It has been a crazy first half of the season for No. 4 Clemson, especially on offense where senior Kelly Bryant left the team and announced he is going to transfer to another school.
While Bryant is visiting North Carolina this weekend as a possible landing spot for his final season, his former teammates have the weekend off before returning next Saturday to Death Valley where they will host No. 20 and undefeated NC State for a 3:30 p.m. kick.
However, before we get into the NC State game, let’s look back at the first half of the season and hand out the Tigers’ grades for their mid-year report card.
In this story we take a look at the offense.
Though Bryant is no longer on the team, his numbers are reflective in the total grade for the position. But that is all. He played in four games, starting all four, and threw for 461 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 130 yards and scored two touchdowns as well. Freshman Trevor Lawrence was named the starter for the Tigers’ Week 5 game versus Syracuse. The Cartersville, Ga., native has thrown for 868 yards in the first six games. He has 11 touchdown passes to two interceptions and has completed 69 percent of his passes. He is tops in the ACC in passing efficiency at 174.21. He showed very good poise for a first-year player. He has exceptional arm strength and is very accurate with downfield throws which has caused defenses to back off the line of scrimmage. Chase Brice came in for an injured Lawrence in the Syracuse game and rallied the Tigers from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. He completed a 20-yard pass to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-six to keep the game-winning drive alive. He also had two other big passes to Justyn Ross on the previous scoring drive for the Tigers. Grade: A
Clemson is averaging 280.8 yards per game on the ground right now, it’s best total in the ground game since Steve Fuller and the 1978 Tigers averaged 289.1 yards per game on the ground. Dabo Swinney said he was going to put more of an emphasis on running the football after the Texas A&M game in Week 2, and Clemson is averaging 330 rushing yards a game since. Travis Etienne has been the biggest beneficiary in the Tigers’ attack. He leads the ACC in total rushing yards with 761 and is averaging 126.8 yards per game. He has rushed for 654 yards in the last four games and has scored nine of his team-high 11 rushing touchdowns. But Etienne is not the only one producing big numbers and big runs. Freshman Lyn-J Dixon had touchdown runs of 65 and 52 yards against Wake Forest last week and has 298 yards this season, while Adam Choice has rushed for 283 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run. Etienne has touchdown runs of 59 and 70 yards, both came against Wake Forest. Though he has been banged up a few times, Tavien Fester has rushed for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Grade: A+
Wide receivers/tight ends
In all, 15 wide receivers or tight ends have caught at least one pass this year. Eight of those have at least five receptions. The Tigers big home-run hitters have been Ross and Higgins. Ross, a true freshman, is averaging 20.4 yards a catch and has already scored four touchdowns on just 14 catches. Higgins isn’t too far behind. He is averaging 17.1 yards per catch and has three touchdowns on 18 receptions. Higgins leads the team with 307 receiving yards, while Ross has 286. Amari Rodgers leads the squad with 23 catches for 227 yards. He has scored one touchdown, while Hunter Renfrow has added 17 receptions for 221 yards and has one touchdown as well. Freshman Braden Galloway leads the tight ends with five catches for 52 yards and has scored one touchdown. Grade: A
Offensive line: When it comes to running the ball, few offensive lines have been better. Despite what Desmond Howard has said, Clemson’s offensive line has been very physical since the coaching staff decided they were going to become more of a running team. They have been physical at the point of attack. Have opened big holes for the running backs. They have showed off their athleticism with pulling guards and tackles. And they imposed their will on Syracuse when the Orange knew they were going to run the football. Clemson is averaging an amazing 7.0 yards per carry, way ahead of the all-time record for a season which is 5.7, set by the 2006 team. However, as good as the run blocking has been, the Tigers have been bad at times in pass protection. Granted, not all 10 sacks have been on the offensive line, but they had some bonehead moments in taking care of the quarterback and they must improve if they want to contend for a national championship this year. Grade: B+