The stats indicate Clemson’s offense still has a ways to go. Some of the Tigers’ players, however, are holding steadfast in their belief there’s not as far to go as one might think.
“We’re right there,” quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei said.
The Tigers’ offensive production — or lack thereof at times — continues to be a major talking point in Clemson’s season, and those involved with it continue to be adamant that the nation’s 112th-ranked scoring offense is close to turning things around. After the Tigers’ most recent outing, there’s been a particular focus as the offense enters its second week of preparation for Friday’s game at Syracuse.
“There’s a lot of things for us to love out there that we see on film,” offensive tackle Jordan McFadden said. “We’ve just got to go finish.”
What turned up on film was the most tangible evidence yet that Clemson’s offense could be closer to breaking through than the overall stats might suggest. In their 19-13 win over Boston College — the most regulation points they’ve scored against an FBS opponent this season — the Tigers rolled up 438 total yards with 231 of those coming on the ground, good for the second-highest outputs all season in those categories. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said a lot of it had to do with improved execution along an offensive line that ran out its third different starting lineup in five games.
Five of Clemson’s seven drives into Boston College territory reached, at minimum, the 25-yard line. The problem was the Tigers’ execution the closer they got to the goal line. Only Kobe Pace’s long touchdown run early in the first quarter, which started on Clemson’s side of midfield, reached the end zone.
The other four possessions ended with a B.T. Potter field goal.
“I feel like, against Boston College, the only thing we didn’t do was score touchdowns,” McFadden said. “I think that’s the next step for us, putting the ball in the end zone. We moved the ball all the way down the field and then we’d kick a field goal. We’d stall out.”
Uiagalelei said periods in practice during the bye week were dedicated to finishing drives in the end zone.
“Even though B.T. is a great kicker, we want to be able to turn those field goals into touchdowns, especially when we get into the red zone,” Uiagalelei said.
Those kind of struggles were atypical of how Clemson has generally performed when it’s had opportunities deep in opponent territory. The Tigers have converted more than 82% of their red-zone trips into points — and usually six instead of three. Of their 14 red-zone scores, 11 have been touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Syracuse is allowing 24 points a game with its red-zone defensive splits being nearly down the middle. Opponents have scored 19 times on 23 red-zone trips against the Orange. Ten of those have been touchdowns.
Tight end Sage Ennis said Syracuse does a lot of “flying around” defensively. Specifically, he noticed a good bit of run blitzing from the Orange in their overtime loss to Wake Forest last week. Selling out to stop the run could create more one-on-one matchups in the passing game for Clemson, which the Tigers saw a lot from Boston College given how effectively they ran the ball against the Eagles.
Uiagalelei overthrew nearly every deep balls in those situations, something he and Swinney said has to get corrected to help increase the Tigers’ chances of finishing drives in the end zone.
“At the end of the day, we’ve just got to be prepared because they do have a lot of movement,” Ennis said.
If the Tigers can finish against Syracuse, the offense’s tune might change from talking about what could’ve been to what was.
“I think last week (against Boston College) was just a glimpse of what we can do,” McFadden said. “I’m excited to see what we do Friday. I’m expecting big things.”
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