Clemson doesn’t need much of an introduction but the Tiger’s offense has seem some uncharacteristic issues this season. They laid a bit of an egg a couple of weeks ago against UNC and the questions started to get asked about why an offense that returned so much had played so poorly. Then the Tigers got a week off and Dabo Swinney created some fake outrage and his team responded by boat racing FSU last week. Clemson seems to be back to matching effort with talent and that’s a bad sign for everyone.
Trevor Lawrence is the leader of this offense again and his sluggish start seems like it might be a thing of the past. Clemson’s issues seem to be on Lawrence but I tend to think that their issues running the ball killed their balance and teams could actually cover their receivers with more defenders. That made it hard for Lawrence to find guys and the offense suffered as a whole. Last week, they got the running game going and Lawrence completed 68% of his passes. They still don’t look completely there from a passing standpoint, but Lawrence is still playing at a very high level. Just not as high as you expect from him.
The running game got going because Travis Etienne finally looked like himself again. I said earlier this year that Cam Akers is the toughest runner Louisville will face this year but Etienne isn’t far behind. He’s the type of tough runner that Javian Hawkins is but he’s put on a bunch of weight over the last few years and he’s able to take guys head on now as opposed to running through glancing blows. He also still has that great speed that we all saw two years ago when he had his breakout moment running away from Louisville’s defense. Etienne had his first 100-yard game last week since their opener and he was back to doing that on a limited number of carries.
The other guy that Louisville has to worry about is Lyn-J Dixon. He had 116 yards against Louisville last year and I think that he might be a better runner than Etienne. He’s not the complete back like Travis but he just comes off as a really good pure runner. He really impressed me against Texas A&M when the rest of the offense had some issues.
Clemson will always have a “pick your poison” wide receiver group but this is the most talented group they’ve had. Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are both first round talents and Amari Rogers shouldn’t have a problem making it to the league himself. Then you throw in Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson as the freshmen who will replace the outside guys and you have a wide receiver room that might be the deepest in the country. Ross is the best of the group but he hasn’t been able to break loose this season. He’s only averaging 12.1 yards per catch this season and hasn’t had a 100-yard game yet. Higgins is leading the ACC in yards per catch and he’s been the consistent guy in this offense this year. Louisville has just as few answers for these guys as anyone else but getting them in third and long would be helpful.
The loss of Hunter Renfrow seems to be a bigger deal than anyone probably expected. Diondre Overton has stepped into a role as a fourth option but he only has 4 catches on the season. Rogers is still a great threat as the short screen guy that this offense uses so well, but he hasn’t been that slant guy that Renfrow was. If there’s a chink in the armor it’s those third and long plays. Clemson is only completing 42% of their third down passes and only 30% on third and long.
The Clemson offensive line is doing a great job protecting Trevor Lawrence. They’ve only given up 3 sacks on the year and he’s rarely hurried. The group is very experienced with four seniors but the best of the group might be the true sophomore Jackson Carman. He was the top offensive linemen in the 2018 recruiting class and they did a great job rotating guys last year and getting them experience. That made the transition for him much easier and now he’s another dominant tackle for them. The run blocking has also been much better than the individual stats show. The Tigers are averaging 6.1 yards per carry and they’re second in the ACC in rushing.