The 2016 Clemson offense had players like Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and Artavis Scott putting up ridiculous numbers on the way to a national championship. They put up marks no one thought would be surpassed. At least not anytime soon.
No one saw the 2018 offense coming.
This year’s Clemson’s offense is already putting up numbers that don’t just rival the 2016’s unit, but they’re already surpassing them. Thanks to the 42 points it scored in last week’s ACC Championship Game against Pitt, the Tigers have scored 590 points this year, breaking the school record for points scored in a season. The 2016 team held the record with 588 points.
They also shattered the 2016 team’s touchdown record which used to stand at 74. This year’s Tigers have scored 81 touchdowns, and they broke in two less games.
“That offense we had in ’16 was pretty good,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “These guys shattered it. We still got more games, hopefully two more games.”
The scary part for opposing defensive coordinators next year is that most of the guys who helped Clemson set so many new marks are coming back next season.
Running back Travis Etienne, the ACC’s Player of the Year and the MVP of the ACC Championship Game, is just a sophomore. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a freshman. All he did was win ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
The Tigers’ leading receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, are all returning. Ross is a freshman, while Higgins and Rodgers are just sophomores.
“We have an unbelievably special group,” Swinney said. “What I love more than anything is just coming to work every day and knowing that you’re around good people, people who really care about what you’re doing, they’re passionate about it. This team has had an unbelievable focus.”
The Tigers (13-0), who play No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29 as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals, have won 11 of their 13 games by 20 or more points. They have defeated their last eight opponents by at least 20 points, which is not only a school record, but it is the first time one team has done that against Power 5 competition in the poll era, which dates all the way back to 1936.
“These guys have just been locked in all year long. They love each other,” Swinney said. “They really, really like and appreciate and love each other. It’s a very close football team. Our practices, it’s just no nonsense. It can be a grind. I mean, there’s a lot of monotony in what you got to do to get ready week in and week out.
“Every week we’ve been favored. It doesn’t matter. These guys just get ready as if we’re playing the (New Orleans) Saints every week. That’s kind of the mindset of these guys. They want to play well.”
The records are not done. Clemson needs just 93 rushing yards against the Irish to break a rushing record that has stood for 40 years at Clemson. Steve Fuller’s 1978 Tigers rushed for 3,469 yards. The 2016 Tigers, led by Etienne’s 1,463 yards, has rushed for 3,377 yards so far this year.
Clemson’s 259.8 rushing yards per game average is right now the best by a Clemson offense since the 1988 Tigers averaged 270.1 yards per game in 1988.
“It’s been great. My word for the year has been ‘joy’ all year. I’ve had so much joy with this team. Incredible joy in the journey,” Swinney said.