By Will Vandervort.
It was a productive year overall for No. 17 Clemson. Though the Tigers did not win the ACC and make the college football playoffs, they did live up to expectations, while winning at least nine regular season games for a fourth straight year.
With so many questions on offense and on special teams, not many people had Clemson winning more than nine games. The Tigers finished the regular season as the ACC’s second best team in the Atlantic Division, which is where the media that cover the conference predicted them to finish back in July.
Clemson (9-3) also finished the regular season No. 18 in both the Associated Press and the Coaches Polls after starting the year as the 16th-ranked team in both polls. The Tigers also kept its unbeaten streak as a ranked team against an unranked opponent intact, though their 27-game winning-streak will be on the line on Dec. 29 in the Russell Athletic Bowl against unranked Oklahoma.
Clemson went undefeated at home with a 7-0 record, the second time in four years that has occurred, while also ending a five-game losing streak to archrival South Carolina.
So how did the Tigers grade on offense in their 12 regular season games? Here is what TCI thinks.
What an up-and-down year for this position. Deshaun Watson, when healthy or even not healthy, was amazing. His 188.6 passer rating meant he was one of just three quarterbacks in the country to have a rating over 180.0 this year. He threw for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns, while completing 67.9 percent of his 137 passes. He threw just two interceptions and his yards-per-attempt average was 10.7. One can only wonder how good the Tigers might have been if Watson did not miss five games due to a broken finger and a torn ACL? Even with a torn ACL, he completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards, while accounting for four touchdowns in leading the Tigers to their first win over the Gamecocks in six years. Cole Stoudt was 5-2 as a starter this year and was 1-1 in games in which he came off the bench for the injured Watson. But the senior struggled completing throws down field, hung on to the ball too long in some instances and locked on to his intended targets and threw 10 interceptions. He threw for 1,573 yards while completing 62 percent of his 266 passes, including just six touchdowns. His yards-per-attempt-average was 5.91. Give Stoudt credit for playing hurt as he spent the majority of the season nursing a damaged AC joint in his left shoulder.
Running back: C
After injuries to Tyshon Dye, Zac Brooks and freshman Adam Choice, Clemson finally got its running game going in the last quarter of the season. In the last five games, Wayne Gallman rushed for 519 of his 714 yards, while scoring three of his four touchdowns. In that five-game stretch he averaged 103.8 yards per game. Dye (138 yards) eventually came back and was the main workhorse in the Tigers’ win over Georgia State as he rushed for 124 yards and scored two touchdowns. But overall, Clemson’s running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and guys like C.J. Davidson (245 yards) and D.J. Howard (194 yards) were seldom used by the end of the year because they never really took off when they had their opportunities. Howard opened the season as the starter, but it was obvious early on that he was not the answer the Tigers needed. Then Davidson got his shot, but he fumbled in critical situations on two occasions—one that cost Clemson a possible victory at Florida State—and was relegated to the bench. Before tearing his ACL at Boston College on Oct. 18, Choice showed promise as he rushed for 218 yards and a touchdown, while sharing time with Gallman and Davidson.
Wide receiver: B
Of the three freshmen receivers—Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester—that enrolled at Clemson last January, only Scott remains on the team. Priester was dismissed from the team following the Georgia game and Kitt parted ways with Clemson on Tuesday. But as the Tigers concluded spring drills last April, it was obvious Scott was the better of the three and he proved it in a freshman campaign that earned him All-ACC honors. Scott led the Tigers with 68 catches for 851 yards, while scoring a team-high seven touchdowns. His seven catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns—53 and 70 yards—helped lift the Tigers to a much-needed victory over South Carolina in the season-finale. Mike Williams also had an All-ACC season. The sophomore led Clemson with 918 yards on 48 catches, including five touchdowns. His 19.1 yards per catch average was 13th best in the country. Germone Hopper showed glimpses of being a good receiver—26 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns—but he could have had more, but dropped too many passes, including potential big plays for touchdowns in the Louisville and South Carolina games. Senior Adam Humphries had his moments and was again as solid as usual, but he did not have the breakout season he was hoping for as he finished the regular season with 25 catches for 176 yards. Redshirt junior Charone Peake battled through knee issues all year and finished with 10 catches for 89 yards, but he did catch two touchdown passes.
Tight ends: D
This was the most disappointing position, in terms of production, than any on the Clemson offense. Whether it was due to injuries or suspensions, the offense just did not get what it wanted from the tight end position this season. It started off with an injury to Sam Cooper 30 minutes before the Georgia game and ended with a three-game suspension for Jay Jay McCullough, who is still suspended infinitely from the team for unspecified reasons. Jordan Leggett played hurt most of the season as he suffered injuries to both his knees, while Stanton Seckinger started camp with a foot injury and ended the season by suffering a knee injury in the South Carolina game that will keep him out of the Russell Athletic Bowl. Leggett, who played in 11 games, led all tight end ends with 14 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown, while McCullough had seven catches for 96 yards and a score. Seckinger also caught a touchdown pass, while Cooper came back to start five of the eight games he played in. Cooper and McCullough were the more physical of the four tight ends as Seckinger and Leggett struggled at times in run blocking, pass protection and blocking for the wide receivers during tunnel throws or jet sweeps.
Offensive line: B
It’s amazing with everything that happened this season that this group got through it as well as they did. At one point, the Tigers only had five offensive linemen that could physically play and they went two games that way. They spent most of the year with only seven offensive linemen. But despite all this, the unit was productive enough to get the job done against some very good defenses at times. Reid Webster was perhaps the most valuable lineman as he at one point played all five positions on the line, though playing mostly at the two guard positions and center. Kalon Davis, who played right guard and right tackle, was perhaps the most consistent player up front, while David Beasley really took control on the left side down the stretch, though he played a lot of the year banged up. Center Ryan Norton struggled with his snaps early in the year but after being benched for a short time, he came back and played the way the coaches felt like he should have been playing all along. Four times in the last five games, the offensive line opened up holes for a running back to go over 100 yards.