Clemson’s offensive struggles have been well-documented through three games. Part of the issue has been inconsistency in a running game that ranks 93rd out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams (134 yards per game).
Fixing that, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, starts with the offensive line giving itself and the Tigers’ backs a chance with better communication up front.
“We’ve got too many guys that should be blocked unblocked,” Swinney said. “It’s one thing to get beat on a block. It’s another thing when we’re not targeted properly because we didn’t communicate, somebody didn’t get the point and we’re working to the wrong (line)backer or whatever. Just cleaning up our communication is the main thing.”
Chemistry and cohesion among the retooled unit has been a work in progress since fall camp. Clemson has two first-year starters on the line, including true freshman Marcus Tate at left guard. And of the three starting linemen back from last season, two of them — center Matt Bockhorst and left tackle Jordan McFadden — are playing new positions.
Swinney has never questioned the line’s effort, but breakdowns in fundamentals and technique up front have been too frequent. Against a Georgia Tech defense that routinely devoted more defenders to coverage than run support, Clemson ran the ball a season-high 41 times. It was effective in spurts (Will Shipley and quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei averaged better than 4 yards per carry), but the Tigers only averaged 3.9 yards per attempt.
Clemson has netted just 160 rushing yards against its first two FBS opponents, which includes Georgia, the nation’s stiffest run defense the last two seasons.
Swinney said it was “just not fair” to Tate at times given the freshman’s lack of experience against a Tech that showed a completely different look than Clemson was expecting. Swinney didn’t allude to any changes among the starting five for Clemson’s game at North Carolina State on Saturday but reiterated he wants to get more linemen in the game after the starters logged all 66 snaps against Tech.
“We think we have eight guys that really deserve to play,” Swinney said. “That was a disappointment from the other night.”
As for the communication, Clemson has almost gone overboard in trying to get the team adequately prepared for its first true road game of the season. The Tigers amped up the volume and piped in artificial crowd noise during Wednesday’s indoor practice to mimic the environment that will accompany their trip to Carter Finley Stadium.
“My ears are still ringing,” Swinney said after the practice. “We try to make it unrealistic because if you can function in practice with the type of noise that we pipe in here for practice and being inside, if we can function that way, then we’ll be fine on game day.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!