Monday Morning Quarterback: The sky is not falling
|Monday, September 6, 2021, 10:00 AM- -|
There was a lot to unpack after Saturday’s 10-3 loss to Georgia in the Duke’s Mayo Classic, and it took a three-hour ride home and two hours in the car on Sunday to really wrap my head around what I saw at Bank of America Stadium.
Let me start by saying that I don’t think the sky is falling. The season isn’t lost. I still think Clemson will win the ACC, and despite the loss, Clemson can still make it to the College Football Playoff.
Because of the loss, Clemson’s defense isn’t going to get the credit they deserve. Brent Venables’ unit gave up just 256 total yards. The most impressive part is that only 121 of those yards came on the ground against guys like Zamir White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook.
There were many questions heading into the game surrounding Tyler Davis and Nolan Turner, but none of those ended up mattering because their replacements were more than capable. Ruke Orhorhoro and Tré Williams more than held up in the middle of Clemson’s defensive line. Orhorhoro missed part of last season due to injury, but we got a glimpse at what the coaches have seen during fall camp.
Mukuba, on the other hand, was playing in his first career game. To put that into perspective, Clemson’s record books go back to 1973, and Mukuba is the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener. He recorded eight tackles and a pass breakup. That was as impressive a debut as I can remember from a freshman defensive back.
There were several other standouts on defense, but the last one I’ll mention is LaVonta Bentley, who had one tackle and a forced fumble. He played sparingly during his first two years, but every time he’s on the field, he makes plays. Not only does he make plays, but he plays with bad intentions and reckless abandon. He’s looking to make plays. He’s looking to make hard contact. And, he’s looking to knocking the ball loose.
Now, onto the offense…
Let’s get the obvious out of the way.
It wasn’t good. Head coach Dabo Swinney, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and the rest of the staff will tell you that everything about last night’s offensive performance was unacceptable. However, all hope is not lost, and here’s why:
Barring a matchup with Alabama in the College Football Playoff, Georgia’s defense is the best Clemson will face. Georgia had “dudes” at every position in the first seven. Very few teams have one of those “dudes,” let alone an entire defense full of them.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was making his third career start. Third.
Saturday night isn’t who Uiagalelei is. I truly believe the guy who threw for 342 yards and two scores against Boston College and 439 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame is who Uiagalelei is. Was the moment a little too big for him Saturday night? Maybe. Will he learn and grow from it? Absolutely.
Clemson’s offensive line will shoulder a lot of the blame for the offense’s inefficiency, and rightfully so, but only one player – Will Putnam – started at a position they played last season. Jordan McFadden made the move from right tackle to left tackle; Walker Parks started at right tackle and primarily backed up left tackle in 2020; Matt Bockhorst made his first career start at center; Marcus Tate is a true freshman and started his first career game.
That unit struggled mightily, but much like Uiagalelei, I think the ceiling is much higher than what they showed Saturday night. We know McFadden and Parks can be better than what they showed last night. Tate needs experience.
With all of that said, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about Clemson’s offense if the Tigers are going to have the kind of success they’re used to.
For me, where did tempo go in Clemson’s offense? The Tigers had success wearing down Alabama in the 2016 title game because they went up-tempo and were determined to run 80-plus plays a game. Is Clemson willing to go back to the fast-paced offense with some window dressing to keep defense’s honest when they need to?
I feel like it’s a question we ask every year, but what can Clemson do to get the tight ends more involved in the game. Davis Allen needs to be used more in passing situations. As the offensive line continues to grow up, why not get the 6-6, 265-pound Jaelyn Lay in the game to help block?
Clemson’s offense was just different when Lyn-J Dixon was in the game. Can he stay out of the Love Shack and on the field?
One final thought to wrap up the Georgia game and look ahead to South Carolina State: I know Dabo Swinney doesn’t care what I think, but if I were preparing for S.C. State, I would call Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough Monday morning and apologize because I would play all of the two-deep on offense for three-and-a-half quarters. The entire offensive line, Uiagalelei, and the rest of the offense would play almost the whole game. They need continuity, experience, and, more importantly, confidence, and what better way to get it than in a game?