Clemson’s offense is looking to get back to its old self under new coordinator Garrett Riley, and there are two specific areas Clemson coach Dabo Swinney believes the Tigers need to improve in order to get there.
From 2018-20, the Tigers averaged more than 40 points each season thanks in part to an explosive passing game spearheaded by future No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence. Clemson, which finished in the top 25 in passing each of those seasons, has either played or signed three five-star quarterbacks since Lawrence’s departure in addition to more highly rated receivers, but the consistency and explosion in the passing game has dropped dramatically the last two seasons.
Clemson finished 103rd nationally in passing during D.J. Uiagalelei’s first season as the Tigers’ starter in 2021 and improved to 66th this past season, though that was still only middle of the pack in the ACC. The Tigers produced just 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season while a true freshman, Antonio Williams, whom Clemson signed late in the 2022 recruiting cycle, led the team in receptions and receiving yards.
“We’ve been got to be better passing the ball. Period,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to be better. If we’re better throwing the ball, I think we’ve got really great foundation from a run standpoint. But we’ve got to get better throwing and catching. And I think (Riley) is going to really help us there.”
Clemson improved in most statistical categories in Brandon Streeter’s lone season as the play caller. Yet despite finishing fifth nationally in red-zone offense (93.5%), the Tigers only averaged seven more points than they did during the ‘21 season.
Swinney pointed to the unit’s bizarre statistical performance in Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee as the prime example of wasted opportunities. The Tigers ran a season-high 101 plays, racked up 34 first downs and reached the Vols’ side of midfield 11 times but came away with just two touchdowns in their most lopsided loss of the season.
“Thirty-four first downs and 101 plays, we’ve got to score,” Swinney said. “That ultimately was one of those things that weighed heavily on me after that ballgame.”
TCU’s offense didn’t have many issues throwing or scoring under Riley’s direction this past season.
The Horned Frogs finished ninth in the FBS in points and 39th in passing yards. Max Duggan, whom Riley instructed as TCU’s quarterbacks coach, won the Davey O’Brien Award as college football’s top quarterback after throwing for 1,650 more yards and twice as many touchdowns (32) as he did the previous season when Riley was in the same role at SMU.
TCU also ranked 31st nationally in rushing as part of a balanced attack that helped the Horned Frogs reach their first-ever College Football Playoff title game.
“I just felt like this was the change that was needed,” Swinney said.
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