• Led by perhaps the top offense in the nation, No. 2 Clemson can eye a return to the College Football Playoff.
By The SI Staff
August 09, 2016

Team breakdown


Key returning starters: QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, TE Jordan Leggett, WR Artavis Scott, LT Mitch Hyatt

Deshaun Watson (5,209 yards of total offense in 2015) is a Heisman Trophy favorite with most of his weapons back in addition to Mike Williams (1,030 receiving yards in 2014), who missed nearly all of ’15 with a neck injury. This offense is terrifying.


Key returning starters: DT Carlos Watkins, LB Ben Boulware, CB Cordrea Tankersley

The Tigers must retool again, especially up front, where departed defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd combined for 49 tackles for loss in 2015. Cordrea Tankersley (five interceptions in ’15) should emerge as a shutdown corner.


Leader in rushing: Gallman. A physical 215-pound senior who amassed 1,527 yards in 2015, Gallman is the ideal complement to Watson’s elusiveness.

Leader in receiving: Mike Williams. He averaged 18.07 yards per catch in 2014, and Watson will exploit the return of that big-play potential.

Leader in tackles: Boulware. After the senior racked up 82 tackles, two interceptions and a team-best 10 QB hurries last fall, coaches will put him in spots to make plays.

Leader in interceptions: Jadar Johnson. The 6’ 1” senior is only now a full-time starter, but two picks in 2015 suggest he’ll do more with more snaps.

Opposing coach's take

“It starts and ends with [junior] Deshaun Watson. You have to limit his explosive plays by eliminating the run-pass options they use off the inside zone by being firm inside. You want Watson to carry the ball—then you’ve got to hit him. Passingwise, you’ve got to force him to play into the pocket because when he gets outside, he’s going to create big plays with his feet. You must do a great job with your rush-contain lanes and try to alter his sight angles.

Watson’s got game-breaking weapons with [junior] running back Wayne Gallman and [junior] receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. [Senior tight end] Jordan Leggett won’t block anybody, but he can catch. The offensive line isn’t going to knock anybody off the ball.

They’ve always been stout on the defensive front, highlighted this year by [senior] tackle Carlos Watkins. Cordrea Tankersley is probably better than departed cornerback Mackensie Alexander, a second-round pick.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables does a great job, but he’s late getting his calls in. That’s because they’re probably as good as anybody at stealing signals, and Venables is waiting to see your offensive call. [Clemson declined to comment.] And because they’re so multiple on defense, they’re prone to being out of position. They’ll line up late, and you can get a guy running free.”


Impact freshman

Clemson has holes on the defensive line, and tackle Dexter Lawrence's physical attributes suggest he can fill one of them. At 6' 5" and 340 pounds, he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2016 out of Wake Forest (N.C.) High, and coach Dabo Swinney told reporters in the spring that Lawrence runs nearly a five-second 40-yard dash. After enrolling in January to get a jump on the Tigers’ complex scheme, he’s already on the two-deep. A fast mover indeed.

Key numbers

1st: Rank in third-down defense for each of the last two seasons.

18: Times Deshaun Watson was sacked in 15 games last year, 27th fewest in the country.

57.1%: Conversion rate on fourth down. The Tigers also succeeded on 46.9% of their third downs, 13th in the nation.

3: Pairs of teammates who ranked in the top 50 in rushing last season, including running back Wayne Gallman (13th) and Watson (44th).

115th: Rank in kick-return defense in 2015 (24.85 yards per runback).

Date Opponent
Sept. 3 at Auburn
Sept. 10 Troy
Sept. 17 South Carolina State
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 1 Louisville
Oct. 7 at Boston College
Oct. 15 NC State
Oct. 29 at Florida State
Nov. 5 Syracuse
Nov. 12 Pittsburgh
Nov. 19 at Wake Forest
Nov. 26 South Carolina

Top 25 rankings

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