shot to make the play instead of the cornerback. I expect Clemson to try to establish a running game early so that they can work a lot of play action in the rest of the game. That will give Bryant the opportunity to go for the deep ball more often. Bryant hasn’t thrown a lot of passes in the middle of the field so there is still not a lot to know about his accuracy in a crowd.

An area where Clemson’s program has always been pretty good but not always gotten the notoriety is at the running back position. Clemson has had a run of good quarterback play and that tends to get the focus but Wayne Gallman was a big time player for Clemson over the last couple of years. This year, Clemson is still trying to find a number one guy while they sort through the four candidates. C.J. Fuller has started both games but Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster, and Travis Etienne have all split carries so far. Feaster is one of the biggest recruits Clemson has landed in the last few years and Etienne was a late surprise this past recruiting period. They both provide the most explosion and excitement but Fuller and Choice have more experience. I would think that the Auburn game gave the coaches better film to make a decision on who they want to give the lion’s share of carries to this weekend.

Clemson likes to run their backs inside and Louisville has done really well against all types of runs so far this year. Purdue had some success at times with their interior runs but they couldn’t get outside much. North Carolina all but abandoned their running backs after they both had good games the week before. Clemson has the ability to do what UofL has done and go pass heavy with Lamar being the “running back” so to speak. I don’t think they will want to do that against Louisville, however. If they can find balance, they can look to have another game like last year where they moved the ball at will. Turnovers kept the game close but they will obviously look to avoid that this year. The Tigers ran the ball really well last year and I think they’ll look to Feaster as the guy that can both hit the big play this year as well as get tough yards.

#WRU is a twitter argument that fans of multiple teams have tried to claim over the last few years. LSU has an argument as does Miami and a few others. No school has produced more high level talent recently like Clemson has. They might not have the longevity as some of the others but the last handful of years has been great. This year they have to replace one of their best in Mike Williams. Deon Cain is now the big play receiver as well as the guy that defenses absolutely have to account for. UofL fans got an introduction last year when he scored on two long touchdowns. Cain is the big play guy but Hunter Renfrow is the super reliable guy that they go to when they need the big third down conversion. Ray-Ray McCloud has taken over for Artavis Scott and he played really well last week. Clemson hasn’t replaced Jordan Leggett so far, but Milan Richard is a big body and has nice speed.

Louisville has been flat out bad when it comes to defending the pass and they haven’t faced anywhere near the athletes that Clemson has at their disposal. Cain has already shown what he can do but Renfrow missed last year’s game with a broken wrist. Renfrow is, quite honestly, the better version of Jackson Anthrop (7-82-2) and Thomas Jackson (4-75-2). Louisville hasn’t had an answer for slot receivers or tight ends so far this year and they’re going against a guy that is arguably the best slot receiver in the country. Even if Jaire Alexander is back (He’s day-to-day) he doesn’t help fix the issues inside the hashes. Khane Pass was beat twice last week and Clemson will likely try to go after him and the safeties because it’s worked for others. As much heat as Trumaine Washington has received (I’m probably the most guilty of this) he hasn’t been as bad at giving up big plays as some of the interior defenders. Teams are able to spread the ball around to all areas of the field. Clemson will do the same but their athletes can make a short gain into a big gain.

Clemson lost a lot of skill guys but they did bring back some great experience on the offensive line. Mitch Hyatt and Tyrone Crowder are both all conference performers and both will likely be highly drafted at their positions next year. Hyatt is regarded as one of the top few left tackles in the country and he will be responsible for trying to keep Trevon Young under control. Crowder is a massive guard at 340 pounds but he actually moves pretty well. UofL couldn’t get a sack last year and barely made any plays behind the line. That can’t happen this year with the other deficiencies they already have in the back end. The lack of consistent pressure has made it that much harder on the coverage and Auburn’s pressure really helped keep the Clemson offense in check. Louisville has to find a way to confuse this offensive line or get them on their heels in some way.

Louisville does have the advantage on the right side of Clemson’s line. For whatever reason, Sean Pollard struggled this summer after starting as a freshman last year. He looked completely lost when he did get into the game against Auburn but he wasn’t much worse than the starter. Tremayne Anchrum got beat reapeatedly by Jeff Holland and Bryant took multiple hits because of their inability to even slow Holland down. James Hearns has been a step away from a sack multiple times this year and plays with a better motor than anyone on the team. He plays with a similar style as Holland and is a similar build. At the very least, Clemson could have to keep a tight end in to help or keep a running back in. They could also have to abandon some plays out of their 5-wide sets. Those changes could be big to help Louisville slow down this offense.