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What Will Clemson's Offense Look Like in Week 1?

Clemson gets a chance to answer some questions on offense Saturday at Wake Forest, but with many young players on the field, the No. 1 Tigers could keep it simple and complete the first goal of the season.

Is this the year Clemson makes the tight end a huge part of the offense?

Who will be the leading receiver with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross gone? 

Does Travis Etienne get more touches? 

Will the Tigers make the middle of the field more of a priority instead of trying to make a living off throwing 50/50 balls?

Will the offensive line and its four new starters jell and be as dominant as the previous group that had multiple All-ACC selections a year ago? 

These are some of the questions about No. 1 Clemson's offense heading into the 2020 season, and maybe some of them will be answered in Saturday's 7:30 p.m. opener at Wake Forest. 

But how much? 

"The first game is always tough because the team you're playing, you only have last year's film," Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "They've had a whole offseason to make changes, to change structure, change scheme, all those things. So you don't really know for sure what you're going to get. So it's kind of going off what you think, but at the end of the day, the team that executes their offense and their defense the best, and makes adjustments is going to win."

For Clemson, a 33-point favorite, that last part shouldn't be an issue. However, what the Tigers decide to show in Week 1 might not be what many expect. With a back like Etienne, an arm like Lawrence's and superior talent relative to the opponent, the offense won't have to expose all it can be in the first game, and it's hard to believe this is the opponent you break out all the offseason goodies against. 

"You try not to have much experimenting in the first game just because there's a lot of unknowns," Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.



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One of those is the inexperience at O-line and receiver. Clemson feels good about the starting unit but not as confident in the second group. Pass-catchers Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata are supposed to step into prominent roles this year, but both missed significant time in COVID-19 protocol early in fall camp, so they might not have the feel of the offense or the chemistry with Lawrence yet. 

"Definitely got to be mindful of the young guys, but the good thing about it is, is the young guys will be with us all through the preparation process," Elliott said. "We're not going to throw too many things into the equation that we didn't actually rep during fall camp. So be mindful of keeping it simple if we get into a situation where we got young guys in there, but we're gonna go on with our game plan like we always do, but then also have the ability to adjust if we see something or see something different."

In other words, it doesn't sound like it'll be pedal to the metal in Winston-Salem. Clemson's offense is one that typically evolves as the season goes along. Remember 2016? Long before Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow were leading Clemson down the field in a national championship-winning drive against Alabama, they scored just 19 points against Auburn in the opener, played a way-too-close game with Troy and needed a missed field goal and overtime to beat N.C. State 24-17. 

Even in last year's 52-14 rout of Georgia Tech in the season opener, it was Etienne busting loose on big runs and scoring three touchdowns that helped build a 28-0 halftime lead. Lawrence threw a couple of interceptions and was criticized for not looking like a Heisman Trophy QB in Week 1.

Schematically, Clemson doesn't need to showcase much at Wake. If Braden Galloway doesn't look like Jordan Leggett in Week 1 or if Amari Rodgers isn't catching jet-sweep passes in the backfield or the young receivers leave you yearning for more, it doesn't mean Clemson won't feature those things later in the season. 

It just means they aren't ready to show it off. Expect some big runs by Etienne. Lawrence will make some impressive throws. A player you're not used to hearing will make a big play. Then the starters likely won't finish this one on the field. Schematically, it might not look much different than last year. 

The first goal in the team's meeting room doesn't say, "Blow the doors off the first opponent and show the entire offensive arsenal." It simply says, "Win the opener."

"I think it is going to go really well," Lawrence said on Tuesday. "We expect a lot of ourselves. I mean, that's why we've been able to play at such a high level is because we do expect to play really well.

"Coach Swinney always says, 'You don't play perfect but you got to play well,' and that's just been kind of our motto. We expect to play well and I think we will."