After watching Clemson narrowly escape the Carrier Dome with a 17-14 victory over Syracuse on Friday night, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was left wondering what’s ahead for the Tigers moving forward this season with an offense that is still sputtering but a defense that continues to play at a championship level, despite the fact the unit is without starting defensive tackles Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis due to injuries.
After allowing only two touchdowns against Syracuse, Clemson’s defense is yielding just 12.5 points per game through six games in 2021 – the third-best mark in the country behind Georgia and Cincinnati, respectively, entering Saturday’s Week 7 college football action.
Meanwhile, after scoring only two touchdowns against the Orange, the Tigers ranked 112th in the country (entering Saturday’s games) in scoring offense at 20.5 points per contest.
“Now, I think, with the offensive line issues, you don’t have an elite back,” Herbstreit said Saturday morning during ESPN’s College GameDay show. “You have good backs, but you don’t have a difference maker in the backfield. And then the inconsistency at quarterback, you wonder where they go from here. Because the defense is playing at a championship caliber, which is amazing considering they’ve got two of their best players in the interior out for the year, but they’re still playing good defense. But the offense is still a work in progress.”
Clemson (4-2, 3-1 ACC) rushed for 116 yards on 37 carries against Syracuse, averaging 3.1 yards per carry, while D.J. Uiagalelei went 21-of-34 passing for 181 yards with one touchdown pass.
Only once this season has Uiagalelei thrown for 200-plus yards (vs. Boston College on Oct. 2), and only once this season have the Tigers had a 100-yard rusher in a game (Kobe Pace vs. BC).
“Clemson, it’s like they’re stuck in third gear,” Herbstreit said. “Between the offensive line and the issues in the vertical pass game, they’re struggling to move the ball down the field.”
Herbstreit believes some of Clemson’s problems offensively were existent last year, but that the Tigers were able to cover up issues with two eventual first-round NFL draft picks – Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne – making up one of college football’s top quarterback-running back duos.
“There’s issues there,” Herbstreit said of Clemson’s offense. “We saw it against Georgia, Week 1. We thought it was just Georgia’s defense, they’re going to be better. And as David (Pollack) has said, this was an issue last year. But you had Etienne and you had Trevor Lawrence and you were able to kind of still move the ball because you had two phenomenal players.”
Clemson’s offense will likely need to kick into a higher gear this coming Saturday if the Tigers hope to keep pace with Pittsburgh and an offense that entered Saturday ranked first in the FBS in scoring offense at 52.4 points per game.
“Pitt all of a sudden has become an offensive juggernaut with the way they’re throwing the ball and scoring points,” Herbstreit said.
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