Dabo Swinney had something happen this offseason that was very new for him. He had a lot of staff turnover, including losing his coordinators to other jobs. Tony Elliot has moved on to Virginia and plenty of Clemson fans were hoping for a fresh start on offense with the change. That hasn’t really come to fruition as Brandon Streeter was elevated to the offensive coordinator role but has dealt with some of the same issues Clemson had last season. The offense is better, but it is far from meeting the expectations with the level of talent it has.
The quarterback position has been one of the few constants for Clemson for a decade but DJ Uiagalelei has to have had the most interesting career of any signal-caller for the Tigers during that time. DJU burst onto the scene with a big performance as a freshman two years ago against Notre Dame but once he because the full-time starter, he was woefully inconsistent. Coming into this season, the expectations weren’t as high but the pressure had grown with a five-star freshman waiting to take his job.
DJU has improved in every facet of the game but his inconsistent play has been an issue this season leading to him being benched a few times. He struggles to hit throws down the field which leads to a lot of quick throws that don’t always move the sticks. His 7.3 yards per attempt average gives a good example of how they haven’t been able to hit big throws as it’s slightly behind Malik Cunningham’s average of 7.4. As the season has progressed, his play has fallen off from a statistical standpoint. UofL can’t have a repeat of last year where he used this game to get back on track.
Running back is where Clemson is at their best and it is also where they worry me the most. Will Shipley is an extremely underrated back who can score at any moment and in a variety of ways. Shipley runs tough but he is not a power back in the traditional sense. What he is is a super violent runner who can break away in the open field and he can get there by running through arm tackles or by being slippery. Stop Shipley, and you have a much better chance of stopping the offense altogether.
Phil Mafah and Kobe Pace are the rotation guys at running back and both are capable of having a big impact as well. Mafah is a big back with solid speed but his power is the feature of his game. Pace has been out for most of the season but I get the feeling that this could be the game he returns to the lineup. Clemson started to run the ball a lot more before their loss to Notre Dame. I expect them to go back to the running game this weekend.
Clemson has been loaded with wide receivers for just as long as they’ve been loaded at quarterback but they haven’t been getting their normal production for the last two seasons. Some of that is on DJU but a lot of it is due to the fact that they’ve run out of mutant basketball players masquerading as wide receivers. Beaux Collins and Joseph Ngata are both big outside targets with good speed and both of them have not lived up to the standard of the guys that came before them. They both have shown flashes but the overall inconsistency of the offense seems to be an issue for everyone. Both of these guys can go off at any minute so UofL has to keep up with stopping the big plays.
Antonio Williams is the guy that I think will be the biggest worry for the defense in the passing game. He is a true freshman slot receiver who has been really good in their quick and screen games. Williams is super quick and he has great speed in the open field. He also doesn’t seem to be bothered by the big moments like some freshmen are. He leads the team in catches and yards and with UofL being so aggressive, I could see Clemson being even quicker with their passing game.
Clemson has been very good at including their tight ends in their offense this year. Davis Allen is in the top two in most of the receiving stats for tight ends in the ACC and he has shown that he can stretch the field and run after the catch. He has a well-rounded game and could cause some issues for a Louisville defense that has continued to struggle to cover tight ends in the middle of the field. Jake Briningstool is the other tight end in this offense who can be a problem. He has 4 touchdowns on the year and he is athletic enough to make plays after the catch.
The Clemson offensive line has been inconsistent this year but they have played well overall. The left side is the strength with Jordan McFadden manning the left tackle position and being one of the best in the country. Will Proctor is a veteran at center and he will be important as the player that makes the calls to get people set up to handle UofL’s pressure. The most important player of the group, in my opinion, is true freshman right tackle Blake Miller. PFF has some rough stats for him with 9 penalties, 11 hurries allowed, and 16 pressures allowed. The starting right guard, Walker Parks is the only player rated below him, so the right side of the line will be something to watch.