By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush.
Well, this has been a more pleasant first week of December to live and work in Clemson. Seriously, it’s been a real treat.
First of all, there has been very little trash talk, whether here on TCI or via the airwaves. I thought there might be more of it, considering five years of frustration and the vitriol spewed hither and yon from Gamecock fans during the past half-decade.
But, to my surprise, Clemson Nation seems to have restrained itself—not all the way, but more than I imagined it would. As someone who really enjoys staying focused on the air (only partly kidding on that one) I appreciate it.
As I pondered this development, I attempted to pinpoint the reason for the relative calm that has emanated from Tigertown. After all, Clemson just beat South Carolina, its revolutionary offensive coordinator left 48 hours later to take the head coaching job at SMU, and Dabo Swinney replaced him by promoting from within.
Ordinarily, there would have been a wide range of emotions pouring from the fingertips, pens, and tongues of Clemson fans. I’m sure people aren’t thrilled with the new coordinator arrangement, and I’m sure some are still disappointed in a 9-3 finish.
(This response, by the way, is patently absurd and should be treated as such. Seriously, what did you expect this year?)
Tiger fans haven’t been absent from any conversations this week, but there hasn’t been the uber-emotional reaction I expected after Saturday’s dominant victory over the Gamecocks. Was it because everything is “back to normal” in the rivalry? Was it a response to a bit of underlying frustration with Chad Morris that told us it was time for both parties to move on? Was it the satisfaction of knowing Swinney can, in fact, beat his rival Spurrier?
I think all of this has factored in, but there’s one significant factor that’s causing Clemson fans to lean back in their proverbial chairs, arms folded, examining the landscape with momentary contentment.
His name is Deshaun.
Not just that, but it’s an array of incredibly talented young players poised to carry Clemson’s offense into the next two seasons on their collective shoulders. Sure, Watson will lead the charge, but all kinds of freshmen and sophomores are just now getting acclimated to roles they will hold for the next two-plus years.
I’ll go more into detail on this next week, but let’s just examine for a moment how much production Clemson will welcome back next season. This is a rather simplistic way of looking at things, but it’ll suffice for now, and the picture it paints isn’t inaccurate at all.
In 2014, Clemson’s seniors accounted for 1,573 passing yards, 349 rushing yards, and 200 receiving yards. Those aren’t large amounts, particularly when you compare it to the entire body of work the team showcased this season.
Very simply, this means the Tigers will return 81 percent of their rushing yardage, 49 percent of their passing yardage (does anybody really need an explanation for why this stat doesn’t even come close to describing the situation?), and a whopping 94 percent of their receiving yardage in 2015. Those are astounding figures that speak to the youth that not only existed, but thrived in Morris’ offense in 2014.
Seven players rushed for at least 100 yards in 2014. Five will return next season, and four were freshmen. Seven players caught at least ten passes in 2014. Only one is leaving, and the remaining group includes two freshmen and three sophomores.
Even on defense, where the Tigers lose a ton, 44 percent of tackles and 36 percent of tackles for loss will return. Granted, those are large chunks of production (and I have yet to do an analysis of snaps—check back in next week for that) but those chunks aren’t as large as I thought before crunching some numbers.
Meanwhile, it’s clear the Gamecocks haven’t even come close to restocking the cupboard (at least in the immediate future) and are reportedly trying to hire defensive coaches without an available opening. Fun times down in Columbia.
Given all the untapped potential available in players who have already proven themselves valuable to Clemson’s offense, as well as Brent Venables’ spin-straw-into-gold tendencies, I now get the even-keel reaction from Clemson fans this week. The present feels pretty nice, and the future seems as bright as ever—even with an unknown coordinator situation and an injury-prone quarterback.
Yes, I had to play Debbie Downer, just for a second.
One piece of advice, even though it seems like you’re already taking it: Enjoy the new reality, for as long as it lasts.